We listen to a lot of audio books in the car. It is a wonderful opportunity to share in our love of literature and engage in dialogue about literary techniques, vocabulary, and genres of literature. I try to select books that the kids wouldn’t normally select for themselves, particularly classics and authors whom they are not yet familiar.
When I picked up Same Sun Here, I didn’t know what to expect. I had not heard anything about it but the silhouette on the cover caught my eye and I brought it home. What a delightful surprise it turned out to be.
Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani is a wonderful novel told in letters, centering around an Indian immigrant girl in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son. They find strength and perspective by sharing their true selves across the miles, developing a friendship that builds a bridge between their cultures and the miles between them.
Meena and River discover that they have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. Yet, their lives are very different as well. As Meena’s family studies for citizenship exams and River’s town faces devastating mountaintop removal, this unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing their innermost thoughts as their friendship deepens. With honesty and humor, the duo defeat cultural misconceptions with genuine friendship.
I haven’t seen the print version of this book but I love that the audio was narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by these gifted authors. The kids and I laughed out loud and wept quietly as the protagonists shared their stories. As an adult, I loved the format of letters back and forth. This would be a great book to use to talk about the difference in cultures and how people who come to the US do not see it with the same eyes as a native. Additionally, the story is a wonderful reminder that once you get to know them, people who can seem very different have a lot in common.
Letter Writing in Social Studies
The book is wonderful but it does have a political spin. House has a cause. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that he is strongly campaigning to stop the mining of coal by mountain top removal in Appalachian Kentucky. As Oregonians now living in California, I was not previously familiar with this and thus the kids and I looked into a little more. As a result of this book, we talked about environmental causes – both locally and globally – that were important to us. We talked about ideas for how we, as individuals, can make a difference.
Letter writing, boycotting products (and companies), and protesting were discussed. My kids have had some experience with boycotting. Since attending their first Roots & Shoots conference a few years ago, they have actively read the ingredients list of products and choose to avoid anything that has Palm Oil. Additionally, they have learned to recognize brand names and try not to purchase anything by Nestlé. Relatedly, are also beginning to make a more concerned effort to purchase food grown locally.
Same Sun Here encouraged the kids to consider writing letters to companies to request they change their practices, suggesting alternatives to Palm Oil, for example.
Relatedly, letter writing is also applicable in sciences. In addition to writing persuasive letters about environmental issues, students should be encouraged to write letters to scientists in fields of interest. If a child is interested in engineering, for example, seek out an engineer willing to mentor your child. Better yet – attend conferences, for example, and encourage your child to seek out those relationships themselves.
My daughter recently attended a Women in STEM Conference and personally thanked each presenter. In doing so, she made a point to ask specific questions and to express what she enjoyed most about her presentation. She thereafter asked for contact information and is presently working to reach out to each woman scientist she met at the conference.
Letter Writing in Literature
My daughter loves to write stories modeled after her favorite books – Redwall and Warriors. She engages in these creative writing without prompting from me and will occasionally share excerpts with me. As a result of listening to Same Sun Here, she recently included a couple of letters exchanged between two characters in her book.
In the past, I have also encouraged the kids to write letters to their favorite authors. Jan Brett, Seymour Simon, and Jim Arnosky are wonderful examples of authors who love hearing from their readers.
52 Weeks of Mail
We have always enjoyed writing letters to friends and family. In the past, we have taken part in the 52 Weeks of Mail challenge but as life tends to do, we have been lead astray and haven’t been very consistent. This book gave us new inspiration to do so.
I have a 52 Weeks of Mail Pinterest board where I pin creative letters and packaging. Who doesn’t love to receive mail? Especially when the cover is so beautiful?
Each of the kids have pen pals and I encourage them to write as often as possible. I try to model this myself, but I have to admit it is so easy to let modern technology distract us.
Interested in more ideas for literature? Visit the iHomeschool Network’s A Book and a Big Idea Blog Hop.