Discovering a wonderful book that was not published 5 minutes ago always makes me feel like I’ve unearthed something secret. The fact that all of the hype and discussion and chatter about the book has passed is quite freeing to me as a reader. I can just experience the book for what it is, and not feel pressured to feel the same way about the book that the rest of the world feels. It’s like coming to a new place without any preconceived ideas about it. Sometimes it’s refreshing to step out of the whirlwind of what’s new and what’s hyped and to explore the many, many worthy books already out there.
The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph is this kind of book. It’s not new. It’s just lovely. It tells the story of Ana Rosa, a twelve-year-old growing up in a small community in the Dominican Republic. She longs to be a writer. She is full of stories and curiosity and dreams. Her family and neighbors don’t have it easy. It is a struggle to make ends meet, and so much depends on the vagaries of the tourist economy. Nevertheless, Ana Rosa’s family is pretty strong, and she has particular love for her older brother who is desperate to create a better future for himself. Seeing Ana Rosa’s talent, her family finds small ways to support her writing and Ana Rosa begins to experience the power of words to create change in the world. When tragedy comes to the family, Ana Rosa’s faith in words and poetry faces its first great test.
Writing a beautiful, affecting book is hard. Writing a beautiful, affecting, short book must be very difficult. Joseph’s novel is slim, and yet it examines difficult and complicated issues (poverty, alcoholism, economy in a developing country) in a sensitive and thought-provoking way. You will fall in love with the voice in this book. Ana Rosa is a character you really believe in. It’s strange to feel you have hopes for an imagined person, but you really do hope that Ana Rosa’s life will be rich and fulfilling. This is an eloquent story.
Teachers, The Color of My Words is made for the classroom. It would be the perfect read aloud, seeing that it’s short, with strong characters and growing suspense throughout. Here are a few teaching links with suggestions for using the novel in the classroom: