Connections is made possible
by the generous
Connections is a book discussion program offered in partnership with adult basic education and ESOL classes, the prisons, and refugee resettlement organizations. Participants are both native speakers and new Americans. The program uses the best of children’s literature and NHHC-trained facilitators to promote English language skills, promote a culture of reading, nurture conversation in which readers contribute their own ideas and stories, and reinforce family literacy. From our thematic reading lists teachers can select books and themes that enhance the curriculum and connect to learners’ goals and interests. Participants keep copies of their books to read again and share with their families.
The Story of a Pumpkin Debuts with University Press of New England & in NH Schools
Tina Proulx, ELL (English Language Learner) teacher at McLaughlin Middle School in Manchester, gave an assignment to her students after they had read many folktales. She told them, “Ask someone in your family to tell a story.” Students listened to these stories told in their family’s first language – Vietnamese, Arabic, Spanish, Nepali, French. Their job, then, was to translate the story into English and tell it to the class. The assignment comes as part of a multi-week folklore project inspired by the Humanities Council’s English-Nepali picture book, The Story of a Pumpkin. The Humanities Council celebrated the creation of the bilingual book based on a Bhutanese folk tale last August with a Folktale Festival. The book is now being distributed by the University Press of New England and available from local bookstores and on Amazon.
Tina Proulx and her students are pioneering curriculum using The Story of a Pumpkin. Plymouth State University graduate student Kayla Bassett is working with students to create and perform a readers’ theatre piece from the folktale. After reading many more folktales and determining the critical elements of the story, the students are writing their own adaptations of The Story of a Pumpkin.
Proulx, who also teaches in the UNH-Manchester graduate program for ELL teachers, hosts a Family Literacy Night at the International Institute in Manchester. At a coming Family Literacy Night, students will share the powerpoints, digital creations, or books they created based on the folktales they heard in their families. Tina said this allows students to be academic leaders and gives their families an opportunity to see them in this role. The Story of a Pumpkin had its origins in Laconia where Bhutanese immigrant Hari Tiwari shared the folktale at a Connections workshop led by folklorist Jo Radner in a Lutheran Social Services ELL class. Tiwari and illustrator Dal Rai along with Carol Pierce, Director of the Laconia Human Relations Committee, gave a presentation about the book to the Laconia School Board. School Board Chairman Joe Cormier and members of the board were impressed with the book, and Tiwari and Rai will soon present the story at the Woodland Heights, Pleasant Street and Elm Street elementary schools in Laconia.
The Humanities Council is in the process of distributing a free copy of The Story of a Pumpkin to teachers and librarians in New Hampshire upon request. Teachers and librarians who would like to receive a copy may request one by contacting Terry Farish, Connections Program Director and coordinator of the Folktale Project by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming months, the Humanities Council will produce a short, easy-reader version of the folktale that will be available for download on the Connections page.
Changing Lives: Connections Program Hosts Author Mary Childers
by Terry Farish, Connections Program Director
The men poured hot black coffee, dug their cardboard tent name-tags out of a box, and pulled out the chairs from around the table at the Family Connections Center in the state prison. They had come to talk about the memoir Welfare Brat in a NH Humanities Council Connections adult literacy group. They had often read and discussed books in the Connections program before, but one thing was very different this time - Welfare Brat author Mary Childers would be joining them.
Several of the men said Childers was the first author they had ever met. They had read Welfare Brat over several weeks with Connections facilitator Sara Backer and had selected favorite passages and written questions about a book that astounded many of them. It is a memoir about growing up in poverty in the Bronx in the 1950s and 60s. As one inmate described the child Mary, “This young girl took more dirt in her eye than normal.”
At the table they were quiet. They knew very personal things about this author who had disclosed so much, more than you should know about a stranger, they may have thought. She began by reading to connect herself to the book they had devoured.
“Sometimes they call me Mary, sometimes Little Phil, because I look just like the man from Philadelphia, originally from West Virginia, who got Sandy, my mom, pregnant four times and then left,” she read from the first chapter. “‘I don’t make boys,’ he said when Ralph was born; he hasn’t been back in two years. At first I longed for the sound of his hillbilly harmonica and tongue twisters. We weren’t allowed to ask about when we could see him again, so I sought revenge by not talking for several months.”
Later in the book she wrote, “I cannot sustain empathy; there’s always a fine reason neither to grant nor expect it.”
Childers suggested that if she had had empathy, or been more kind to family members and others, she would not have been the fighter she was. She would not have been able to hold the fierce conviction that she was not meant to live as her mother and sisters lived. Childers’ open and honest interpretations of herself held the men spellbound. After she read, Childers told the group that she’d written a book that was personal and that the men had the right to ask her anything. They asked about her brother Ralph who, she had written, “was the only male [Mom] could count on staying.” She said Ralph was doing okay.
“Jeez, when I read that line you wrote about ‘welfare cheese,’ I could taste it,” one man told her. “I am 33 years old and I still remember ‘welfare cheese.’”
Sara Backer said, “These men are trying to be better fathers. What advice do you have?”
“Truth,” Childers said. She talked about the ability to apologize and express love, even when the wound involved is very deep.
One reader said he got a great tip from the book to share with his son — “Choose your friends. Don’t let your friends choose you.”
Others added their thoughts: “I gained insight into what life was like for my mother growing up on welfare” and “You made me relive those years on welfare with my two brothers.”
The men lined up to get Mary’s autograph in their books. She followed their instructions and addressed them to a child, to an entire family, and one to “Gaussi.” The man explained it was a nickname given to him as a child meaning “Loved by all.”
Literacy and literature programs are about the practice of reading and critical thinking, and also about exploring the human condition. “What is the message you want the book to have,” Childers was asked at the end, and she offered the men this view. “People get better,” she said.