Fighting for the Underdog: Why I Wrote ‘Essie Wants an Education’

Story ideas come from everywhere. Mine are no exception. I    was listening to the CBC one afternoon and heard a program on the Romas (Gypsies) of an Eastern European country. I wish I remembered which country but I do remember that Roma children who were eager to attend school and get an education were treated unfairly. They were not allowed to take the academic classes, were assessed differently due to the prejudices of teachers and faced discrimination within the school system. One principal wanted to put a stop to that but even he came upon resistance as parents pulled their children from that school to avoid mixing with the Roma children. They were afraid their own children might get diseases. This is an all too familiar tale to anyone who followed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s where Caucasian Americans wanted to segregate their children from African Americans. Seeing the footage of that brave girl who wanted to go to the newly de-segregated school in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, makes me cringe with embarrassment. Imagine that we humans do this to each other! I also remember hearing a story of long ago where a white teacher who taught black kids said he was surprised that they were as bright and willing to learn as white kids. It made him realize that black kids were not unintelligent and slow to learn as he’d previously thought. On a much lighter note, I then saw a squirrel staring into the classroom at my child’s elementary school in Mississauga, Ontario. Maybe it’s my vivid imagination but I’m sure I saw a wistful look in that squirrel’s eyes as it cocked its head to the side as if trying to listen to the teacher. So there’s the story. A squirrel wants an education. The parents (humans) think that a squirrel has no place in school. How can a squirrel want or need an education? Surely they are not smart enough. This book is kid friendly and funny but the message is clear. We may not look alike or be alike but everyone deserves an education.

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