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Interactive reading is one way I engage my fourth graders in learning about new people and places.

Recently, we’ve used this approach with books by Malala Yousafzai and Jane Goodall.

“Have you heard of Malala?” I asked my students when introducing them to her book Malala’s Magic Pencil.

“She’s the youngest person to win that peace prize,” said Teresa.

“Yes,” I said. “The Nobel Peace Prize. That’s one of the most honorable prizes to win in the world.”

“Hey,” blurted out Fallyn, “I want to win that award!” If you know her well, you know she just might.

Well, if you know really her, you know it probably won’t be the PEACE prize. But she has all of the “be-ings” and “do-ings” inside of her to make her a future Nobel laureate.

“Malala is a remarkable person. She’s one of my heroes,” I told my students. “I’m a member of her ‘Fearless’ book club and love it!”

“She was shot by Taliban gunmen on Oct. 9, 2012, in the Swat Valley of Pakistan for speaking and writing about the equality of girls and boys,” I said. “She wanted girls to go to school the same as boys, but powerful men in her country did not want that. So, they pulled over her school bus and shot her.”

“Thankfully, she survived and recovered,” I told them. “Those powerful men could not silence her. They didn’t have as much power as they thought. She is now a major voice for human rights in our world today.”

In the book, Yousafzai wishes for a magic pencil to use to make the world a better place. Then, she commits herself to being that magic pencil.

I wish you could’ve heard my class echoing her words throughout the fourth-grade hallway: “ONE CHILD, ONE TEACHER, ONE BOOK, ONE PEN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD!” they chanted in their endearing, sing-songy kind of way.

We said “WORLD” (very loudly, by the way), and then we froze. We looked closely and listened carefully.

The room was silent. Not quiet, but silent. My fellow teachers can tell you how rare these moments of silence are during the school day. It’s a magical moment, for sure.

Cintia told me earlier in small group reading that if she had a magic pencil, then she’d draw herself as a writer. If you know me well, you know this made my heart smile.

Neveyah said she wants to be a dancer.

Then there is Nashly. She told me that if she had a magic pencil, then she’d draw herself as a helper of migrants from Honduras journeying through Mexico on their way to the U.S. border – on their way to us.

And in that moment of silence, a thought and a feeling struck me like a lightning bolt and shook me like a thunderclap: Malala Yousafzai is right. These children can change the world.

I get to walk alongside them. I am humbled. I am thankful.

We have also been reading about Jane Goodall in recent weeks.

Jane Goodall: Champion for Chimpanzees by Jodie Shepherd and The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter have been our Interactive Read Alouds.

I love Jane Goodall. I love these books. I love to read aloud with my students. That makes for a fun reading workshop!

The Watcher is about Goodall’s life and how she was very observant wherever she went. When we reached page 10, I read: “Jane traveled to the place in Tanzania where the chimps lived – Gombe.”

We then encountered a quote explaining her decision to live among the chimpanzees: “I wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets.”

I read this statement to my students with a lot of expression. They love it when I do that.

“This passage INSPIRED me to study whales!” I exclaimed. “That’s what good people do! That’s what good books do! They inspire! They change you so you can change the world!”

Whew. Teaching is fun. And exhausting.

This passage from The Watcher did inspire me to study whales.

I realized that as a fourth-grade teacher, I know a little about a lot. “What if I could learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets about one thing? What if I could know a lot about a little?” I asked myself.

“I decided then and there to learn about a thing that is not little. I decided to learn about the biggest animal to have ever lived in the world, the blue whale,” I told my students. “As a matter of fact, I decided to learn about all whales. I decided to become a whale genius.”

I hope this kind of inspiration strikes my 9- and 10-year-olds this school year. I hope we read or write something that inspires them to become lifetime readers and writers. I hope they become lifelong learners.

It was early October when we read The Watcher. Jane Goodall happened to be on the cover of Time Magazine around that time, so I bought a copy at Barnes and Noble and brought it to school.

I wish you could’ve seen the wonder in my students’ eyes when they saw it. It’s the kind of wonder I live for!

The Time article, written by Ciara Nugent, is titled “The Enduring Hope of Jane Goodall.”

In it, Goodall says, “You’ve got to reach the heart. And I do that through storytelling. … If you can get in the heart with a story, you may not know at the time, but people will go on thinking.”

This is a beautiful sentiment, and the story has a beautiful picture of her on the cover of the magazine.

Her face is kind. Her eyes are the peace of the forest. Her life is a reverence for life. She is an inspiration.

All in a day, or two, in public school, as this storytelling teacher and gritty writer plods along.

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