Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's More Interesting-Punching or Iguanas?

I checked The New Girl and Me by Jacqui Robbins out of the library for Hadley because it was about a school experience, and since Hadley is starting preschool in the fall, I thought she'd enjoy reading about it.
The story is told in the voice of a little girl who talks about Shakeeta, the new girl in her classroom. Ms Becky, the teacher, tells the class to make Shakeeta feel at home, and the narrator wonders how you do that when they are at school. Ms Becky tells her to make Shakeeta feel comfortable.

I figured this concept would go over Hadley's head, but what she might enjoy about the story was that Shakeeta has an iguana for a pet. Hadley didn't seem too interested in that, however, what we talked about over and over again every time we read The New Girl and Me was punching people in the face. You see, Shakeeta is bullied by another kid in the classroom. He calls her "Shakeeta Mosquita," and she threatens to punch him in the face.

"How do you punch a person in the face, Mama?" Hadley asks.

"I don't know." I say and keep reading.

But Hadley wants to know more. What exactly is punching? What does it look like? How do you do it? Why would you do it?

I don't go into specifics about the act of punching, but I tell Hadley that Shakeeta is upset that some kids are being mean. It makes her sad and angry. I don't know if this is a good answer for Hadley, but she becomes quiet and we keep reading.

The narrator, although she is a little scared of Shakeeta after hearing her threaten the bully, continues to follow Ms Becky's suggestion to make Shakeeta feel at home. The two become friends by the end of the story.

Would I read this story again to Hadley? Absolutely. The punching doesn't bother me as much as the bullying does, but both are things that happen. And the more that Hadley and I read a story like this together, the more I hope she'll pick up on the other things that go on in the story. Things like the fact that the narrator didn't laugh when the other kids laughed at the bully's "Shakeeta Mosquita" nickname. Or that the narrator hung out with Shakeeta when the bully wouldn't let Shakeeta play soccer with him and the rest of the class. Instead, the narrator came up with things to talk about with Shakeeta. She asked her what her iguana's name is, and whether or not Shakeeta knew the iguana could grow up to six feet.

We were in the library the other day and two siblings were fighting. They were rolling around on the floor, full on fighting each other. Hadley and Harper were mesmerized. I think part of them were horrified, and part of them were in awe. If there was a bubble above Harper's head, it probably would've said, "Just wait until I'm that age. I will never have another toy taken from me again!"

I tried to guide the girls to another part of the library, but Hadley started in on the questions. What were they doing? Why were they doing it? What was the problem? I explained that the kids were fighting, but that I didn't know what the problem was.

While we were checking out books, one of the kids walked past us, and Hadley told me, "I'll be right back, Mama. Ima go ask that girl what the problem is."

The New Girl and Me didn't teach Hadley to go and ask other kids whether they're OK when she sees they are upset. Hadley naturally is concerned about other people. She is sad when others are sad. She gets worked up when others are angry. But I think that stories like Jacqui Robbins' story could help Hadley understand her emotions a little more, and help her know what to do when tough situations arise.
I don't like punching, and I really don't like bullying. But both happen. And I hope that when Hadley experiences these things, she will have someone waiting to be friends with her, or she will be waiting to cheer up someone whose been bullied.

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