“The skin I’m in”, giovani lettori all’opera.

La letteratura per ragazzi ha un arduo compito, appassionare lettori in erba e permetterci di incontrare tematiche e personaggi nei quali ritrovare parte di noi stessi . A scuola l’ora di narrativa serve anche a questo e la proposta della nostra insegnante di lettere quest’anno è stata il breve romanzo dell’autrice americana Sharon Flake “The skin I’m in” appena tradotto in italiano.

Maleeka Madison , la protagonista, una giovane ragazza afroamericana vive le sue giornate scolastiche alla ricerca della propria autostima e della propria strada affrontando piccoli e grandi ostacoli. Con l’aiuto delle insegnanti d’inglese e d’italiano abbiamo pensato di condividere le nostre riflessioni sul romanzo con la scrittrice scrivendole una email. Speriamo che Mrs Flake trovi il tempo per risponderci.

La classe 3C

Dear Mrs Flake,

We are 3C, the 8th grade of Sacro Cuore school in Modena, Italy. We have read your book in class with our Italian teacher. We read it in Italian just now, because it was translated into our language a few months ago. We are writing this email to express our opinion on the story you wrote. We really enjoyed the book, as the topics faced can easily concern today’s problems, even though it was published over twenty years ago. Since there are a lot of themes in your book we will only talk about the ones that we thought were the closest to our personal experiences. Sometimes we are victims of friendships based on lies as Maleeka’s with Charlese in the story. For example a false friend is someone who looks for you just when he/she needs to copy your homework; on the other hand when you need his/her help they aren’t there for you. Especially during our teenage years, communication with parents is quite often difficult  nevertheless this could give us several benefits. Different pieces of advice based on their knowledge would be useful as their experience is obviously deeper than ours since we are still very young. For this reason, this lack of communication is closely connected to our belief that adults haven’t gone through the same  situations we live everyday.  We would like to know if Maleeka is based on someone you’ve met during your life or on something you have witnessed. Have you ever met a teacher like Mrs Saunders at school? Finally, apart from the story, we would like to ask you some questions about your personal life: when did you understand you wanted to be a writer? How is it possible to make your dream become your job? Why did you choose to write novels for teenagers, what is the difference between this kind of book and the ones for adults? Are there any given features to follow when writing these types of stories? Please answer our email as soon as possible.

Yours Sincerely   3C

Happy New Year To you one and all!

I was thrilled when I received your email.  I wanted to save it and savor it for a time when I wasn’t rushed or required to do a thousand and one other tasks.  Hearing from students is perhaps the best part of my job.  I love to know what you think about the book and life in general, how you feel about being young today.  I also love knowing that the novel is still reaching  young people everywhere.
You all shared a few thoughts so I will as well.  For starters, you said something every generation of youth says.  Adults haven’t been through what we’ve been through, so they simply don’t understand our lives and experiences, our hearts, our hopes and burdens.  That statement is both true and untrue at the same time.  For example, I was never bullied.  I am not dark skinned.  But I do know what it is to feel small and little inside, voiceless.  I do know that we all want to be liked and to fit in, to wear fashionable clothes and to be loved.  We live in a time when we think that each of us must experience what the other has gone through in order to understand them or value their life’s journey.  That isn’t possible.  Or true.  We need only to open our hearts to one another’s pain.  We need only to remember that we are all human, all seeking love and validation, all in need of a helping hand at one time or the other.
I grew up on a small block in the city of Philadelphia.  We were not rich nor poor.  But, we had each other.  We were all Black in my neighborhood, except for many of the shop owners.  Most everyone in my high school was African American too, except many of the teachers.  The world didn’t think much of us, I’m sure.  But, we knew better. Our neighbors, teachers and family reminded us that we were loved, needed and capable of caring for ourselves and others.  They were mirrors reflecting back at us the possibilities and potential we carried inside ourselves.
In each book I write, I am trying to say that you are fine the way you are: gay, Black, Blond, Asian, African, in a wheel chair, tall, short, brilliant or not.    I write about young Black people in community with others, speaking in their own voice, living the truth of their own experiences, unapologetic about how they see the world or move through it.   Because the books are so honest, young people like you around the world also resonate with them.    By the way, my novels aren’t based on people I know or real situations.  However, in The Skin I’m In, Maleeka is tall and dark skinned like my daughter.  But Brittney was seven when I wrote it so this isn’t her story.
Good things happen in my books.  And not such good things happen.  That is how novels go.  That is how life is also.  We make it through the day, the year, our lives, with the help of God, good fortune and others.     We fall down (Like Maleeka), get back up (LIke Maleeka, Caleb and John-John) and start the day again.
I hope your days go well.  But, if every now and again they don’t, I hope you hang in there.  Most likely tomorrow, next week or next year will be better.  This theme is in all of my books if you search for it.   Maleeka had tough days.  So did Char.  But better days came.  For Char, they came in my new novel, The Life I’m In.  Things get much worse for her before they get better, but believe it or not, Maleeka is by her side the entire time.  We can not make it without one another.  So, be kind when you can.  Laugh often.  Hug someone every now and then.  If you can’t do it in person because of the pandemic, do it virtually.  And remember, you are on the planet because we need you.  And we need each other.
Hugs and blessings,
Sharon G. Flake