Inspiring the American Dream
When teaching American history to students today, it’s easy for us to forget that so many of the stories, even legends, of days gone by were told with the specific intent of building character, encouraging hard work, and through these things, Inspiring the American Dream. Kathleen and Robert Basmadjian have claimed that goal for themselves; seeking to share a dedication to hard work, creative endeavor, and tenacity, they penned the book Abraham’s Journey, in an effort to revitalize the values at the center of the American mindset.
A full-color, 18-page paperback, Abraham’s Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream, appears deceptively simply until one cracks the cover. It opens with a boy Abraham at the dinner table with his family, having recently learned that both his parents have lost their jobs, and it is unlikely that there will be money to spare for Christmas. Abraham vows to do what he can to give his family a Christmas despite the desperate lack of funds.
The reader quickly realizes – even if they unintentionally read the previous page as “Depression” and not “Recession” – that this is a modern family, not all that different from their own. After Abraham is excused from dinner, he retreats to his room to consider his options – and to text his friends on his smartphone, asking for their suggestions.
While Abraham is chatting, someone new appears on the screen. It’s another Abraham, Abraham Lincoln, and he offers his help – if only Abraham will reach out and ‘take his hand’, aka touch the computer screen. When Abraham accepts, he is transported to the “cyber world”, an alternate reality where he meets many exceptional people, including Martin Luther King Jr., Norman Rockwell, Amelia Earhart, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill and Melinda Gates.
The people he meets on his journey help him to discover his talents, encourage him to persevere in the face of challenges, and provide him with role models. Each character has a slightly different take on life, and they have wildly divergent American Dreams, but they stand together in unity for the necessity of hard work, innovation, and perseverance. Also encouraged is a confident commitment to kindness and generousity, a reflection that suggests that when you have reached your dreams, it’s only right to turnabout and share that strength and dedication to those following in your footseps.
Sometimes, just getting through our day-to-day lives takes all our energy and much of our hope. The world we live in doesn’t give us time to build dreams; for those of us that are lower income, or who have lost jobs, we’re not permitted time to discover our strengths and reach for our own personal heights. We’re entirely too exhausted because we’ve been catering to someone else’s needs, someone else’s wants, and it’s often at the expense of time to ourselves, power to create, and belief in our own capabilities. In the few peaceful moments we have, we might dream – but making those dreams reality seems beyond us entirely. We’ve forgotten, as a whole, how to reach for the stars.
If even just a few children take heart from this book, and wrest control of their lives, and change their futures in a positive way, then it’s a success. If some – or better, many – are able to be much more successful because a fire has been built with in them, and so they can hope, and are willing to not just hope, but try – then it is unquestionably a success.
Abraham’s Journey does well to serve as a wake-up call to parents, too. It’s not the kinds of book one should simply hand off to each of their kids to read – and process – individually. It’s best discussed, out loud, so each partner can learn to understand where their fellow students are coming from. What may be simple, quick, and eacy to one person could be an incredibly difficult challenge to another.
It’s cute and easy to understand; both bonuses when one realizes that their potential market does not necessarily have English as their primary language. If at times it seems a bit over-simplified, or heaven forbit, overboard in its 21st century references, remember the target market. Thoguh there are children from ages 7–12 that don’t have computers, or a cell phone, that’s likely such a small piece of the potential readership that it makes far more sense to include these details and even go so far as to make them a major part of the story line, than to ignore them completely, risking ridicule.
My children, and how they felt? Hmm. This is hard to put into words. In many ways, we’ve just been through this ourselves, quite literally. While neither of us were completely out-of-work, we were making so little this last Christmas that I chose to sit down and discuss with the kids exactly where we are financially – and that there were things that we simply couldn’t afford to do, no matter how much I might otherwise want to. In some ways, this Christmas was only slightly better than last; at least we were in our own rental home, and not staying with family, as we were the previous year, due to our rental being foreclosed upon.
In that respect, there were story details that I was concerned might touch a little too close to home for comfort. And that turned out to be both a yes and a no. Yes, some of it touched awfully close to their real-world experiences – but at the same time, they’ve just lived through the “there isn’t money for Christmas presents, and there isn’t likely to be money for Christmas presents any time soon.”
Since they’ve just “been there, done that” – and done so with an admirable quantity of graces for children ages 10–17 – we actually had the opposite issue. Rather than feeling like the story was too similar to their own sitation, it rapidly became apparent through discussion, after we had each read the story individually, that they felt that the “answers” to the circumstances in the book didn’t have realistic results. It was surprising to me that they picked out what seemed to be the least-reliable suggestions; they’re so young, and they already know the world – and God – rarely work things out to be quite *that* simple.
That said, Abraham’s Journey is clearly fictional, for no one transports into the cyber world through phones, or meets well-know historical and present Americans, including a dead one or two, without someone noticing and raising a bit of a fudd. However, it’s the thought – and the reachable goals – that count. Since the story does connect o a level with children, and makes them curious “what happens next”, it’s relatively easy to expand on the texts’ initial comments.
The final pages of Abraham’s Journey have a short glossary specific to this title, plus definitions of relevant words that might or might not be already known by the student. This allows readers to continue along with the story, rather than reading it on an ebook or computer, and potentially losing track of which customer they were on. Character biographies are also included; these are well-written and intriguing, and serve by local and inclusiveness to keep the reader immersed in the book without distraction.
Abraham’s Journey would be effective with a variety of homeschooling methods. We received the book in February, so it was able to coincide, however lightly, with reading through the book. At any other point, it would be a good addition to our already-flexible unit study schedule. It’s easily usable by any homeschool student or parent. At $14.99, the retail price of Abraham’s Journey is higher than I would normally feel comfortable paying for a book this size. However, its unique approach, bringing modern relevance to a seldomly-discussed topic, adds significant value for homeschoolers teaching history or character qualities.