Each year, MHC encourages people across Maryland to read and then discuss the One Maryland One Book selection. We believe a great work of literature provides an excellent springboard for discussion about issues critical to our lives and communities.
The following is the first in a series of three guest posts in which the Derlan Family—mother, father and son—discuss the value they find in reading the same book and then talking about it as a family. They read this year’s book, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Thank you to the Derlan Family, for their participation!
When I was in second grade, our teacher Miss Brown read The Boxcar Children aloud to us. She read only a few pages each day, so when we got to the part where Violet gets sick, we had to wait to hear what happened. Almost 40 years later at a class reunion, my friends and I remembered that anxiety and suspense. It was almost as if those children in the book had been our classmates. My brothers and sisters and I are very different, but we all read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and we all love the book. We know which of us is most like Scout, and which is more like Jem and we know our dad, who died when the oldest of us was only 10, was like Atticus.
My husband and I wanted to give our son the pleasure we have in words and reading. When he was small we read aloud to him, and the stories we all shared became part of our relationship. We’d quote from the books, “Love you forever, like you for always…” After reading Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand, we all gave each other goodbye kisses that way for years.
As Ben grew, it became a little more difficult to share stories this way, but Harry Potter saved us. We all read all of the books, first reading aloud to Ben, and later each of us reading them in turns. We found books on CD to listen in the car on long road trips, like P.B. Kerr’s The Akhenaten Adventure. It is so easy to grow apart as children grow more independent. For me the value of reading and talking about books is in keeping a part of the closeness alive. I also want my son to have the memories of special books; connected to the people he has grown up with, as I have had.
One of the interesting things we’ve found with Absolutely True Diary is that I focused so much more on Junior’s sister, Mary Runs Away than either my husband or son did. She is a girl I have met many times in my teaching career. Talking about the character of Mary led me to talk about some events from my childhood, and about some of the students I taught many years ago. Sharing the book, helps us to share ourselves.
Sharon Derlan teaches English at Northern Garrett High School. She is an active volunteer with the New Embassy Theatre of Cumberland, MD. Mrs. Derlan is married to Bill, an editor at Cumberland Times-News and the proud mother of Ben, a student at Allegany High School.
Have you read the book yet? If so, what character stood out to you in an unexpected way? What do you think Mary Runs away represents in the story…to Junior? We’d love to read your comments and reflections.