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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

"I was able to connect even more to the characters" — responses from the first school to work with STREET OF STORYTELLERS

My novel Street of Storytellers has won a third national book award, second top honor for all fiction from the IndieReader Discovery Awards — but it was just as exciting for me this month to help complete the first school study-unit project with the novel. This post shares some responses to the novel by seventh graders and their ELA teachers at Castleton Village School in Castleton, Vermont.

I received and responded to thoughtful letters from the students, and we had a lively Google Meet conversation. I finished with hugely renewed respect for how teachers have somehow helped rich learning happen this spring — and I was uplifted by the connections the seventh graders made with the novel’s American, Pakistani and Afghan characters.

Here are a few quotes from the students’ letters, shared with permission, plus brief reflections on the study unit by teachers Annie Crumb and Karon Chanski:

From the students:
I really loved this book. It was amazing and one of my favorites. I loved how each character changed.

I thought the setting was really cool. I liked how different it was to the United States. I like how every place you go, the culture is different. I find it really interesting.

It was interesting to see how Luke's love of music helped him connect with the local people of Peshawar. Hearing that music was being played nearby was the reason he decided to finally leave his hotel. Have you ever had an experience in your life where you enjoyed one thing and other people enjoyed that same thing, and it helped you connect with them?

Dani is such a believable character and so strong. Even after the head mistress was killed at Dani’s school, Dani did not give up her dream of becoming a teacher.

Was Yusuf meant to be this important in the story? If he had not been a part of Luke’s journey, do you think Luke would have changed his stubborn habits? I have experienced this level of influence in my life, so I was able to connect even more to the characters in this section.

Why did you make it so Luke understands things from other perspectives? I feel like Luke learned to see things from other people's perspective, and by learning that he knows how other people feel even if he feels something different.

From the teachers:
I read Street of Storytellers with a class of seventh grade students. About two thirds of this group are reluctant readers, but my students were drawn into the novel immediately. I found the students really connected to both Luke and Danisha, empathizing with the circumstances that each character is forced to contend with.
      I paired the reading with short cultural investigations into the greater Middle East region, focusing on food, music, and iconic locations within the region that would entice visitors. I used the novel as part of a larger themed unit on perspective. My students analyzed and understood the perspectives of the two professors, Luke, Danisha, and even the troubled Rasheed. They also found many details in descriptions of the setting which helped them understand a time and place very different from their own.
      Street of Storytellers was a new addition to my curriculum this year, but it has earned its place as an anchor text. My students loved it, and I loved the opportunity to widen my students' world view.
Annie Crumb

Middle school students need to make connections in order to learn. Several times, my students asked me if this was a true story because the characters felt like real people. That is the true talent Mr. Wilhelm has. He is able to create such believable characters that the students feel they know them, and then they WANT to know more about the background. Doug Wilhelm makes the connections our kids need to learn.
Karon Chanski

Very sincere thanks to Karon, Annie and the whole Castleton seventh grade!

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