My students are in the process of selecting books for their new book club groups. The Power of the Human Spirit unit examines characters, real or imagined, who must overcome tremendous challenges through courage and perseverance. Our eighth grade CLT developed a comprehensive, annotated book list for students to guide them in their decision making. Many of the books on our list I have read, others I have not. One unfamiliar book, Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat, is a memoir about a Palestinian girl living through the Six-Day War of 1967 and its aftermath. The book jacket is drab and the image of a child is fuzzy and out of focus and quite literally made me question whether or not to even keep it in my classroom library.
Lucky for me, one of my fabulous English colleagues, who clearly is less superficial than me, read the memoir and loved the illuminating and powerful story. She knew her students would find Barakat’s memoir equally moving, so she selected a particularly harrowing and heart-pounding moment early in the book to read aloud from to her students. Then, my colleague does what all amazing co-workers do, she shared the book, her book talk and offered advice on how to sell it to my students with me.
In a nutshell, this is the excerpt she directed me to read (paraphrased):
The scene begins with the first Israeli bomb attacks on Barakat’s home just as she and her father are returning from their village. They hurry into the house and warn the rest of the family to turn the lights off and quietly move to the trench in their backyard to hideout. Other villagers begin running past the trench, fleeing the impending doom of a ground attack. Barakat’s family decides, they too, must flee, but when her family takes off running with the rush of people, little 3 ½ year-old Ibtisam is tying her one shoe she was able to slip on her foot. When she looks up for her brothers and parents, everyone is gone.
My students are immediately hooked.
“I want to read Tasting the Sky, Ms. Juengst.”
“Can I take the book home this weekend to read?”
And from one of my most reluctant readers, “I think I’d like to read that book for my book club.”
The power of the book talk creates an urgency to read. Sometimes the urgency even becomes competitive and students must negotiate to determine the reading order when book copies are limited. Fortunately for our eighth graders, my middle school owns many copies of Tasting the Sky so no book emergency for now.