Last Thursday, Mitali Perkins, author of Bamboo People, visited South Pasadena Middle School for the culmination of the 2017-18 Read It Forward program, a reading promotion initiative now in its fourth year at SPMS.
As part of Read It Forward, 100 copies of a single book are purchased at the beginning of each school year and made available for students to take turns reading and sharing with each other. Students are not required to formally check out a copy. They simply pick one up in the school library, sign their name on the inside when they’re finished, and pass it on to a friend or family member. The goal, SPMS librarian Betsy Kahn explained, is for the book to circulate throughout the school so as to generate as much excitement and interest as possible before the author comes to visit in the spring.
During that daylong visit, the author leads two assemblies, signs copies of his or her book, participates in an interview conducted by the Tiger Cub News broadcast journalism team and teaches a writers’ workshop for students interested in creative writing.
This year, Kahn chose Bamboo People as the Read It Forward title because it incorporated the library’s yearlong theme, Books Without Borders. Funded by a South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) teacher direct grant, Books Without Borders was designed to help students understand “they are increasingly part of a global community, and that literature is one good way to learn about their fellow human beings around the world,” according to the language of the original proposal.
Bamboo People is a coming-of-age story that tells of the friendship of two Burmese boys on different sides of the political and military conflict in their homeland. Kahn felt it was the perfect selection to fit both the program and the theme because, she said, “the story takes place in Myanmar and has to do with both literal and figurative borders between peoples, cultures, and countries.”
During the two assemblies last Thursday morning, Perkins spoke about the prevalence of stories in everyday life and the different forms (television, films, music, books) they are presented in. She captivated the auditorium with the story of her own childhood, tracing her roots as a small child in Kolkotta, India to her immigration to America and her eventual arrival in San Franciso in the 7th grade.
In the afternoon, she talked to a writers’ workshop about the importance of using descriptive details to convey characters’ emotions instead of directly instructing readers how to feel.
“Rather than telling the reader that a character is devastated, for example,” she said, “describe their actions, their gestures, their dialogue in a way that makes the reader feel that emotion in their gut.”
One of the students attending the workshop said before it began that he had read Bamboo People four or five times over the last few months. He was fascinated, he said, that the boys in the story, though his same age, lived in what felt to him to be a completely different world.