by Karim Doumar
No two things have ever fit together better than Martina Boone and the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia.
At its annual recognition event on Thursday, June 18, the council recognized the volunteers of the year, gave out community service awards, and heard the winners of the annual essay contest read out their essays which all surrounded the theme: My Hopes and Dreams.
The Literacy Council teaches adults – mostly immigrants – basic skills in reading, writing, speaking and understanding English. Martina Boone, the keynote speaker at the event, is no stranger to the struggles that these people face.
Boone was born in Europe and moved to the United States when she was five. Though she spoke many European languages at the time, she had never learned English. Neither had her parents.
“She [Boone’s mother] was a mathematician, so before she could teach math, she had to speak English.” Boone said. Being five years old, it was easier for Boone.
She had already learned multiple languages and children can pick up languages more quickly. However, her assimilation into the English language did not go without a hitch.
“I vividly remember that in second grade I could not pronounce the ‘wh’ sound because it didn’t exist and I remember that the teacher sort of made fun of me. She mimicked the sound I was making and kids laughed.” Boone said.
Boone was determined to be better. She went home that day promising that “I was going to learn to say that sound perfectly and I was going to learn English perfectly and I was going to learn every word,” Boone said.
She quipped that she might reach that goal by the year 2085. This struggle “really sort of fueled my love and appreciation for the music and the sound of the words.”
Boone has put that love and appreciation for words to exceptional use. She recently published her first novel Compulsion in October of 2014. It is the first of a three book series and book two will be published in hardcover in October of this year. The books are fantasy fiction for teenagers and young adults.
“There’s something really wonderful about the medium of young adult fiction because you can transcend genres, you can go through these wonderful worlds that are new and these experiences that are first time experiences,” Boone said about writing for a young audience.
Boone’s journey to publishing a novel started with her daughter who has a learning disability and struggled to learn how to read. “It’s heartbreaking watching somebody wanting so much to do something and not being able to do it,” Boone said.
As her daughter got older, “she was sort of struggling so much to read for school that the whole idea of fiction fell away,” Boone said.
The Twilight series turned Boone’s daughter back on to fiction. Though she didn’t adore the series, it was enough to pique her interest in more fiction.
“I took her to the bookstore and we came away with a whole stack of young adult novels by a whole host of authors. By the time she was done, she was a reader and I had decided to try to write young adult novels to reach kids like my daughter,” Boone said.
Boone’s goal is to “foster the love of reading through books that teens actually enjoy.” Much like her daughter, for her son “it was Harry Potter that started him reading,” Boone said.
Understandably, she holds issue with school curriculums which force students to read books which they don’t enjoy.
“When you look at the statistics of how many children graduate from high school and never pick up another book or now many graduate from college and never pick up another piece of fiction, I think that’s heartbreaking,” Boone said.
She believes school curriculums should include “more current fiction – more of the type of books that kids are already talking and buzzing about.”
Steeped in Southern history, Boone’s series is perfect for her desired additions to curricula. “I recently found out that there are teachers who are going to be teaching Compulsion not just for English but also for American history,” Boone said.
A teacher read the book and saw that it had great potential in the classroom. “That was my goal, and that was my hope” Boone said. She tries to write in such a way that does not simply get teens excited about reading but gets them excited about learning in general.
One of the many themes of Compulsion is that “history is shaped by the people who are telling it” and that “stories change based on who is telling them.” This way, Boone hopes to encourage teens to try and explore the world through an objective lens.
“I want people to be curious and to open their eyes and look around and ask questions and to realize that there’s just so many different things in history and science.” Boone said. “And reading is the key to all of it.”