Have you ever looked for a used book on the big book selling sites? Often, the used books come with descriptions like the one found in the title. It’s one way of letting the buyer know that the book may have truly been used. These titles may come with library stickers or they may be missing the accompanying disks. Some underlining may appear on the pages.
Our students come to us sometimes in this same “used” condition. I am thinking of one student in particular as I write this post late on a Sunday evening. I had known this student by name since her freshman year. I had observed her in hallways, a tile tracker, eyes glued to the floor as though she had memorized some path through the building, a path of least resistance through the microcosm of society we call high school. She had joined RAW INK Online a year before she would become my student, citing the space as a place she felt like she “belonged.” I knew, then, that this student was very lonely. Teri (the name has been changed) came to my class with her hair hung low over her eyes. Seemingly moody, I observed as she attended the first two classes in the fall without saying a single word to me or to a fellow student. Her gait, upon leaving the room, was the type that might cause one to think of dragging a large boulder to some destination, only to have it appear back at one’s feet for the next day’s dragging.
I’m a bit of a rebel in the language arts classroom, always looking for some real-life moment to capture the thinking of my students. The impromptu speech by Joel Burns at the beginning of our school year provided a writing response, a thought capture, wherein Teri was able to share some things with her teacher about who she is and what she has been through in her life. It was a most personal share, the content I could not share here. It’s the kind of story that would make anyone want to take a closer look at their students within their learning communities. In that thought capture, I could see through this students facade. Teri had some “surface wear.” What’s more, her “remainder marks” called to mind a powerful book released earlier in the year, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. Scars is the story of a young girl who has buried the pain of her own abuse so deep that it only begins to surface when her abuser, who she cannot remember, begins stalking and threatening her in fear that she may begin to remember and to put together the details of her abuse as a child. Dark and sometimes troubling to read, Cheryl’s story is what we would hope was speculative fiction, but we know all too well, that is more memoir for our students then we might care to acknowledge. Cheryl’s book includes twelve pages of resources to include information regarding self-injury and abuse. Groups and organizations are listed as resources for readers.
I did what seven years of building a reading community in Room 210 has called me to do–I put a copy of this book in Teri’s hands. I did so without fear of censorship, knowing that the only rationale I might have to stand upon should the book be challenged was my own sense of the bibliotherapy that might be provided by Teri’s having read the book. What’s more, I contacted Cheryl Rainfield via RAW INK Online, our classroom website. Cheryl has been a good friend of ours and our shares have been powerful whether they be at RAW INK Online, Twitter, or Facebook. If one looks at the cover of the book, wherein Cheryl’s own arms are shown, one can immediately tell that Cheryl knows something about “surface wear” and remainder marks.”
In both Cheryl and Teri’s lives, there may be painful pages that have gone purposefully missing. The story that remains is theirs to tell if they should care to tell it at all. Over the course of the next week, as Teri read this powerful book, I was working behind the scenes to get a copy of the book signed by Cheryl to offer to Teri. Cheryl was most obliging and not only offered a copy of the book, but a personalized message to Teri. When I opened the envelope containing the book, I could barely hold back my own emotion.
You see, Teri had been coming back, day after day to talk about the book she was reading. I saw a light in her eyes that I had not seen before. I waited patiently for Teri to finish the book. I watched as Teri, herself, initiated some contact with Cheryl via RAW INK Online. I saw a share happening between author and reader, from survivor to survivor, that could happen without the good intentions of the kindly English teacher. I had placed the book, but the reader and the author were carrying the interaction.
Here is what Teri wrote to Cheryl about her book, Scars:
From my own point of view, Scars has been a life changing thing for me. I can be more open and honest this book has changed my life so much. When I read this book, I saw that anything can change and get better and that you should never give up. Even if your problem is school or if its at home you can overcome that. You have to dig down deep and find yourself, your stronger self. Find that person that is only known to you that you sometimes are scared of. Because its fine to be scared of yourself sometimes. Its alright to be the person that nobody ever wanted you to be and its fine to show the world how far you have come. Stand up and be someone. Don’t be afraid to be open to someone you trust. Thats why me and my girlfriend are closer now because I opened up to her. Just don’t be scared because there is someone always there just sometimes you can’t see them right away.
On a Friday afternoon, right before we were getting ready to do a “reading in the dark” exercise in Room 210, I gave Teri her own copy of the book. When she opened the cover and she saw that the book had been signed to her, Teri looked up at me quizzically. I assured her that, yes, the book was hers. There was a recognition of some powerful gift that had just been placed into her hands. While the rest of the class watched a film, I kept looking over at Teri’s desk. She was holding the book close to her chest, resting just under her chin. I got to see, first-hand, the physical demonstration of loving a book, the way I often talk about “loving” books. That same afternoon, this is what Teri shared with Cheryl Rainfield:
Cheryl thank you so much for the book! Thank you for writing it! Thank you for everything! I have never been given anything, when he handed me the book i was smiling and speechless i was tearing up just thank you so much for this! I am one of your biggest fans you do not know how much it means to me to know you actually took the time to read this… just thank you for noticing me.. This really means the world to me.. You are an amazing woman you changed my life so dramatically that i am crying typing this.. I’ve never ever met someone or read a book that I can relate too. I’ve never had anyone truly understand me.. Thank you so much Cheryl..and Thank you Mr. Hankins for showing us this book in class.. This truly means the world to me..
As we share our stories this week about the power of books and the power found in the sharing of stories, I want to remind our readers that the booktalk, the book pass, and the book share are three of the most vital interventions we can perform within our learning communities to connect our students with books.
Since the day I shared Cheryl Rainfield’s book with Teri, I can truly say this about my student: she has been re-issued with a new purpose. The back story will always be the same, but together, Teri, Cheryl, and I can continue to help shape this story. None of us in this network of reader, author, teacher will apologize for this for as George Ella Lyon would ask, “Who are we but our stories?” Together, we have experienced the power of the three-way mirror of reading: looking back, looking in, and looking forward. I am eternally grateful to authors, like Cheryl and so many others with whom we have had contact in the past three years of our online learning community, who take the time to interact with readers in meaningful ways.
And yes. . .as I observe Teri coming out and even sharing/interacting with her elbow partner during lessons. . her cover art has changed with this new edition of how she sees herself. All because a reader carrying scars within was introduced to a book baring scars without by a teacher who carries his scars in his prologue.
Enjoy this Share a Story week. It is a great honor to be able to share here with you. Now. Go. Make some magic happen with a book and a reader this week.