Ending the Year With Two Books to Empower Youth

Screenshot 2017-05-24 21.03.12

“You will get lost.

You will be afraid.

You will fail.

You will fight.

You will remember.

You will rise.

And without doubt:

You will find your way home.”


The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places

It began here … with The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places. When that line above was read aloud my kids made me stop. “Stop, Mrs. Dunn!” I wish I could remember the number of times they told me to stop. “Stop!”  When I asked why, I would receive a variety of reasons. “You need to just stop so I can think about what just happened.” Or “I need to think about that line, it was perfect.” Or “Stop, we need to write that down!’ Or “I just need you to stop for a minute so we can talk about what just happened.” Never, ever in all my years of teaching have kids told me to stop so many times so they could savor the words. Never! Every once in a while one boy who struggled to write all year long would be moved by something I read and would pull his chair up besides me and copy from what he just heard.

Predicting is something I’ve struggled with teaching. Not really understanding the power of it because it so often begins with, “Look at the cover, what do you think the book is about?”  A question that is bland beyond belief.  A bland question brings bland answers, so I stopped asking it. But in this book the kids predicting what they think will happen next was nonstop even though I never asked. Kids were constantly yelling what they thought was going to happen next and that would start a deep and often contested discussion. The fun part was that they were often wrong because of the incredibly creative twists and turns this book has and they loved that. It actually became a game to see if anyone could predict where the next turn would take us.

We started tracking it using a story arc. We finally gave up because we couldn’t keep up with the “hills”.  The kids came to understand the power and need for the valleys. “Oh no, here we go again. We’re at a slow part. We know what that means!!! We’re gonna start rising again. This is worse than a roller coaster.” Everything, everything I’ve tried to guide my kids to understand about story structure came to life for them with this book. I didn’t have to teach any of it. The book did it all and did it while holding the unwavering attention of all my fifth graders.  One very quiet girl in class was extra quiet when I pulled the book out. I asked her if she was bored by it. “Oh no! I LOVE when you read this book because it lets me go far away.” I don’t hear that line often but when she said that she moved me to tears. Yes! That’s what a good book does, it takes you far away and you can’t wait to go.

So while I had been stealing time from every period of the day to finish this book before the year ends another book arrived in my classroom. “For your kids,” the note said. A few wanted to know what it was. So I showed them…

As you can see this is about as different from The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places as we can get.  Yet, several asked if they could read it. I’ll be honest, I was surprised. The first line had them, “The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.” As they read about this Ojibwa baby who survived a smallpox invasion of her village the questions wouldn’t stop coming. They often referred to a glossary in the back to help understand some of the Ojibwa words that were used. This was about a time and place they had little understanding of and the new realizations were deep, powerful, and meaningful. The few who finished agreed that it was a beautiful book. A beautiful story and beautifully written.

Both these books have something in common. They are about a strong young girl coming of age during a difficult time. Her strength and bravery guide her through the difficult times. I could not have found more perfect books to end our fifth grade year. Books that show that it’s ok to be scared before uncertain times. Books that give hope that bravery will take you through those times even if you’re not sure you’ll make it.

As my kids listened and read about the power of bravery in the face of fear while listening to and reading these books this line was the one they kept referring to and holding on to: “Bravery is the key to becoming who you need to be.”  Badger – The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places… I couldn’t agree more.

Now on to summer. Relaxation, reflection, rejuvenation… our spirits and bodies deeply need them so take the time for all and enjoy.






One thought on “Ending the Year With Two Books to Empower Youth

  1. Mary, you do what all teachers should do: lead them to water (books) and let them drink (read). You provide the tools and the path and help them discover for themselves, which is learning that will stay with them always. You are a gifted teacher that each of your students will always remember with love. Enjoy your summer and charge your batteries!!

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