Esmé Raji Codell
Review by: Judi Riley
Teachers have opinions, and most students would love to hear them. In the book, Educating Esmé, the teacher does not refrain or sugarcoat the realities of teaching. She catches and maintains the readers’ attention throughout the entire book, which makes a quick read. There is no set audience; it is not by age, gender, or profession. Anyone can enjoy it, especially because it is a humorous example of how people can deal with barriers in their work place. The qualities of the author are reflected in this diary. There are jokes and innuendos that combine with the obvious struggles she overcomes in her first year teaching.
There are only a few characters; Esmé Codell, the principals, and the students. Esme is a spunky, irrational, creative new teacher. The first principal, Mr. Turner, is blatantly unsupportive, and usually does the opposite of what is in the best interest of the students. The principal never stops Esmé; she reports a difficult, black student and instead of listening to anything she says, he plays the black card. She quickly chimes back, “it’s not about him being black, it’s about being poor, and from people expecting nothing from you, and from nothing happening when you say ‘fuck you’ to your teacher. Children rise to meet expectations.” The second principal is any teachers’ dream, one who is always there for their staff, and cooperative towards the student’s needs. The students are also a big role; Esmé mentions most of her class throughout different parts of the book, and goes into the details about certain children’s lives.
Esmé writes in first person, in the form of a memoir. The story takes place in a Chicago public school system, teaching inner city fifth graders her first year as an educator. The major themes are that perseverance pays off in the end, and to be true to yourself for what you believe in. This little yellow book has the ability to make one’s jaw drop and at the same time make them consider their life choices or career paths.