The Beginning of Social Justice Awareness

Yesterday, I mentioned a librarian who made space for me to dig deeper into the books we were reading as a class. Another influential person was her assistant (whose name, twenty-some years later I can’t remember!) This paraprofessional was always recommending young adult books grounded in social justice.

0440407850I read about Kurdish sisters fleeing to safety; I read about Holocaust survivors; I read about migrant farm workers and people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Looking back, these books easily could have been written last year. In some ways, it’s sad to think that our world hasn’t changed all that much. In other ways, I’m so thankful for a teacher who would make me aware of these human rights crises from a young age.

Journey of the Sparrows is one of those books that comes to mind from that era of reading. It follows the journey of three young children who travel from El Salvador to the United States, crated in the back of a truck. They end up in Chicago, where their story continues as they try to find work and make a life as undocumented immigrants.

This book paved the way to books like Enrique’s Journey, a journalistic book about a young boy crossing the border to find his mother. It laid the groundwork for my reading of Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and is why I stand on the side of the refugee.

And, while Journey of the Sparrows was formative in itself, it will always represent that adult in my life who pushed my thinking and opened my eyes to a greater world. I hope that, as our girls grow older and their friends come to our home, I can be that adult for someone as well. I want our girls to be raised with a global awareness and a heart for the injustices both right here and around the world. Having these books in our home is helpful but having another trusted adult recommend them is incredibly powerful.

One of my greatest hopes is that they will have a librarian in their own school journey, just like I did, who sees that potential for justice and a heart for helping to push against systems of oppression.

Is there an adult who has influenced your reading journey? When did you start reading books that impacted your view of social justice?

A (1)This post is Day 9 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Meet Samantha: A Groundwork for Social Justice

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been tuned into unfair practices and their impact on the underdog. In the second grade, after reading a Scholastic News article about dolphins getting caught in tuna nets, I insisted we buy only brands that had “Dolphin Safe” stamped on the tin. When our local Alpha-Beta grocery store was bought by Lucky, I insisted we boycott, unable to support this quintessential capitalist move.

5164XF0x7LL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_Whether my motives were well-researched or not, the idea of siding with the oppressed has been part of my outlook from my earliest memories.

When American Girl dolls first became popular I was too old to really play with dolls anymore but just the right age for the books that came with each doll. I don’t remember my exact age – probably 9 or 10 years old – when I received Samantha, the wealthy girl who grew up in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.

In the first book of the series, Meet Samantha, readers are introduced to Nellie, who works for Samantha’s neighbors. She is employed as a maid because factory work was impacting her health. In the second book of the series, Samantha Learns a Lesson, the storyline continues as Samantha researches child labor in factories for an essay she writes for school.

I loved these books because Samantha, who was about my age when I first read the series, stood with the oppressed. She listened to the stories and experiences of those who weren’t part of her economic class and let those stories change her perspective. She fought for acknowledgment and used her own privilege to give space and voice to someone who didn’t have that same audience.

I haven’t read these books in years but recently my old Samantha doll was rediscovered. Bea slept with her for a while and now Elle carries her around by the hair and brings her everywhere. This doll is definitely not a collector’s item but certainly has the potential for Velveteen Rabbit status one day. I remind myself that toys are meant to be loved, not preserved.

The books are still a bit above Bea’s comprehension but I’m looking forward to the day we can read them together. I’m sure that now, decades later, I’ll see flaws in the plotline. I’m sure the stories aren’t as well developed and there’s the clear issue of white privilege through the pages.

And yet, I saw myself in Samantha as a 10-year old reader. I read about a girl who first listened to stories and then acted toward reconciliation. I read about a girl who looked out for those whose circumstances didn’t offer the same privilege and who included them as friends.

Simplistic and formulaic as the stories may be, this American Girl series gave me a relatable example of what social justice could look like in my own world.

Which book most impacted your journey when you were 10 years old?

A (1)This post is Day 2 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the A Literary Life. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.