Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Inspiring Day with Allan Stratton

Yesterday was the final day in our Read the World series and it certainly was a perfect way to end the community reading program. Allan Stratton, author of Chanda's Secrets, was here at our high school all day and made a powerful impression on our students. In the morning, Allan met with a Creative Writing class and a Dramatic Writing class. After reading an excerpt from Chanda's Secrets, he answered questions from students which varied from handling writer's block, his inspiration for the characters in Chanda's Secrets and Chanda's Wars, and the time and perseverance necessary in writing a novel.

In the afternoon, Allan presented to all of our 9th grade students who are reading the novel with their English classes. I knew that his novel had made a powerful impression on the kids when I saw hands shooting up all over the auditorium - each student hoping that Allan would have time to address their question. Afterwards, many students approached him to ask him a question, sign a book, or simply to shake his hand and thank him for coming.

Later that night, he presented to a small audience which consisted of a few students, parents and community members who had read Chanda's Secrets as part of the Read the World program. Although the attendance was light, those there were very engaged and most lingered afterwards to chat with Allan and have him sign their books.

This is the first year of our community reading initiative which partners with the Free Library of New Hope and Solebury and the New Hope-Solebury Education Fund. The mission of the program is “one community, exploring cultural diversity, one book at a time.” This year we focused on the Sub-Saharan African region and four books were selected as recommended reads: Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton, What is the What by Dave Eggers, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and Brothers in Hope by Mary Williams.

In effort to educate our students and the community, each week in October we offered an event which focused on a cultural aspect of Sub-Sarahan Africa: an evening of Sudanese food, an African art sampler from the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Anthropology and Archeology, a percussion and a cappella workshop by Voices of Africa, a multi-media tour of Africa by National Geographic photographer, Bob Krist and, lastly, Allan Stratton's visit.
I am so very grateful to our New-Hope Solebury Education Fund committee for making Allan Stratton's visit possible and for supporting the Read the World program. I've heard so many positive remarks from students, teachers, parents, administrators and community members about the impact that Chanda's Secrets has had upon them, and about how the program, in general, has helped them to better understand this African region. One of the best comments came from a parent who told me that after her son saw Bob Krist's photographs of gorillas in Congo and heard about their threatened extinction, he went home and surfed the Internet to learn more about the illegal poaching of them. He also was so inspired by Chanda's Secrets that he went out on his own to purchase the sequel, Chanda's Wars. Another touching moment was to see a student walk up to Allan Stratton, shake his hand, and thank him for coming to our school. This same student came to me in the library this morning and thanked me for making Allan Stratton's visit possible. He, also, is one who went out to purchase his own copy of Chanda's Wars.

Another positive outcome of this whole project is a connection to a school in Namibia. Allan had put me in touch with a teacher there whose students were reading Chanda's Secrets, and who have experienced many of the issues that faced Chanda in the novel. This teacher is sending us videos of her students talking about the novel and describing their day-to-day life in their village. In turn, our students are donating their favorite books with a written inscription so that the Namibia school has some books in their fairly sparse library.

Hopefully we will get funding for Read the World next year, so that we can continue to focus on various cultural regions and offer some great presentations!

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