Saturday, April 14, 2018

POEM #14- You Ask Me Why You Need to Read

I have fought an uphill battle with my seventh graders this year. Many of them don't like to read, and don't see a lot of use for reading in their lives. As a lifelong reader, that's really hard for me to hear. I want them to love, love, love reading, to know the pleasure of escaping to a good book when life is hard, and to know how it feels to understand yourself better by walking through someone else's story. 

I also want kids to know that reading is where I come to know and understand worlds far beyond my own. This week, I was really troubled, as were many other people, by a study that was reported in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The study said that 22% of millenials are not sure that they have ever heard of the Holocaust. Sixty-six percent don't know what Auschwitz is. And I remember that I came to know that era through books, as early as fourth or fifth grade- Snow Treasure, Anne Frank,  and The HidingPlace. More recently, my heart has been broken by Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire, Refugee,  and All the Light We Cannot See. When I think about the impact those books have had on me, I know I cannot give up sharing books with kids…

"You Ask Me Why You Need to Read"

You ask me why you need to read…

Twenty-two percent
of millenials  
are not sure 
they have never heard 
of the Holocaust

And I think of how I came to know…

At ten,
I sledded down a mountain
with Peter, Michael, Helga and Louise
smuggling Norway's national treasure
past Nazi eyes to waiting ships. 

At thirteen, 
I was Anne Frank,
altruistic, selfish,
brave, fearful,
huddled silently 
in a crowded Amsterdam annex
with my sister, mother, father,
and four others 

At sixteen, 
I returned to Amsterdam
with Corrie TenBoom and her sister Betsie, 
middle aged spinsters, 
working in their eighty-year-old father's watch shop
until the Nazi invasion
turned the three of  them into resistance fighters

between 1940 and 1945
1.3 million people
were deported to Auschwitz
1.1 million were killed
two thirds 
of American millenials 
do not recognize
the name of this place

And you ask me why you need to read…

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018


Cathy said...

Carol, every day you surprise me with your next poem. This one speaks such truth. I've been surprised by the turn of tone in our country this year. I've made my own slogan, "Make America Read Again," as it seems to me that books are the only thing that can save humanity. I don't know how you can read books and not develop understanding and empathy.

Your poem reminds me of the many titles I have read. I've read a few of the titles mentioned in your beginning narrative. One of the books which has stayed with me the most is "Stones from the River." What struck me about this book, set in a German town in WWII, was the way you watched neighbor turn against neighbor. I've really never been able to shake that. "Book Thief" is another book I found to be a reminder of the tragic price of war paid by those just trying to live their lives. It also reminded me of books I have read with students including "The Upstairs Room" and "Number the Stars." There was also a picture book about a girl outside of the camp and a boy she befriends inside the camp. It was beautiful. I remember reading it in the early 2000s, but for the life of me can't recall the title right now.

Sorry, I got carried away. Let's keep gardening.

Linda B said...

It is an alarming article, I agree. Part of my response to this is I wonder how many younger teachers also are in that group that really "don't know much" thus have no knowledge of the books to offer? I loved Stones from the River, too, Cathy, and all those you both mentioned. The books by Elizabeth Wein are favorites, too, Carol. I've been reading more adult books lately about that time, now The Librarian at Auschwitz. How can it be that people don't know, and some still believe it's a conspiracy! I wish you well, Carol, in your quest to help those kids know how important reading is! You've shown it beautifully in your poem.

Mary Lee said...

Powerful response to a heart-wrenching article.

Elisabeth Ellington said...

Oh dear, I don't even want to see that article--though I'm glad you shared it, because it will be the perfect piece to include in the new Theory & Practice of Teaching Reading methods course I get to teach in the fall (several of your poems will be core texts in that class too!). Yes, this is what is frightening and sad about not reading--all the things you don't get to know, don't get to experience, don't get to wonder about. You capture so beautifully in this poem the ways that reading transports us into other worlds, other spaces.

Glenda Funk said...

The irony in that last line is strong. I lovhed "The Hiding Place" and think about the ways I learned history and women's stories in books. I learned about the south reading "Sounder," about women scientists reading biographies about Elizabeth Blackwell and Marie Currie. Had I not been a reader I'd know far less; we simply can't rely on our formal education for all our learning. And reading is a gift we give ourselves. That survey about the Holocaust is distressing.