© 2016 paulwhankins

The Mr. Hankins Crane Award: 2016: Gae Polisner’s THE MEMORY OF THINGS

I created The Crane Award two years ago in order to celebrate a book that came in under the radar, had a quiet kind of feel about it, and elevated–or lifted (as a crane)–the station and the spirit of a reader. The award comes with very little fanfare. No monetary prize. Just an opportunity to showcase a title among the many I get to see each year that continues to do what I saw initially in the first recipient (which featured cranes and spoons).

When we commissioned an Indiana artist to create the Mr. Hankins Crane Award, we had no idea that he would render the crane in spoons which captured the essence of that first recipient and gave us the lasting figure that would go to future recipients. I imagine these cranes going in some prominent place that reminds the author that there is a classroom teacher out there who read and appreciated the work in a way that they–the author–might not have realized as the book went out into the world.

The first recipient of the Mr. Hankins Crane Award (2014) was Tracy Holczer’s THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY.

In 2015, I was able to hand the Mr. Hankins Crane Award to Lynda Mullaly Hunt for her book, FISH IN A TREE.

And, this year, with great excitement and pride, I offer the Mr. Hankins Crane Award to Gae Polisner’s THE MEMORY OF THINGS.

THE MEMORY OF THINGS presents the story of Kyle Donahue, a sixteen year old student at Stuyvesant High School who is evacuated from the classroom and the building on September 11th. Polisner recreates on the page the calamity and chaos that must have been a collective walk within one character. The first few pages of THE MEMORY OF THINGS puts those who there, those who remember, and those who have only read or heard, on the Brooklyn Bridge away from the smoke and the rubble.

On his way home, Kyle comes across a figure on the bridge that he does not recognize at first. Upon returning to the figure, he realizes that this is a girl standing as though she might jump. She is covered in ash with huge costume wings upon her back. This girl, Kyle soon discovers, is unable to communicate where she is. . .or who she is.

Over the period of three days, Kyle and the girl will attempt to put the pieces back together which is a perfect underlying theme for the whole of the book and the whole of the experience of 9/11. Kyle comes of age in a story that includes complexity of healing, complexity of fatherly/familial relations, the complexity of the tension between love and loss, and the complexity of how we remember. . .and how we ultimately move on.

Moving from summary to celebration, my students in Room 407 got to experience Gae Polisner’s book as a group this fall. We were reading together this story that begins in historic chaos and ends in hopeful conclusion. Students in the room gasped with the ending of the first days read-aloud as we all ran from the scene and found ourselves in Kyle’s Brooklyn apartment away from Ground Zero but in the middle of a unsettled micro-setting of Kyle’s home.

Polisner’s THE MEMORY OF THINGS fits the intent of the Mr. Hankins Crane Award, but it also fits the frame presented by These 4 Corners.

LIVING: The characters in Polisner’s book must continue to live through great devestation and loss. As Kyle processes the losses around him, he makes new decisions for his own life and his role in those lives around him for which he might have been remiss prior to the events of 9/11.

LOVING: Our protagonist learns to navigate the difficulties of love in all of its expressions, meeting the physical needs of a physically-dependent uncle Matt, the spiritual and emotional needs of a stranger, the familial love that remains even when one seems to be neglecting a sense of duty to legacy. Kyle meets head-on the losses of friends and strangers alike and comes of a deeper undertanding of what love can look like and ultimately be when we see it for all of its expressions.

LAUGHING: There are light-hearted moments within the THE MEMORY OF THINGS that I got to appreciate while reading this book aloud to students. When we read by ourselves, we’ll afford ourselves a quiet chuckle, but there is nothing like hearing a room full of teens give themselves permission to laugh at a line from a book they knew addresses a serious topic.

LEARNING: Through our reading of THE MEMORY OF THINGS, our students communicated to Gae Polisner (via SKYPE) how the book allowed them to be–in a singular moment of reading–in a time and place they had only heard about from their parents or seen or read about in the papers or on the news. THE MEMORY OF THINGS helps to frame, as books can do, their appreciation of the gravity of September 11th.

THE MEMORY OF THINGS not only satisfies the four corners suggested here, it helped many of my readers to “re-frame” their opinion of reading early on in the new school year. I’ve seen students take the book out of the room over the weekend, not being able to wait until the next class period (we meet in Block 8 configuration and if your class met on a Friday, it meant waiting until Tuesday for the next installment). Readers moved from TMOT to go back and read THE PULL OF GRAVITY (and its companion, OF MICE AND MEN). They wanted to read THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO. Our students connect with Gae Polisner on a personal note through interactions in the social media spaces.

I am a classroom teacher. I do not do this alone. Good books and the authors that write them, the artists who illustrate them. They work with me in ways we recognize and ways that we cannot imagine. Students see themselves in Kyle and some wonder if the reflection isn’t a little hazy as they wonder what they might have done in the same timeframe in the same situations. They see something familiar and they see their own current condition, the chaos and wonder of the unknown that comes of a day and the days to come as they inch closer and closer to graduation.

THE MEMORY OF THINGS releases within a year we are asked as a nation to pause and to remember. In the case of 9/11, this happens on the years ending in multiples of fives. Part of the reason I celebrate THE MEMORY OF THINGS is to remember that the suggestions made by Polisner’s book affect us as well on those years the end multiples of four.

And on a personal note, as a classroom teacher, it warms my heart to see my student’s name in acknowledgements of THE MEMORY OF THINGS. I waited for my galley copy of the book to come in, but I knew of the book before this because it sat–in manuscipt (the kind you see the big black binder clip on) on Jessie Grembos’s desk. One of my students in Room 407 was a beta reader for this book. One of my students has their name in a Young Adult novel meant to be read by other young adults. This is a good thing. A very good thing. A something I will always remember when we talk about why we share Young Adult Literature in Room 407.

I am pleased and proud to acknowledge and to celebrate THE MEMORY OF THINGS as the 2016 Mr. Hankins Crane Award recipient.

 

 

One Comment

  1. Gae Polisner
    Posted November 5, 2016 at 4:58 PM | #

    I am honored beyond belief — and surprised!!! — to be awarded this, Paul. It never occurred to me, and I cannot wait to perch my crane proudly in a place where it will remind me that it’s not the stars or big awards, or even the cranes, but the single reader we teach, we bring with us, to and through our stories. I’m truly touched. WOW.

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