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The Book of Hopes

29 September, 2020

As I sat down to prepare for the new term, which started this week, I looked back with pride, amazement and smug satisfaction at my first session last term.

As we started online school in June, we were still stuck with a feeling of hopelessness, of ‘when will this all end.’ I wanted to start the term with stories of hope, with stories that would help my students know that ‘hope’ is what carries us through to a better space...whether it is physically, emotionally or mentally.

I found Katherine Rundell's BOOK OF HOPES, available to read online for free, and available in print soon.

As I narrated a short story I found in the book, titled “Bag for Life’, written by Joseph Elliot, my students began to connect the father and children walking through a forest, to the migrant workers, walking on foot all across India. This had been in the news and this for me was epiphany number one.

What the children had done was to take an event in a story they were listening to and connect it to what was happening in the world.

In the story, the father is carrying a bag, a simple supermarket bag. The way it swung, it seemed to be carrying something heavy. Tinned food? If so, why is it that every time the children ask, he says that he’s saving it for when they really need it...for when they are desperate. They had been eating berries and mushrooms...basically whatever they could find in the forest.

Then suddenly one day, after days of walking through the forest, the father stops and points at the houses and the smoke rising out of the chimneys and they know they will be fine. But what about the food that they had never eaten? The father opens the bag and they peer inside to find 3 stones, slightly speckled with dirt...and they know they will be ok.

That is the end of the story.

What does it mean?

When I read the story, I thought that the Dad was keeping the children motivated with what they thought was food. The promise of food, kept their feet moving. But who am I but a mere adult with a rather stunted imagination, and rusty neurons.

When I finished reading the story, the group was quiet. A few shared my thoughts. Then there were a few mutterings, as they began to talk about the stones and began to connect this story to one they had heard me narrate to them, a few years earlier.

“The stones are food”, one said. “What he means Aunty that they will cook something with those stones.”, said another. “What's that story where they trick the selfish village people into sharing their food?” “Yes, that story!! The one where they make soup out of stones.” “STONE SOUP!!!”

OMG!!! I thought!! Yes it absolutely could be what that bag of hope is all about. The stones are hope, hope that they can find food, share food and make connections.

This was epiphany number 2, that my students had taken the story and connected it with another text they had heard earlier.

This is when I knew that my students were making connections to the world around them and to another text...I know that they understand, I know that their brain is processing the information they are hearing and making connections to help them comprehend...THIS is reading, this is listening. It is way beyond just putting meanings to words, or decoding the symbols to sounds.

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