Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Burger Test by Anne Booth

The Burger test

The Vicar who used to be in our village moved parish to a town, and the school in his new parish has a very different demographic from the one in our village. Most of the students do not come from homes where there are lots of books, or where reading is necessarily valued as a fun activity.
When my and Samuel Usher’s picture book ‘Refuge’ was published, he bought a copy for each class in the school in his parish, and he asked if I would come in and speak at assembly about it, and then go and work with a year 4 class. So I went to visit them, and we talked about the experience of refugees, and I was given some very important reminders about writing.
I decided that we would write poems together using three verses - one about being happy at home, then about having to run away, and then finding refuge and hoping for home again. 
We talked about the sort of things we hear and smell and touch in our every day lives and how we take them for granted, and how we would think and feel about them if we were forced to run away from them. So, as an example, I gave the fact that every morning when I am downstairs, I hear the sound of one of my teenagers upstairs banging on the bathroom door and shouting to a sibling to ‘hurry up!’. I said that it isn’t a particularly beautiful sound, but if we were refugees and looking back on our lives I would miss that sound of banging on a door as a reminder of everyday life and routine. I would miss hearing my children’s voices and the fact that  we once had a house and a bathroom door to bang on. Then we talked about how the sound of banging could be frightening if it was being done by soldiers who were after you, and then we talked about how in the last verse, reaching a destination and  banging on the door of a home, seeing the door open and someone welcoming you, is a very different experience.

We started the first verse with ‘I used to...’, the the second ‘Then I...’  and finished ‘Now I.’

I don’t have the poems in front of me. The teacher is going to take photos of them and when my website gets underway soon I want to include them so the children can say they were all published authors online - but I remember being so moved by the honesty of the children’s images. They really worked hard, they  didn’t try to come up with something ‘literary’ and the poems were all the more powerful for that. Then they illustrated each poem with images around the side of the page. I will share them as soon as I can, but I will leave you with one which I want to remind myself of when I am writing. I want that honesty and immediacy in my own writing. This was by an eight year old boy.

I am paraphrasing, and it was longer than this, but basically, it said:

 ‘I used to smell burgers and smoke from barbecues. Then I ran away and smelt smoke from bombs. Now I am safe and I smell burgers again.’

I loved the empathy shown  and the normality of the images in this poem. He is imagining a refugee boy to be a boy like himself. I found Tess's post in December here 'Voices from Syria: The Refugee's Tale' to be incredibly moving - and I loved the way she asked for details about normal life in Syria - the fact that there were Sponge Bob or Barbie birthday cakes. I can't wait to read her novel about a Syrian girls' journey, and, thinking back to my time with my young writers, I'm going to try to apply 'The Burger Test' to all my writing now!

Sorry there are no pictures - I am having problems with my computer. Please just imagine something - I know you can do it!


Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Anne, and such a great idea! No wonder the children responded so well, and I'm sure it helped them a great deal. I hope it also led others who had not suffered in the same way appreciate what the children had gone through. Well done you!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Very poignant. What a simple and effective idea. Well done!

Sue Bursztynski said...

We actually do something similar in our oral language activity in literacy classes at my school. " When I was younger I used to be able to.." and "Now I can..." and such like. Unfortunately most of my students ARE refugees and I have to be careful in my wording, because quite often they really, really don't want to talk about it. :-(