Homelessness is a growing concern in our society in North America. As Canadians we sign off on millions of dollars in relief aid to the needy in other countries, and as we should – because we are a generous lot and generosity helps make everyone a little richer, but what of the homeless in our own country? The poverty-stricken men and women, or worse still, children? No, to this problem we turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, we walk quicker. And I think that stems from a culture that is lacking in education around this concept of homelessness. What is homelessness? What does it look like? Whom does it affect? These are questions we need to ask ourselves before we as adults make quick judgments about homeless people we see, and then pass these judgments off to our children. Children feed off the exemplars in their lives. They practice what they see, not what is preached.
So, when I came across Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting, two things happened. For one, it broke my heart, and then, it provided me with an Aha! moment. I could use this book to teach my young students a little about what homelessness looks like! And so, I did a Read-Aloud using this book with students in Grades 1-3.
Told from the perspective of a 5 year-old boy who is homeless and lives in an airport with his father, this story is delivered with compassion and sensitivity. The facts are laid out for us to see. The day-to-day lives of the father and son, as they struggle to outwit airport security by blending into the travelling consortiums that hustle and bustle through the airport, are shown to us. The little boy learns a lot of wisdom at a young age, and this book nudges in a couple of really good metaphors to help understand the mindset of a homeless child better. Teachers, you can pause at various moments in the story and ask your students why the father and son are doing the things they are, or what certain things mean. Their answers will surprise you, and in turn you will be able to surprise them with yours. Among other themes that Bunting weaves into this delicate tale, are those of family and survival. The things you do to stay together and stay alive and well. There are sad moments to this story too, but there are moments of hope and positivity, where students can learn that people can still shine bright their candles of hope in the bleakest of situations. When you have finished reading this with your students, you will find they adorn a new-found appreciation for the homeless and their difficult lives. And in doing so, you will help to make them more sensitive to the aches of society around them.
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