Laura’s sixth grade class read The Breadwinner over the semester. When she began talking about it I took an internet look. It’s set in Afghanistan, the story of first one, then two little girls trying to earn enough to provide daily sustenance to the family.
When I was twelve, as she is, I had as much as I could about the war, its heroes and its atrocities. Amazing the books on hand in homes where I babysat. Imagining much of what I read simply terrified me. I doubt my parents would have approved. I kept track of Laura’s progress in the book; we listened at supper of the current events of Parvana and Shauzia.
Laura did not seem to engage with the book. She had the facts at hand, but she was not living in the pages, relating to the lives of the characters. She and her siblings have devoured every fantasy book published, before and after Harry Potter; I hear enthusiasm when those characters are discussed.
I tried to nudge her into understanding the lives she was reading about. “Wouldn't it be frightening to have police come in and take away someone? What if your brother was taken away and we didn't know where or why?” She evaluated this a moment and said yes, Parvana was very frightened, but not with the conviction of understanding.
She is only twelve years old, and a voracious reader. I know some day the world will leap off a page for her. In the meantime, she’d rather spend her time designing and drawing “fashion.” One day she announced she had been selected to paint the ceiling tile, and she needed a ride home from school. The tile was too big to get on the bus.
Apparently there are many painted tiles on the social studies ceiling; each year a student is selected to illustrate the book the class read. We brought the tile home last week; Laura set up in the barn workshop and painted the scene she selected. I took the tile back to school today and a janitor met me in the parking lot. “Oh, Mr. Hildebrand’s room,” he said and took it away.