This last week, a day after the pub date, for Grandfather Gandhi, I was out in the “field”—visiting classrooms, sharing the story behind the-story of Grandfather Gandhi (for more on how the book came to be, read this interview with Arun Gandhi and myself by Kirkus), reading the book, and talking to kids about choosing to live our lives as light and how to use our anger proactively.
At Newton Country Day, when I asked the girls (it’s an all-girls school) whether or not they had ever been pushed or shoved on the playground and pushed or shoved back I heard a chorus of “yeses.” I was proud of the audience, for telling the truth—which can be hard, when we know our behavior is not what the adult wants to hear or may disapprove of. This honest answer was brave and important, because it is only in telling the truth to ourselves, that we are able to look at our internal feelings and outer behaviors and make choices. Our discussion of lashing out “like lightning” when the conditions are ripe, did not stop there.
After a reading of the book, we discussed Arun’s anger. Participating in the talk with the girls, we discovered that Arun wasn’t just angry by being shoved during the soccer match, about what was happening in the moment. When I asked why else he may have been angry, one girl’s hand shot up. “His tutor was mean to him.” This was an eye-opener. I hadn’t thought of this before but it opened up a discussion on teacher expectations and family expectations, things the audience could relate to. We then went on to discuss the racial beatings Arun endured. We came to a conclusion that all of these things had been boiling around inside Arun for awhile and the moment on the soccer field was about more than just that moment and those circumstances. I asked the students to, when thinking about their own anger, to not just examine what was happening in the moment but to look back at the days, weeks, and months before and see if something had been bothering them that they choose to let out in the “lightning” moment.
During the Q&A the 5th and 6th grades had wonderful questions—including asking if I had ever gotten rejected as a writer—and later with librarian, Rebecca Kinney, we got down on our hands and knees and made color wheels, to model the feeling of concentration and peace that comes with sitting before a spinning wheel, an important instrument in Gandhi’s non-violent teachings and movement. This hands-on-activity was designed by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City.
On Friday, I visited Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. Here I talked to grades 2 through 5 at different times throughout the day—the last day before spring break! I’d heard horror stories of presenting to kids before vacations but the kids at Moses Brown were attentive, well-prepared by their school librarian, Laura Gladding, and were supported by informed teachers, as “peace” is part of the school’s mission.
Here, with the different age levels and multiple sessions, our discussions varied from presentation to presentation. Again, the kids in attendance, thought deeply and meaningfully about the story and we had eye-opening discussions on the emotional renderings in Evan Turk’s illustrations. One child brought up how when Arun was angry, his face was very big and the perspective close up. This comment had me realize how when we are angry, our emotions feel like they are consuming us and everything feels larger-than-life. Another child commented on how when Arun was feeling small and ashamed the perspective reflected this, as well. We examined the shadows, watching how Arun’s shadow grows to almost equal his grandfather’s by the book’s end. The kids were mesmerized by the “shadow monster” on the soccer field and at the moment Gandhi reaches up and grabs the lightning and transforms it into the thread to be fed into the spinning wheel.
Each class stood and we recited The Live Your Life as Light pledge. We talked about choosing light would not be easy, but the more we did, the easier it would become. We also spoke about how the more we give in to our anger, and let it control us, the easier it is to let our anger take over.
In two days, the over two-hundred kids, I met and the discussions we had more than illuminated new ideas and thoughts in me. I can’t wait until NYC and DC and Atlanta. More kids. More books. And more conversations about what matters most: lightning or lamp?