Listen up, it's time to read some amazing stories by Esmé Raji Codell. Are these stories true? Yes, indeed! They are straight from her sharp pencil and memory, with an eye for detail refined over her years as a writer of both nonfiction (Educating Esmé) and fiction (Sahara Special). Those years in the classroom and as a speaker can't have hurt either. Somehow, being around fifth-graders brings it all back for her, and it will certainly stir up reminiscences in her lucky readers.
In Sing a Song of Tuna Fish: Hard-to-Swallow Stories from Fifth Grade, each chapter is a short story of its own. Codell paints a marvelous picture of her childhood neighborhood in the 1970s. The part of Chicago where I lived had been a very fancy neighborhood once upon a time. . . . But Mom never said poor. People in other neighborhoods were poor, but people around her were just broke. Children might be surprised when Esmé's mother, in a fit of anger over the illegally parked car of a rich person, treats the car to an egging. But, they won't be surprised when Esmé feels terribly guilty at joining in on the joke. Her moral conflict is the real story here.
Esme's story is not all rambunctious pranks. In one sparkling chapter, she walks us through her neighborhood, one store at a time. Her mental time-capsule draws us into the five-and-dime (she even remembers the omnipresent Mexican jumping beans at the register), Davidson's bakery (with cookies that were like tasting a candy cloud ) and on to the barber, the currency exchange and the Magic Sidewalk.
Every slice of Codell's life is told with the kindness, truth and integrity that we have come to expect from her. Her honest memory is tempered with love and understanding for the foibles that make us all human. She may remember the progressive school where teachers occasionally lost their cool and hit a child, but she gives the school its due for helping her become a teacher.
May Codell's efforts stir fine memories in all of us and encourage us to write about them!