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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fight To Learn: The Struggle to Go to School, written by Laura Scandiffio. Annick Press, 2016. $16.95 ages 12 and up

"... Police sirens wailed so frequently that he barely noticed them anymore. But the rundown state of his neighborhood wasn't the problem. Like all other students starting at Harper High, Deonte quickly learned not to walk to school alone. Walking in a group was better, and walking in a group down the middle of the road was best. "We felt safer like this," was how one girl put it."

It is inconceivable to think that two hundred and fifty million of the world's children, aged six to fifteen, do not receive the basic education they need to be able to read, write or do math of any kind. There are many barriers; the three considered in this book are poverty, discrimination and violence. So hard to accept or imagine that so many children face these obstacles every day. What does the future hold for them?

There are four sections, and each is filled with stories of children and adults who will do what they have to do to get an education for themselves, and for others. Despite the many stumbling blocks they must face, they remain resilient and determined. They will have a future. They are prepared to do everything they must do to make their dream a reality.

Each of the four segments - Poverty, Discrimination, Violence and Protest Movements - offer remarkable and heartbreaking stories of children in our world. The section on poverty highlights Babar Ali, who began teaching in his backyard and the literacy rates in his community climbed dramatically. After nine years, his school was registered and he became the world's youngest headmaster. Julia Bolton Holloway's story is equally inspiring. Upon retirement from teaching in American universities, she moved to Italy for a job and found herself concerned about the young Roma children she saw living in the streets of Florence. Determined to change their destiny, she set up a school in the cemetery where she worked as custodian. The children who attended learned to read and write; they also learned practical skills that helped them change their futures and the future for their families.

"I have taught university students at Berkeley, Princeton and Boulder," she said. "I prefer teaching illiterate Roma, all ages, and learning from them the richness of their culture, the excellence of their skills, and the strength of their families. We reciprocate, giving each what the other lacks, with dignity, in this pilot project."

Each section is equally moving, allowing readers a chance to meet people they have not likely encountered who are doing work that is uplifting and often difficult. The descriptions are lengthy, giving readers a clear picture concerning the problems and the solutions presented. It is quite a remarkable read. Accessible and inspiring, I think it would be perfect for sharing in middle grade classrooms where there is a concern for the rights of others and the plight of children around the world, including our own backyards. Frightening, but very important, it will provide incentive for much discussion in any classroom.

The inclusion of many pertinent photographs, personal quotes and further information add to its appeal. Ms. Scandiffio also includes an introduction, an afterword, a list of main sources, some suggestions for further reading, and an index.

"I would tell the children not to be afraid ... and follow their dreams.
I would tell them NEVER give up hope.
                                             -Shannen Koostachin "

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