By Janelle B. Mathis, PhD, University of North Texas and Katie Loomis, Librarian and Doctoral Student, University of North Texas
In the third installment of January’s MTYT, Janelle B. Mathis and Katie Loomis talk about the picturebook A Story Like the Wind, written by Gill Lewis and illustrated by Jo Weaver. The theme for this month focuses on child agency and situations where children can relate to adults through personal relationship, actions, words or questions. This fable tells the story of a young boy who uses his agency to provide hope to fellow refugees through song and story.
Dark shades of night, war and escape are the only colors used in this book and introduce a thirteen-year-old boy, Rami, who has escaped conflict and loss. The story opens with this young lad holding an instrument case and sitting in a small boat with other refugees. Their motor has shut down and they are drifting with little food; the boy is rebuked for not bringing something with him that might provide more sustenance. However, Rami uses his love of music and story to uplift those in the boat as he plays a story to which each can relate personal memories. Thus, a community is formed around story, song and shared fears as they venture to the unknown. The gift of hope that the boy gives through his love of music and his instrument reveals agency of spirit that extends to others. The story within this story is that of a boy finding a wild injured colt and raising it to be the fastest, most desired stallion in the land. When the horse came into the hands of an evil Lord, the fantasy begins as the horse gave the boy his music to use to defeat the Dark Lord. The story ends with hope and a song of freedom, thus giving the refugees in the boat hope.
Janelle: This is perhaps one of the most powerful stories I have read that speaks to the significance of music and story. I appreciated that in between segments of the story that Rami was telling, different people in the boat related their story of memories, escape, loss and survival. The boy portrayed a strong sense of having agency through music and his instrument. He then shared this with the others as he opened spaces for their voices and nurtured a sense of hope through the story he told. The mixture of reality and fantasy is strategically used, and music makes that connection stronger and more vivid. I believe in music as a communicative form even without words, so the interplay here of authentic stories and an almost mythical tale about music’s origins creates a scenario that makes it easy to suspend disbelief. What comes naturally for this young adolescent is earnestly shared to support the stories of others, many of whom are adults. I am reminded of the universality of music and of the need for all to tell their stories – to be remembered. I am also reminded of the real struggles of immigrants – the price they pay both literally and in lives and dignity to find a safe place to live.
Katie: This book caught my attention from the very beginning. It could easily be the real story of immigrants fleeing a war-torn country. The way the story moved from past to present allowing everyone to hear the story in combination with the music was very moving. Music can change people’s lives. Rami gave this group the opportunity to look at their own stories. I agree that everyone needs the opportunity to share their stories. These people may not see each other again, but Rami and his violin influenced their lives in a positive way.
Janelle: Yes, I see music as a key to hope here- Rami’s sense of agency that evolves from his music as transformative for all. Both these fictional characters and the readers of this story are left with hope even though the situation is dire. Even though it may seem unrealistic to consider the notion of agency for these characters, their stories and voice give them a place in this small community. Agency begins within the personal social interactions of daily life.
Title: A Story Like the Wind
Author: Gill Lewis
Illustrator: Jo Weaver
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Pub Date: October 30, 2018