Sunday, January 22, 2012

Books to Soothe Kids' Toxic Stress

A third grader, small for his age, could really run fast during practice for his elementary school's Olympic Day. It was his way to shine. His tennies were worn out, so Teacher got him a new pair at Wal-Mart. He made the school proud. This school district was low income, and located near a federal prison, therefore many families were in the area to be living nearby to visit relatives. The little boy also worked very hard at reading, writing, and math, including those impossible fractions. After the January 19th holiday, he asked Teacher, "Why don't they make Dr. Martin Luther King bedsheets? They make them for Superman." He had chosen the better hero.

This is a true story, and I hope the little guy is now a grown, happy, and functional adult, since I last had him at school in 1995.  He had the odds against him, but hopefully some encouragement from reading in school has remained with him.
This story of Dr. King and his profound words will be like miracle grow to the young soul, no matter what color his skin may be.

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary, reaches kids because the main character is a fifth grader facing serious losses that many children suffer due to a divorce in his family.  Students of all enthnicities identify with him, primarily because of Beverly Cleary's poignant and skillful writing. This boy lives in the kids' minds and they worry about him until they read the sequal, Strider. There is catharsis for the young ones who feel abandoned, or are impoverished, or bullied.

Another story is enormously famous, but is new to the kids, of course. It is the incredible story of
Helen Keller, in her own words.
"My Dark Night," is Helen's eloquent relating of the struggle to introduce language into her isolated world by her teacher Annie Sullivan. And the retelling of being trapped in a tree during a thunderstorm is a masterpiece of personal narrative. Students physically handicapped or not can live Helen's experience through her marvelous talent of writing.  This is an online link to her Chapter V. Helen had a brilliant mind, and she expressed such optimism. This could seem so mysterious to kids. How could someone blind and deaf and not really able to speak be happy? That's a genuine life lesson. The film, The Miracle Worker amazes kids with its ferocity and startling clarity. I favor the 1962 version with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. You could also read the play with older kids.
That's a link to quotes by Helen Keller.
Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.  That's surely a helpful one!

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