As the 9th annual Global Read Aloud wrapped up, I received the following letter from Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound. It made me think of how grateful I am for this project, for the people who believe in it, and for the movement it has created around the world.
And so, this is the blog post I posted on the Global Read Aloud blog, I thought I would share here.
Whenever I choose a book for the GRA, I hold my breath for a long time. Will the people who read it aloud get why I chose it? Will they see the beauty? The possibility of understanding? The connections between themselves and others whose lives may seem so different? The books chosen this year once again allowed people to step into a culture that many had not experienced. To cheer for a girl who seemed to face impossible circumstances and yet trusted herself to make a difference. To understand a boy who in the end just wanted to be himself. To hold our breath for three refugees as the world turned against them, to understand a girl’s path to adulthood when the world only sees her through one part of an identity. To dive into indigenous culture and see it for its beauty and its presence all around us.
To the authors and illustrators of these books, in sharing your words with us, you allowed us to share our words with the world, and that means that the world has now changed. I cannot thank you enough for creating these books because while the Global Read Aloud may be coming to a close, for us all, these books and their stories have provided us with something bigger – a beginning. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound, wrote the following thank you.
When I was eight years old my mother packed me leftovers for my school lunch: keema with roti. Children teased me mercilessly in the cafeteria. They scrunched their noses and pretended to gag at the sight of the unfamiliar food.
During the Global Read Aloud you ordered samosas, pakoras, jalebis, chai, and full Pakistani feasts for your children to sample. I saw a picture of a South Asian child sharing with pride the roti they had for lunch with their class.
When I was ten years old I ran into kids from school while my family and I were at the grocery store. We were on our way to a dinner party and dressed in our finest shalwar kamiz. For weeks after, children poked and prodded me about the “strange” costumes.
During the Global Read Aloud I watched parents visit your classrooms in shalwar kamiz to share their Pakistani culture. I saw photos and videos of children wearing their ancestral clothing, standing before their classrooms as they discussed the beautiful outfits of South Asia.
When I was twelve years old, I went to school the day after Eid with deep orange henna still on my hands from the holiday. Children shrieked and pretended my hands were diseased. Despite my explanations, they refused to sit next to me until the color at last faded from my hands.
During the Global Read Aloud, you discussed henna, you brought them into classrooms. You celebrated the tradition and children decorated one another’s hands.
All through my elementary school years, I was taunted for my identity. And yet I couldn’t hide from who I was. My skin, my hair, my name— spoke too loudly. And as painful as it was, I thought it was normal. I accepted it.
During the Global Read Aloud, so many of you went beyond the book and dove into Pakistani culture. You brought in music. You Skyped with classrooms and people in Pakistan and around the world. You invited local community members to share about the people and the culture of Pakistan. You walked into South Asian markets and clothing stores and bought pomegranates and chadors and did everything you could to bring “over there”— here.
In a world where Pakistan is often equated to dangerous, you helped combat stereotypes. You helped children see the underlying humanity that all people possess which bind us together—because that is the truth. There is no “us versus them”— we are all people.
I’ve read your e-mails and posts. I’ve looked at all your photos and videos. I’ve visited classrooms for school visits and through Skype. I’ve loved the discussions you’ve had with your students on patriarchy, indentured servitude, fairness and justice, and hope.
But you did something else too.
You not only helped children glimpse life in another person’s shoes, you helped children feel seen. You honored them. You validated them. You celebrated them.
When I got the e-mail from Pernille Ripp that AMAL UNBOUND was selected to be part of the global read aloud I was humbled and grateful. What a dream as an author (and a former educator!) that my book would be read by your students. But I could never have imagined just how deeply meaningful and personal this experience would be for me. In honoring your children, the scars from my childhood feel healed.
Regardless of which book you chose, by participating in the Global Read Aloud you opened children’s minds and hearts and connected with the world around us and in doing so you created a whole heaping of empathy that the world can never have enough of. And as the whirlwind six weeks of the Global Read Aloud come to a close, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
With love and gratitude,
Sign up for 2019 is open, join us as we once again try to connect the world, one book at a time.