Reading Without Walls Challenge

Nicole Barber and Taylor Barber, Feature Writers

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Everyone has a story. A story of how they came to be or what made them who they are. Stories come from all around the world. Each human is a book filled with thousands of pieces of paper, bound together by their culture, loved ones, and their history. The variety and amount of culture that flow through this Earth is vast. Everyone is accustomed to their own niche and their surroundings of their home, but there is so much more out there in the world. To discover the true depths this Earth has to offer, one can always turn to books. With books there is an endless amount of possibility and wonder. There are stories about nearly everything imaginable. Due to the surplus of books right at mankind’s fingertips it would almost be a pity to not truly understand other people’s ways of life besides one’s own.
This is where the Reading Without Walls Challenge comes in. This challenge allows students to leave their world and venture into the euphoria of different cultures and stories. Every author has a story to share, each bursting at the seams with rich thoughts and ideas. To envelope oneself into the world it is best to get to know it first. The object of this challenge was to choose a book that depicted a lifestyle that was very different from your own. One that represented a different culture or was written in an unfamiliar format so that you could learn from it.
This year Youngstown State University’s English Festival encourages all student to get involved with The Reading Without Walls Challenge. The English Festival began in the fall of 1978, and has continued to grow and add unique contests since then. There have been an ample amount of books and authors represented throughout the years at this annual event. This year the English Festival has welcomed Gene Luen Yang, ambassador of The Reading Without Challenge, along with the stories he has to offer. Yang allows this beauty to flux into fruition by representing and writing the stories of fictitious people who emanate from different places besides America. His books are a perfect choice in the Reading Without Walls Challenge because of how different the point of views are from the average book an American student reads. His novels that have been represented at an English Festival include: Boxers, Saints, American Born Chinese, and The Shadow Hero. They are jam-packed with excitement and exuberance, with humor added in along the way. They represent cultures that might be different from what one knows, but it’s not difficult to relate to the real meaning in the plot. Taking part in this challenge was a brilliant and exciting way to see into the varying lives of people all around the world.
Springfield Local High School’s Freshman class took this challenge head on with 31 students reading with resolution and an open mind. They were told to choose either a book that was about a character that didn’t look like themselves, a topic they didn’t know about, or one that was written in an unfamiliar format. Following these guidelines each student chose their own book that attracted them and that fit the criteria.
The students that partook in this challenge and gave a wide variety of opinions on the matter. The words they offered contained excitement at what worlds they got to explore and marvel at what they had learned. Some explained how important it is to stand up for yourself and have a voice. Others showed how their book taught them to be more thankful for the benefits they have, because others have life much worse. One student that offered her opinion was Rebecca Catlos, she chose the book Freedom’s Children written by Ellen Levine which was from the perspective of segregated African Americans. Catlos stated, “I learned how strong [African Americans] all had to fight and how much heart they put into it for their rights…One thing I learned about myself is that I’m very very fortunate to be living where I do, around me are very supporting and accepting people who impact my life positively.”
Another student, Anjelina Booksing, read the book I am Mala by Mala Yousafzai and stated, “This book is important because it teaches people to stand up and have a voice if they think something should be changed/fixed. One thing I learned about myself from reading this book is that I’m very lucky have the things I have and that I’m lucky to be able to do the things I do safely.”
Caleb Guilliams also joined in on the challenge and chose the book Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, he stated, “I learned that even though these soldiers were from different backgrounds, different races, and different genders, they were all still able to be united as soldiers in the American Army. I learned that I shouldn’t let someone’s background, gender, or race determine what I think of them. God made everyone different, but we are all still humans!” These quotations were from only a few of the many students that enjoyed this challenge, and they provide perfect examples as to what experience the students gained.
Overall, what was learned from this challenge is that even though these stories came from different diversities, different predicaments, and some even across seas, everyone is still human. Although there are a plethora of differences, similarities can be found in the underlying message of all novels, and it provides something to relate to. It is easy to find oneself amongst words on a page when lost in the story, and that is exactly what happened to the students who participated in this challenge. It was a perfect way in reminding people that they aren’t alone in the world and there is so much more out there to learn and to feel. The world is filled with beauty. And when walls are knocked down, the sight displayed for all to see, the view is a whole lot better.

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