Home, sweet home

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Creating a book about their city changed students attitudes, says Rasha Hamid, Year 2 teacher at Khartoum International Community School, Khartoum, Sudan

I came to Sudan to learn about my father’s homeland and was inspired to share it with my students. For some of them, the country wasn’t a popular place to live. They would use words like dusty, dirty and noisy when asked to describe it and couldn’t wait to leave on vacation to Europe, Dubai or the USA. But a bookmaking project has changed all that and helped us build a strong sense of community.

I was inspired to start the project after a visit by children’s author and illustrator Christopher Myers. In preparation, I read several of his books to my Year 2 class. One, Black Cat, stood out as a favourite. The children were captivated by the poetic language and the beautiful artwork of the cat wandering through the pages. Black Cat is a celebration of Myers New York neighbourhood, so when we came to study Sudan, I decided we would make our own version celebrating our home country as a culmination of the Unit of Inquiry A Sense of Place.

We started by making visits, studying and creating maps, reading books and interviewing family members about Sudan. I read Black Cat to the class several times, focusing on different aspects each time. The children worked independently to write text about Sudan and Khartoum and worked in teams to revise what they had written. Staff and families were surprised at the beauty of the images evoked by the words the children collected and produced, including: We can hear your voice/From the big blue sky/From the wind/Never ever stops/And the wind that flows like the rain from the sky/Until the sun shines with light in the morning.

To illustrate the book, students were given digital cameras to take photos, enhanced using acrylic paints. I wrote a letter to parents asking them to go out with their children and take photographs of their favourite places the response was overwhelmingly positive. Inspired by Black Cat, the students built clay cats which they then practiced drawing in various locations. These pictures were made into collages with the photos and matched to text.

Once complete, Arabic teachers translated the English text into Sudanese Arabic, and I asked parents to translate the text into their home language. We held readings in the various languages, and now bilingual copies of our book Kadisa (Sudanese Arabic for cat) are available in our library in Sudanese Arabic, Spanish, French, Korean and Japanese.

The most wonderful part of this project was the way it brought our school community together in celebration of Sudan. As work on Kadisa continued, there was a clear change in the attitudes of children, staff and family members. The excitement children had about making a real book was palpable and the collaboration built up a community in a way few others have.