Monday, April 28, 2014

Reading: A Time of Miracles

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In 1997, I was in the fourth grade at Webster Elementary School in attendance with one of the most transformative teachers I ever knew.  After a summer spent at the swimming pool with my sister and our neighbor friends, I began the year alongside my best friend and fell in love with the book Shiloh.  I got to have lunch with my teacher and ride in the front seat of her car (major big deal), I went ice-skating for the first time, and I spent a weekend fishing with my uncles, in which I got the greatest quantity and largest fish of any of my (boy) cousins.  It was also the year that I lost my first dog to old age and my grandmother to cancer, the first year in which I experienced what it felt like to lose somebody.  At this time, I had no concept of the word "refugee" or of the predicament young Blaise Fortune encountered as he traveled with Gloria, his mother by chance, across the countryside and cities of the Caucasus, walking "straight ahead towards new horizons," losing almost everything he ever knew - except for hope.   

In A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux, a Batchelder Award winner originally written in French and published in 2009, tells the story of Blaise, a boy reportedly rescued from a wrecked train.  His travel companion and maternal figure, Gloria, rescued the boy from the train wreck and believes his mother to still be alive after being taken to a hospital due to the unfortunate incident.  Gloria says that she is from a wealthy fruit orchard and fell in love with a man named Zemzem when Blaise came along.  Although they are no longer together, Gloria tells Blaise that Zemzem left her with the greatest gift of all but won't reveal what it is. 

As she and Blaise travel, their ultimate goal is to arrive in France, where people have civil rights, and the two companions won't have to spend cold nights at campsites anymore, breathing in unhealthy, corrupt air.  In France, Blaise will have a chance to reunite with his birth mother and go to school.  But the journey to France is not easy with war following in their footsteps, and Blaise finds himself saying "good-bye" to many friends that he meets along the journey - Hoop Earring, the gypsy boy; Emil; Baska; Rebeka; and Fatima, who he hopes will remember him by his heart and violin. 

As I read A Time of Miracles, I was not expecting the story to span from Blaise's childhood (age eleven) to his college career, but it does.  Although the story spends most of its time with Blaise as an eleven-year-old, I enjoyed reading and watching the timeline of his life unfold.  Throughout his journey, I felt rather smart, as I was able to piece together the clues early into the story to figure out the mysteries behind Blaise's unknown life.  Who was his mother?  What was Zem-Zem's gift?  Why did Gloria often sneak away when the two weary travelers arrived somewhere new?  If students are reading carefully, they too should be able to piece together the clues and make many inferences and predictions and enjoy having their thoughts challenged as they journey through the book with Gloria and Blaise.  It was a journey that I was deeply engaged with, as I had trouble putting the book down and probably stayed up too late traveling with them.  

Yet, I also had to keep reminding myself that this story takes place in the 1990's, and when Blaise is in college, it is actually 2005 - the year I was a junior in high school!  I feel ashamed that I had no idea that this war was even occurring during my lifetime, and it shows me how I must educate myself about these issues.  Besides telling an engaging story with characters that are easy to care about and befriend, A Time of Miracles shines on a light on issues that are not always on the front page of newspapers or on the evening news.  

I am so grateful that I discovered this book and would like to read more of Anne-Laure Bondoux's books, especially if they follow the same theme as A Time of Miracles.  This book opens the door to further research for students and tells a story that will not be forgotten.  To check it out for yourself, be sure to visit your local library

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