chapter  5
19 Pages

Girls around the Globe as Advocates for Political, Cultural, and Social Literacy at Home

ByMary Napoli

As described in Alvarez’s quote, stories have the power to shape our understanding of the world. Alvarez herself provides many characters whose words and actions inspire and provide insight into the human spirit. Reading and responding to such literature can guide teen readers to think critically about the larger world while enabling the intellectual and emotional development necessary for understanding the world immediately inhabited. I especially believe that the female characters of YA global literature have the power to encourage girls to look at their own life stories in new ways. As Louise Rosenblatt notes: “As the student shares, through literary experiences, the emotions and aspirations of other human beings, she/he can gain heightened sensitivity to the needs and problems of those remote from her/him in temperament, in space, or in social environment” (24). YAL that embodies strong female protagonists who act with courage and com-

passion to bring about change not only allows readers to consider socio-political and cultural issues but also holds transformative power to help them recognize how to engage or participate in social justice through self-action. By inviting teens to dialogue about global factors that affect all societies through books they can personally relate to, educators invite them to become agents of change as they discover egregious circumstances that exist across borders. Literature gives momentum to the possibility of lifting people up and developing their consciousness. When we read powerful stories, we see not only through the eyes of the characters but also through eyes that are able to see new worlds. Such stories have the power to launch

social and political conversations, not necessarily with an agenda to change someone, but rather with the aim of coming to deeper recognitions of the full humanity of self and others. As Susan Colby and Anna Lyon point out, “global literature can help children to identify with their own culture, expose children to other cultures, and open the dialogue on issues regarding diversity” (24). In this chapter, I explore how global YAL provides teachers and students with

an important site to consider issues of freedom, courage, and justice. Particularly, I discuss research conducted while facilitating a summer book club with a group of six teen girls in the 7th and 8th grade. Over a two-month period, we met regularly at a local community center in Central Pennsylvania. As part of our activity, we read selections from a global text set intended to bridge conversations about how we read the world, celebrate differences, and connect to texts in broad and personal ways. I was especially interested in the girls’ responses to texts whose characters overcome obstacles and odds under circumstances that the girls in the club might never experience, but whose situations might vicariously help the girls better understand privileged stances and undue injustices. One particular sunny day, a gentle breeze was so inviting that the group decided

to sit outside to talk about responses to The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl. While making our way outside, Julia, typically quite reticent, shared that she was tired of how the media does not share all the real stories that happen around the world. When asked to elaborate, she said:

Well, I think that it is really sad that we don’t hear about the stories about real teens in the world unless a teacher wants us to read a book or news article or maybe see a news segment, but it is really not something we talk about. I know that me and my friends have things pretty good after reading the stories we’ve been talking about. Maybe we have to write letters to see if we can get these books to read and talk about in school.