The flexible and fascinating Ruth Behar talks about the importance of solitude, storytelling, and vulnerability in our teaching and writing practices.
In order to be an effective teacher and an effective writer, we need solitude.
For our teaching practice, solitude enables us not only to plan lessons, but it also gives us time to reflect on what went well and what could have gone better. Solitude also rejuvenates us, giving us time to soak up silence.
For our writing practice, solitude provides us with opportunities to create and reflect on what's working well in our manuscripts, and what could work better. Solitude also rejuvenates us, giving us time to immerse ourselves in craft, faraway from fielding rejections and marketing mania.
In order to be an effective teacher and an effective writer, we need to tell stories.
When we share stories with our students, they connect to us as human beings. They use the shaka hand signal or shout, "Me, too," to let us know they have experienced the same emotion or ocurrence.
When we put stories onto the page, we allow readers wherever they are, to connect with us, to feel validated, and to create their own fictive dreams.
Finally, as teachers and writers, we have to be vulnerable.
Ruth explains that students know the difference between a teacher who deeply cares for them and a teacher who shows up for the paycheck.
Just like students, readers know which authors have put their heart on the page, and which authors are hiding something, not letting readers into their hearts, not quite ready to be completely vulnerable. Readers discard closed hearted books in search of a different activity where they feel seen.
Ruth thinks the following middle grade books should be available for students in classrooms:
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (1945 Newbery Honor Book)
This classic antibullying book is a great way to discuss the implications of complicity. The repercussions of seeing mistreatment of someone and not stopping it. This discussion brought me back to when I taught first grade in Spanish in Chelsea because I read Los cien vestidos aloud to my class every year.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1990 Newbery Winner)
Number the Stars tells the story of the Danish Resistance during World War II through the eyes of Annemarie, a ten-year-old girl, whose family is harboring her best friend, Ellen, who is also Jewish. This book pairs well with Ruth's Letters from Cuba because Ruth's main character Esther, is also Jewish, and flees Poland on the eve of World War II.
Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse (1992 Sydney Taylor Award)
When Ruth wrote Letters from Cuba, she studied Letters from Rifka because it's an epistolary novel about a Jewish girl fleeing Russia and anti-Semitism in 1919.
Refugee by Alan Gratz (2018 Sydney Taylor Award, NYT Bestseller)
Three different child refugees from three different time periods: 1930s, 1994, and 2015, escape their homelands in search of refuge whose stories come together in the end of the novel.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2015 Newbery Honor)
Ruth said Jackie Woodson is a novel in verse master. I couldn't agree more. My students love Jackie's Before the Ever After.
In addition to Letters from Cuba, we also talked about Ruth's other children's books in the podcast: Lucky Broken Girl, Tia Fortuna's New Home, and Pepita Meets Bebita(coming soon), which she created with her son.
We also chatted about one of Ruth's adult titles, The Vulnerable Observer as well as another adult book, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster written by Svetlana Alexievich. Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for this book.
If you'd like to win a signed book or a 30-minute classroom visit from Ruth, leave a comment below before September 30th. If you want to support the podcast, click here. If Chalk + Ink has made you a better writer and/or teacher and you'd like to share your experience on our special 50th episode, fill out this form by September 30th.
For our next episode, be sure to read Cindy Rodriguez’s delightful new picture book Three Pockets Full. Give it a read before Cindy’s interview releases on Friday, October 7th.
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