Monday, October 18, 2010

No English by Jacqueline Jules

Hadley takes ballet lessons once a week with about seven or eight other preschool girls.  They mostly prance around the gym flapping their arms wildly, but they get to wear leotards, and ballet shoes, something Hadley thinks is fantastic.  Hadley's leotard even has a small rhinestone heart in the center.  And sometimes, if the girls are good, the teacher hands them each a fancy wand and they run around the gym holding them high in complete glee.

There is one little girl in Hadley's class that doesn't speak much English.  Before the class started one week, Hadley struck up a conversation with her.  Her mother leaned toward me and explained in the best English she could, that her daughter was still learning English.  I smiled and said "OK," and turned towards Hadley hoping she wouldn't lose interest in the girl because she wasn't talking back to Hadley.

The little girl was holding a purse with Dora on it, and Hadley said, "I really like your purse.  My sister Harper loves backpacks but I think I like purses better."  The girl opened the purse up and showed Hadley what was in it.  She had a little doll that was similar to one we had - a prize from a kid's meal.  Hadley said, "We have that same girl.  Harper calls her a 'little buddy.'"  Hadley giggled.  The little girl looked at her and smiled. 

Before long, the teacher began class, and Hadley and her new friend were jumping and leaping as only three year olds with pink leotards and ballet shoes can do.  At that moment, that was all the conversation they needed.

No English by Jacqueline Jules explores the topic of children interacting with one another when they speak different languages.  Blanca, a new girl from Argentina, enters Mrs. Bertams's second grade class, and her classmate Diane wonders how to talk to her since Blanca doesn't speak English yet. 

At first Diane doesn't think it's fair that Blanca gets to draw pictures while she has to practice her spelling words.  And after Diane understands that Blanca can't speak much English, she tries to help her, but through a failed conversation, Blanca thinks Diane is trying to steal her jump rope.

However, the two find a way to communicate, and become friendly.  In fact, they become so friendly that they end up giggling uncontrollably in class, and are sent to the princpal's office. I found that, while I was nervous for Blanca and Diane as they sat and talked with Mr. Cowell, I was more happy for the girls because they found a friend in one another.

It reminded me of an incident I had in high school with my best friend.  We were speaking the same language, but because high school girls play mind games the way they do, you almost need an English/High School Girl Speak Manual to survive.  Anyway, through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, we found ourselves in a fight in the hallway, and we were sent to the office.

We sat in the waiting room next to each other crying.  We sat for a long time and eventually our sniffles became mumbles, which eventually became sentences, and at some point we found ourselves giggling like Blanca and Diane.  My best friend looked at me and said, "We don't need to be here."  She stood and walked out of the princpal's office, and I quickly (and a little nervously) followed her.  By the time we got to our lockers we were laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

I look at the picture of Diane and Blanca holding hands in Mr. Cowell's office, and I think of Hadley and the little girl in ballet class.  I also think of my best friend and I, and our silly fight.  What's great about Diane and Blanca, Hadley and her new friend, and me and my best friend, is that our friendships are stronger then the words we can't always express. What I like about No English is that Diane and Blanca found a way to be friends despite the language barrier.  Even though there were times when it was difficult or uncomfortable, Diane and Blanca stuck it out and as Diane says at the end of the book, they have a better understanding of each other:   Blanca doesn't say, "'No English,' anymore.  But she does still count in Spanish, 'uno,dos, tres....' We count along with her."

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