The Year We Learned to Fly
Jacqueline Woodson’s new book, with its magnificent illustrations by Rafael López, is an inspiring story of the power of our minds to overcome challenges and hardship, and to imagine other possibilities.
Over the course of a year, two young siblings experience boredom, anger, loneliness, and rejection. Their grandmother tells them to use their minds, saying:
“Lift your arms,
close your eyes,
take a deep breath,
and believe in a thing.”
The children “learn to fly.” Their grandmother teaches them that their ancestors, chained and brought here on ships, also learned to fly.
“They dreamed a thing and made it happen.
Closed their eyes and flew away home.”
Over time, when faced with difficult circumstances, the children remember that “somebody somewhere at some point had to figure out if they were ready for any new thing coming their way.”
This beautiful story inspires conversations about what it means to fly, the relationship between our thoughts and our actions, the role of imagination in facing difficulties and envisioning change, the nature of time and the relationship we have to our ancestors and to future generations, the ways that values are adopted across generations.
I read this story with my university students recently and their reflections included:
“Our ancestors’ experiences can be very transformative for us. It can help shape how we perceive our families and ourselves.”
“Imagining a new reality connects you to others regardless of time and space.”
“Before acting on ‘flying,’ you must first imagine that you will.”
“I see my ancestors as a permanent part of me.”
“Somebody somewhere at some point — to me, this felt reassuring in the sense that they were not alone in their hardships and someone before them figured out a way to fly in their shoes as well.”