James was not confused. He was mad. At me.
“We’re not lucky!” he pouted. “We live in a homeless shelter don’tcha know!”
Second graders are old enough to know where they live. They know they don’t have a house or an apartment like they used to. In my shelter school class there were anywhere from five to fifteen kids on any given day. These were the kids whose parents wouldn’t allow them to attend the “regular” school down the street, usually because someone was looking for them. An abusive spouse or a loan shark or a drug dealer.
And I had just called them lucky.
I had just said, “A lot of very nice people do some very nice things for our school. And now it’s time for us to do something for kids who aren’t as lucky as you are.”
“We live in a homeless shelter,” James reminded me through clenched teeth.
“Come here, Sweetie.”
James slouched over to me in the reading corner with the other kids watching.
“Make a muscle, Superman.”
And he did. James liked to show off how strong he was.
“I see you on the playground hanging by your knees, and I watch you help the little kids get up on the monkey bars. And I have never ever, ever seen a better cartwheel.”
“And I can stand on my head, too.” James straightened up, but still didn’t smile.
I said, “It’s Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2nd, and we’re going to raise some money and go to the bookstore and buy books for kids who don’t have legs. We’re going to buy some books for kids who lost their arms. We’re going to buy fun books for kids who will never do a cartwheel because they’re not as strong and healthy as you are. You are lucky enough to have two good arms and two good legs and that’s something they will never have.”
I said, “But they can know that somebody cared enough about them to give them a fun book to read while they’re in the Shriners’ hospital trying to get better. It’s boring sitting in bed all day. So James, would you like to help someone who’s not as lucky as you are?”
“Well, like we could get ‘em Where the Wild Things Are!” smiles James.
And all hands fly up. And all the shouts of favorite books fly out. And with all their mighty strength my sweeties are ready to use their superpowers to help someone who isn’t as lucky as they are.
CELEBRATE NEA’S READ ACROSS AMERICA ON MARCH 2 anyway you can. Read with a child.
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