Monday, February 2, 2015

One Letter at a Time

Amira, just twelve years old and in the midst of civil war-torn Sudan, wants nothing more than to learn to read and write and to attend school.  I fell in love with little Amira from Andrea Davis Pinkney's first word in her stunning new novel, THE RED PENCIL.

I was reminded of how words and teachers have made me who I am as a person, as a third-generation teacher, and as a writer.

I most likely wouldn't be here if my grandmother hadn't been allowed to stay in school.  She was born to a family of several children and would have been required to quit school early on and help on the farm and care for her younger siblings.  An education wasn't considered important for a girl.

She was born without fingers on her left hand.  Her father thought she would never marry.  He knew she would need to be able to support herself, so she was allowed to go to school.  She graduated and became a teacher.  She and the man who would become my grandfather wrote long letters back and forth before they were married.  He had lost one of his legs when he was run over by a cart in Ireland.

I wish I had those letters, but I was lucky enough to have my grandma in my life until I was twenty.  I loved that hand of hers, especially when I was a little girl.  Instead of holding my hand, I held hers.  It fit perfectly in my kid-sized hand.

I remember exactly what her watch looked like on her narrow wrist.  But what I remember even more clearly is her voice.  She couldn't carry a tune at all, but she sang out loudly from the church pew.  I can remember the rise and fall of that wonderful voice as she recited her favorite poems to me.  Poems she'd learned in school.

Thank you, Grandma, for teaching me the power of letters and words.  And thank you, Andrea Davis Pinkney, for the power of The Red Pencil.

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