I have been reading Lisa Thompson's The Light Jar over the last couple weeks. I love Lisa Thompson's The Goldfish Boy so much I bought a bunch of copies in the hopes that students will read it in book clubs. I loved The Goldfish Boy because while it was an extraordinary story but part of the characters struggles where rooted in realism. A boy who develops OCD and germaphobic behaviours and can't leave his room without significant struggles. A child goes missing and he is determined to solve the mystery. Thompson doesn't rely on magic she simply relies on a character overcoming a real and significant struggle with the help of friends and family.
In The Light Jar Thompson focuses on Nate, a boy who is rushed away in the night as his mother attempts to escape her abusive boyfriend Gary (not since Voldemort have I disliked a character more). I would hate to spoil anything but I will say the plan does not go off without a hitch and Nate is faced with the reality of caring for himself in a remote cabin. Nate deals with a fear of the dark that evil Gary continued to contribute to in a rather evil design that continues to impact Nate. Some new found friends help Nate along the way and much like the Goldfish boy this tough topic is handled masterfully by Thompson as it become a piece of the story but not the whole story.
When I think about literature lately I can't help but notice the increase in stories that are set in a real and relatable world with problems that provide an opportunity for students to see themselves. If it is problems with mental health, illness, family struggles, poverty, bullying, abuse, sexual assault these stories provide students with mirrors, windows and sliding doors in a way that I don't think many educators consider.
We work to build libraries that are are diverse but I think forget about diversity of experience being equally important. If it is stories like The Light Jar that weaves a mystery into a survivors tale of emotional and psychological abuse, The Benefits of Being an Octopus looking at Poverty, Or Obsessed which has my students completely engrossed in the struggles of a teenager falling deeper and deeper into her obsessive compulsive behaviours.
Some might argue that these books are too tough, the topics are ones that we should not be focusing on but these things are happening in our students lives and these books teach our students going through them that there can be a light at the end, that the struggles can get better, that they can over come the dragon. As teachers we can't keep these books and experiences from out students because we are worried they are too tough, the books might be the message and help they need.