Students at South Pasadena Middle School learned last week that they have a “superpower.”
And Mitali Perkins, author of this year’s “Read It Forward” title “Bamboo People,” warned them that if they are not careful, they will lose it sometime during high school. “You are very tuned in to differences in culture and language — be aware of that and learn to use it before you get set in your ways!”
Perkins’ visit was the culmination of a year-long theme in the SPMS Library called “Books Without Borders.” The South Pasadena Educational Foundation funded Perkins’ daylong school visit, the purchase of 100 copies of her book, a variety of over 200 new books permanently added to the library collection featuring fiction and non-fiction from all over the world, and materials for art projects and library activities highlighting this international theme.
Copies of Bamboo People have been passed hand-to-hand among students and teachers since January. It tells the story of an actual border, the one between Myanmar and Thailand, where two boys are on the opposite sides of a war. Chiko, who wants nothing more than to be a teacher, is forced into the Burmese Army and has to learn to fight as a soldier. Tu Reh, a member of the Karenni tribe, is living in a refugee camp in Thailand after his village was burned down by the Burmese Army. The two boys meet in a jungle fight, and learn that they must depend on each other for their mutual survival.
In her assembly presentation, Perkins talked about her own experience crossing borders as a young child when her family moved from India to the U.S. The immigration experience has touched the lives of many SPMS students who could relate to the idea of living in one culture at home and a different one at school. Perkins drew laughs as she talked about her embarrassment when her parents came to Open House in traditional Indian dress, and when she had to explain the weird food in her lunchbox to her friends. “Karate Kid” was a popular movie when she arrived as a new student in 7th grade, so when a group of school bullies heard that she was from “Asia,” they assumed she must be a martial arts master and passed her respectfully in the halls instead of shoving her into a locker!
Perkins met students in the library during brunch and lunch, where she chatted and autographed copies of her book that students had purchased. She was interviewed by the staff of Tiger Cub News, from teacher David Miller’s Broadcast Journalism class. Her visit culminated with a writing workshop for students who love to write and want to be writers one day.
After reading international books, hearing a famous Indian-American author talk about her life and her work, and listening to music and creating art from all over the world, SPMS students are prepared to cross both real and virtual borders using their newly found “superpower” to celebrate different cultures.