News from the North House Weekly News & Reflections from the Middle School

Week of November 12th, 2018

Another session of Humanities studies just concluded with a rousing round of creative presentations and a literary seminar. The Humanities this session was an exciting mix of literature, current events, history, creative writing, geography, math, and art. At the center of all work was the new novel The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. This novel follows two storylines: one of a modern-day adolescent girl who flees Syria's civil war with her family and travels through North Africa into Spain; and another of an adolescent girl 800 years earlier that takes a journey from Spain to the Middle East with a legendary medieval mapmaker. It is a coming-of-age story with strong female protagonists that provides valuable perspective to some of today's headlines.

Alongside character lists, reading responses, and group discussions about the novel, the students created a large-scale, detailed map of the region through which the two main characters travel.

Each student was responsible for their own small section, but when put together, the map is 7 feet wide and 3.5 feet tall! Finishing touches are in-progress, but it's almost complete.

Throughout, Mrs. Fagan assisted in the mathematical precision necessary to copy smaller maps to scale in a larger format, while Mr. Ladd assisted in painting the sections with different shades and tones corresponding to elevation and depth.

The Map of Salt and Stars begins with a poem written in the shape of Syria. This type of poem, one that takes the visual shape of its subject, is called a "concrete" poem, and is a combination of poetry and visual art.

Our students created concrete poems of their own based on memories rooted in the homes and neighborhoods of their childhood. Some of these will soon be featured on our gallery wall in Garden Lane!

“Every place you go becomes a part of you. But none more so than home.” ―The Map of Salt and Stars

Creative approaches to connecting with this novel extended even into the culinary arts. Our current Community Lunch group, with the help of Mrs. Ladd, Mrs. Fagan, and Mrs. Spicer (mother of alumni Matty and Caitlin), cooked-up a delicious culinary journey that followed that of the novel's main characters.

The culinary journey began in the Middle East with Fattoush and Lebanese bean salads and Syrian chicken sandwiches with roasted red pepper sauce on naan bread. The meal ended in Spain with a delicious Flan dessert.

Syrian music mentioned in the book provided a musical backdrop to a wonderful community lunch and great conversations!

A real highlight of these studies was actually getting to meet and speak with the author herself--Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. She graciously offered an hour of her time via video conference from the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy.

Jennifer shared about her background, her writing process, characterization and themes within the novel, and she answered student questions with depth and generosity.

Our conversation with her was enlightening and added fresh perspective and understanding of the novel. We were truly inspired by her enthusiasm, passion, and kindness. Thank you, Jennifer!

With themes of the novel in mind, we ventured off-campus last week to The Transformer Station--an art gallery in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland. There, we saw a new exhibit of photography curated by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

They assembled photographs from four different series by Lenanese-American photographer Rania Matar. These series focused on the journey of adolescence through portraits of American and Middle Eastern girls, as well as relationships between mothers and teenage daughters. Some portraits were taken in refugee camps.

Always focusing on the similarities rather than the differences in our shared humanity, Matar's work provided a thought-provoking addition to our analyses of the themes within the novel.

“There is a goodness in the world that got me through, that taught me it's important to know who you are.” ― The Map of Salt and Stars

It's nearly impossible to visit Ohio City without a visit to the West Side Market! Students voted unanimously to use some of their hard-earned profits from North House Specialties to treat themselves to lunch before returning to school.

This afternoon, on our final day of this Humanities project, alumnus Matty Spicer joined as our guest. It was great to hear her perspective as an individual with synesthesia, a condition one of the characters in the novel experiences.

Matty stayed after her discussion to listen as the students held their final seminar over the book. Each student arrived with interpretive questions to offer up as potential discussion topics.

Professionalism and grace & courtesy were front and center throughout as they collectively pondered and analyzed various aspects of the book in search of a deeper understanding.

They also concluded this Humanities project with creative small-group presentations based on their research topics.

Research topics were related to various elements of the story.

Some focused on current refugee crises around the world, some on the countries the characters travel through in the novel, and others on topics of medieval origin--such as the Silk Road, the Crusades, and medieval Islamic architecture.

It's certainly been an exciting few weeks in the world of Humanities! The community has earned a fun and restful Thanksgiving break before returning to science for studies in anatomy.

“People think that stories can be walled off, kept outside and separate. They can’t. Stories are inside you.” ―The Map of Salt and Stars

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