Saturday, April 23, 2011

Little Bee

What I want so much for my students is to be swept away by a book.  And one way I have to laugh at myself almost any teaching day is saying to a student, "Stop reading and get your work done!"  I really hate to say it and of course one could argue that reading is the true work of the class. 
In our lit circles I quiz the kids," What do you rate this book?  What's the best book you have read so far?"  Most of my class has other books going all the time other than their lit circle books but these are the shared books, the books that we really can share conversations about.  We just meet a few minutes each group once a week but I know the conversations about books are truly ongoing.  There are 17 boys and 12 girls in my class who truly love to read, some more than others but reading is a joyful activity.  And that makes me happy.  Now there are other elements of my teaching that definitely need improvement, teaching is a profession that I don't think anyone can truly master or only a very few and I am not one, but at least my students have grown to love to read. 

Now anyone that reads this blog knows that I love to read but sometimes it can become almost habitual for me.  I can't not read.  I can only remember a couple of times in my life that I didn't finish reading a book in a week.  I was really busy!  Some people need to run I need to read.  And although I always enjoy reading (well usually) there are books that really sweep me away.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave is one of them.  Note that its British title is The Other Hand. Someone recommended it.  I have no idea who but I borrowed it from the library and have just finished reading it.  And I loved it.   A friend and I were talking about main idea yesterday (imagine) and I was saying I often try to say to my class what's the big question?  This novel has the big question, would you cut your finger off to save another person's life, and what if you did and what if you didn't? 

The story is told partly from the point of view of Little Bee who we meet at the beginning of the novel in a holding centre for illegal refugees as she is released with no papers into Great Britain.  She has one phone number and one place she can possibly go, to the home of the people she met briefly on a beach in her native Nigeria.

When I taught grade six, initially Nigeria was one of our country studies, but then it became difficult to get up to date information about it due to problems there and the lack of up to date factual information obtainable.  I had enjoyed learning about Nigeria with my students.  One big issue became of course the oil that lay in the traditional Igbo people's homeland.  Little Bee's village is destroyed in this quest for oil and she is unfortunately a witness when no witnesses are wanted. 

This book covers many serious issues but it is also an incredibly engaging story with engaging characters taking me to a place that I haven't been, and giving us a real personification of the sharp contrast between the North and the South.  Sarah, who gives the other point of view in this story is a journalist, an editor of a popular magazine.  I think many of us can relate to Sarah in that the sadness of the world is really overwhelming and we don't feel very powerful to make real changes, but in many ways, Sarah is fearless.  Honestly, to discuss this book much more will spoil the story and I just have to say, you really must read it.  Please note that Chris Cleave has an excellent website with many more resources about the issues discussed in the book.

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