I am grateful to Tara Smith for sharing the amazing story of Caitlin Aliferenka and Martin Ganda as written in I Will Always Write Back by the two of them with the assistance of Liz Welch. When Caitlin was in middle school, she had a teacher encourage students to form pen pal relationships with other students around the world. Caitlin and Martin began writing to each other, Caitlin from Pennsylvania and Martin from Zimbabwe. The book documents the letters and adventures over the next several years, chronicling historical events and unfolding the events that led to incredible life changes for both of them. Caitlin and the readers of this book learn what a difference the money we spend on a cup of coffee can make in the lives of other people in the world, and the realizations are especially powerful because the perspectives shift from Caitlin to Martin in alternating chapters.
Sometimes books touch your heart in ways that you don't expect, and I found myself tearing up in many sections of I Will Always Write Back. The messages of empathy, empowerment, humanity, and kindness overwhelmed me throughout the pages, as Caitlin was so profoundly generous and wise beyond her years, while Martin was so determined, grateful, and disciplined beyond his years. Middle school students will be inspired to reach out to other cultures in meaningful ways after reading this--I can't wait to share it with my sixth-grade teachers and hear about ways they can envision sharing this story with their students. But additionally, they will have a powerful springboard to discuss the meaning of grit, growth mindset, and goal-setting, as well as privilege and responsibility.
Thank you, Tara, and for the rest of you--don't miss I Will Always Write Back.