Have you ever read the book Junebug by Alice Mead? Oh my goodness. I might have been more excited to start reading it than my own students! Tell me this wouldn’t have you hook, line, and sinker?: “Reeve McClain, Jr.—Junebug—has decided to skip his birthday. Since ten is the age when boys in the projects are forced to join gangs or are ensnared by drug dealers, Junebug would rather remain nine. Still, he does have a birthday wish: to someday become a ship’s captain and sail away. So Junebug comes up with a plan to launch a flotilla, fifty glass bottles containing notes with his wish, in the hope that someone somewhere will help to make his dream come true.” The story unfolds with a culture and storyline all too familiar to my inner-city students I taught for 5 years. My students came from broken homes and had to overcome grave realities. This book is perfect for these students because it was geared towards ages 8+ (3rd grade+). However; I did not get my hands on this book until I had left that school. I so badly wanted to run over there and read this aloud to them. You know, allow them to identify with the scenario and character’s feelings and motivations. But then it hit me. I am right where I need to be…suburbia. White picket fences and parents anxiously awaiting their children to get off the school bus. THESE students need to hear THIS story. I suddenly felt ashamed. How dare I bring this book into the face of my students I encouraged so long to look past their broken reality? And now I want to bring it back up? Remind them of everything I taught them to move forward from? To not dwell on? I was not to make a difference THERE. I was to make a difference HERE. I was unsure what kind of reaction I would get from parents. Surprisingly not one parent ever mentioned it. I spent a lot of time building up the scenery for the book by relating to sections of our own city that are in decline, naming famous historical figures who overcame similar obstacles as children, and even began searching photos and videos to bring the scene to life. I didn’t get far into the book before tears welled in students’ faces. The many “But…why?” questions surfaced. I told them to hold their ideas for “Reflection” time so we could stay in the thick of the story. Many times I didn’t get further than a page before I had to dig real deep and try my best to explain the importance of what was happening and allow myself to hurt my students’ feelings. If they did not hurt, they could not relate. Suddenly, students began to empathize. Really? An upper-scale, white, suburban born and bred, college-headed 8 year old “GOT” Junebug and his trials for face value. My students began to get angry with his situation and his influences. They problem solved every inch of the storyline (to the point that I had to read with my finger across my lips for an entire chapter!). Junebug did not need them. They needed Junebug. They now look at individuals without the opportunities they have and understand what gifts they themselves possess and have access too. They are grateful and inspired. Junebug is everyone’s best friend. Any content area can relate to Junebug- from angles in math to his path of escape to similes and metaphors in poetry that highlight his accomplishments in light of the darkness. Junebug changed my life because I realized that the ones that need helping are not always the ones that are easy to spot. Junebug might have been dealt a rough hand, but he learned quickly how to make it work for him. It’s the children who are not dealt a rough hand that wouldn’t know where to start piecing it all back together that need this story. I am proud of my students for their empathy and kindness. But I’ll never forget their enthusiastic tone pushing Junebug to continue his path less traveled to achieve his dreams. “Junebug. Don’t give up man. You got this!” or “He’s gonna survive. He’s got to. He has every other time.” It warms my heart to know my students gained a friend and learned a life lesson about people, circumstances, obstacles, future dreams, and the ability to chase what you know you deserve. Junebug- you made a difference in the life of myself and my students. I owe you one! Teachers- here is a novel study unit for Junebug just for you! Click here. Did you know there was also a sequel to this story? Check out my Junebug in Trouble Resource Guide!
What book had a powerful impact on our students?