“Ugly” Turns To “Beautiful,” “Stupid” To “Smart”

Allan Appel Photo“Who can share a word someone said about you?”

It didn’t take long for “ugly” and “stupid” to emerge as answers to that question from the circle of 25 jumpy pre-teen girls.

Then author Sakina Ibrahim led the girls in a dance movement to propel those words out, way out the window.

And let their opposites in.

Big Words To Little Me is Ibrahim’s first book. She came to the Wexler Grant School in the Dixwell neighborhood Wednesday at the end of a book tour in which she brings a unique combination of dance movement and anti-bullying self-help exercises to young people.

The get-together was organized by the New Haven Police Department’s Newhallville district as an extension of its Little Free Library initiative that recently debuted at the Winchester Avenue substation.

Officers bearing books have appeared before giving “summonses for reading” to kids at Wexler Grant.

The kids Wednesday were excited that they got the author herself, leading exercises from her book, and signing a free copy — the books were purchased for the kids by Read To Grow — with a personal and tailored note of encouragement to each kid.

Contributed PhotoIbrahim, who lives in Springfield, Mass., said the book emerged from her experiences teaching dance when “I realized there were these core challenges” facing teens, both adolescent boys and girls.

She characterized those challenges as: “You don’t want to talk to anybody and adults don’t understand you.”

So she began to work on a book with exercises on the page, as well as appearances incorporating movement that embodies emotions, with the ultimate goal to explore “what I wish I would have known when I was young,” she said.

Contributed PhotoThe book’s engagingly illustrated and designed pages include chapters titled “Who I Am; Feeling Alone/Me Too;” “It’s Not Your Fault/The Power Within;” and “Feelings Aren’t Facts,” among others.

To counter negative vibes that come your way, for example, Ibrahim directed the kids toward her own favorite chapter in the book, entitled, “Impossible.”

“‘Impossible’ actually spells, ‘I’m possible,’” she pointed out.

That led to the girls working with Ibrahim in the circle to give voice to negative words applied to them, to shoo them away with the kids’ own creative movement, invented there on the spot, and then to substitute positive words, the insults’ exact opposites.

At home, the girls were instructed to follow through on that physical and emotional work using a chart provided in the book with “chatterbox,” that is, the negative words on one side of the page, and “flatterbox,” or positive substitution words on the other.

Appel PhotoWexler Grant reading teacher and community partnership liaison Rhonda Luck, who had assembled the kids for the book event, said she particularly liked how Ibrahim’s approach emphasizes the kids’ valuing not only themselves but also others.

When the circle work had been completed and the girls had to go back to their classes, they first lined up to have Ibrahim inscribe their books not only with her signature, but a message. To Jazmine Lucas, Ibrahim wrote, “Be bold and be strong.”

To Toni Kelly she wrote, “Be strong and make us proud.”

Both girls returned to their classes clutching the books to their hearts.

In 2015 Big Words To Little Me earned a nomination for the prestigious Image Award in the literary category from the NAACP.

Those interested in contacting the author can do so at her site.

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