A Sky-Blue Bench
A Sky-Blue Bench
That night when Mama tucked her into bed, Aria’s eyes welled up. “I don’t want to go to school anymore.” She couldn’t hide the aches she was feeling from sitting on the floor all day.
“I know it hurts,” Mama said, wrapping her arms around Aria. “But I also know that you can get through this—my tough little girl.”
A Sky-Blue Bench is a picture book about a young girl, Aria, who is determined to make her school a more comfortable place. Aria has to sit at the back of her classroom where, because of her prosthetic leg, she can lean on the wall. All the other girls in her class sit on a blue tarp which covers their classroom floor. Readers learn that there is no furniture in their classroom because it was all burned to keep houses warm during the war. Aria’s leaning against the wall becomes uncomfortable and painful, saddening her. Her determination to stay in school leads her to coming up with a plan to build herself a bench to sit on. Aria tells her friends her plan, and one friend helps her collect discarded wood around the city. Aria builds the bench with guidance, tools and blue paint provided by a local carpenter.
Bahram Rahman’s “Author’s Note” at the end of the book clarifies when and where the book is set. Rahman notes that the story was inspired by his own experience of building benches while attending school in Afghanistan in the spring of 1993. Rahman’s note answers many questions young readers may have about Aria’s life and how she came to have a prosthetic leg. In his note, the topic of land mines is explained in careful and age-appropriate terms. The book gives young readers of all backgrounds a sense of what school conditions were like for girls living in post-war Afghanistan. By the end of the story, Aria’s classmates are excited about building furniture for their classroom. Their resilience and determination in making their school a more comfortable place is admirable and inspiring.
Peggy Collins’ bright and colourful illustrations of Aria’s everyday life reflects the optimistic tone of the story. Aria learns that sky-blue “is for courage, peace, and wisdom” which are often expressions seen on characters’ faces throughout the book. Further expressions and emotions on characters’ faces reflect happiness, sadness, fear, thoughtfulness, and hope. Collins’ use of colour and emotion on each page also brings out the warmth Aria receives from her family and friends. The words and pictures by Rahman and Collins work together seamlessly to make A Sky-Blue Bench a story from which young readers can learn and with which they can empathize.
Vasso Tassiopoulos is a graduate of the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia and the Master of Teaching program at OISE. She is currently an Elementary Teacher in the Toronto District School Board.