It’s been a little more than a week and many of my friends, as well as some of my students, continue to reel from the Orlando Pulse shooting.  That’s not surprising, as grief is not a scripted process, and this national tragedy has created ample questions.

This past week, after dealing with a personal sense of numbness for a couple of days, I looked for some ways to help in the healing.  As a believer in social justice, I worried about the about the post-traumatic stress faced by my students, friends and colleagues.  Certainly, my concern was was those who identify as LGBTQ. That said, Americans who are Muslim and/or from the Middle East are also struggling with the horrors that unfolded.  Additionally, the hope was to find something that connected with students aged 11-16. I wanted a book that dealt honestly with the issue of having to go onward in a world after witnessing trauma. What happens to someone who doesn’t necessarily feel valued and who experiences all the emotions of post-traumatic stress?

Once possible global education fiction text that helps deal with the process and the recovery after violence is The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  This book of prose and line drawings deals honestly with the loss of hope a young person named Amira experiences when her Sudanese village is attacked, and the journey to recovery as she moves to a refugee camp. Amira’s value is questioned because of her status as a female, and she must find ways to express herself and move forward after tragedy.

The Red Pencil

With its quick reading style and accessible Lexile rating of HL620, it’s worth checking out with a variety of readers, and invites discussions on the value of individuals, societal expectations, and education. It does not sugarcoat the experience of those seeking asylum from violence, either. When I read excerpts with my 8th graders, I found it to be a great springboard for projects that tried to understand why refugees and veterans both have to deal with PTSD after being ripped from what we call ‘normal.’

We have uncovered a difficult wound of intolerance in this country in the past year. Issues of bigotry have never been fully addressed in America, but the respect for others is a crucial conversation.  Throughout the next months, educators need to work with their students to critically examine media claims and evidence. Helping students find voice to their emotions, providing opportunities to process tragedy and examining electoral expectations are rich writing and reflection experiences.

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