British Museum director Neil MacGregor’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects” was a wildly popular BBC radio series and book. It took 100 curators four years to decide which objects to include.
Now 826 Boston, a nonprofit writing center, has published a poignant variation on that theme. In “I Want You to Have This: A Collection of Objects and Their Stories from Around the World,” 50 recent immigrants from 14 countries — all 11th-graders at Boston International High School — write about a treasured possession. Tutors from 826 Boston worked with the students twice a week from November to February, sharing ideas and polishing drafts.
The students write not only about what they left behind, but about the objects that inspire confidence in their new lives. When Salman Al Janabi, a native of Iraq, fled his war-torn country in the middle of the night in 2003, he could take only a few things. One of these was a silver spoon his grandmother gave him. It was the one his uncle used to eat with. “My spoon is meaningful to me now because it is the only thing I have from my country,” he wrote.
What seized Betsaida Vicioso’s imagination were the juicy avocados grown in the Dominican Republic. On Saturdays her grandmother would buy two avocados, one for that day and one for the next. “She says that when an avocado is ready to eat, it has to be soft, and when you shake it, you have to hear the sound of the big round seed moving,” Vicioso wrote.
Pedro DaVeiga played soccer in his native Senegal but it was very hard to get on a team, especially if you couldn’t afford the fee. He was thrilled when his coach in the States gave him a pair of soccer cleats. “I think that I don’t have half the skills he has, but every time I look at the cleats, they make me chase my dreams,” DaVeiga wrote.
Sometimes the value of an object isn’t immediately apparent, as Cassania Gilson of Haiti learned when her grandfather gave her a pair of wooden shoes. “How could a ten-year-old girl love a weird pair of yellow shoes?” she asked herself. In time, she learned. The shoes embodied the struggles her grandfather had endured to make money. He wore them when he worked as a comedian. They were, Gilson wrote, “the tools that Grandpa Fanis used to keep his family from falling apart.”
In an afterword, Boston International teachers Laura Gersch and Kristin Russo suggest that the students have something to teach everyone: “This book asks us to reevaluate the material wealth in our lives, to look for significance instead of abundance, and to consider what the things we hold on to tell us about who we are and what we value.”
■ “Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith”by Fred Bahnson (Simon & Schuster)
■ “Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877”by Brenda Wineapple (Harper)
■ “Mistress”by James Patterson and David Ellis (Little, Brown)
Pick of the Week
Christopher Rose of Andover Bookstore in Andover recommends “Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape” by Mark Lee Gardner (Morrow): “The decision in 1876 by Jesse James and his gang to rob a bank in Northfield, Minn., proved to be a disaster when the citizens rose up to defend their town. Gardner’s account of the crime and its aftermath is thorough and enthralling, and his recreation of the robbery and the shootout that followed a two-week manhunt is edge-of-your-seat exciting.”Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.