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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! The Night Diary

The Night Diary (2019) by Veera Hiranandani is the 2019 Newbery Honor Book, as well the winner of a host of other awards, and a masterful piece of art.

In high school, I remember learning about the separation of India and Pakistan, and about Ghandi and his teachings. I remember seeing photographs of trains filled beyond capacity, people on roofs, people hanging out windows, trains packed full of people tighter than sardines, to reach India or Pakistan.

But the human cost of that political decision on the daily lives of millions of people escaped me because it was not taught in History or heaven forbid, in English Language Arts.

Teachers, this #OwnVoices middle grade novel (I'd narrow it down as late middle grade and recommend it for grades 6 - 12) will remedy that situation for your students.

Publisher's summary:

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders
Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train bu later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together. 
Told through Nisha's letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girls' search for home, for her own identity... and for a hopeful future.

The teaching points for history are obvious and I'd definitely recommend history/social studies/world cultures teachers use this book. But I'd also highly recommend it for ELA teachers, and ideally, for ELA and history teachers to coordinate efforts to use this book for instruction.

There is a fabulously detailed, well-thought-out teacher's guide on the publisher's website with complex thinking points and Common Core Standards alignment. Definitely use that.

But what stood out to me as I read it is character analysis. Not just having complex characters to teach students to analyze to meet standards, but characters that will resonate with your students and empower them.

Do you have students that are very hesitant to speak except to one or two other people? It feels like you must slowly draw them out every day to get responses from them? They will be relieved and intrigued to recognize themselves in Nisha.

Do you have students who struggle to read and write? Whose gifts may not be recognized by all? They will understand Amil's struggles and triumphs.

Do you have students who need to begin to understand the personal, human toll of politics? Who need a way to unpack and reframe social justice issues? Who need to learn about daily life, food and customs in other countries? (That would be everybody.)

Do you have students who need to analyze true historical world events in light of today's world events? (Again, everybody.)
"I heard Papa telling Dadi there are riots everywhere and, if we don't leave, we could be killed or taken to a refugee camp. Who would do this? Our neighbors? The kids we went to school with? The merchants at the market? Patients who Papa treated at the hospital? My teacher? Dr. Ahmed? Papa says that everyone is killing one another now, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs. Everyone is to blame. He says that when you separate people into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than another."
Middle school and high school teachers, please buy, or ask your district to buy, this book and use it for instruction. It's a gem.



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