Title: I Will Always Write Back
Author(s): Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda
Best For: Middle grades & High school
My Take: I’m a sucker for true stories, so this one pulled me in. Caitlin is in 7th grade when her teacher offers a pen-pal assignment. Caitlin, who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia, chooses Zimbabwe as the country where she hopes to obtain a pen-pal.
Martin becomes Caitlin’s pen-pal and as the two converse, he finds it difficult to share the struggles of his life in Zimbabwe. Martin’s family, like many in his area, are poor. Martin is the best in his class at school, but his family struggles to make enough money for Martin to continue his education.
As the years go by, Caitlin and Martin continue their correspondence. Caitlin learns of Martin’s struggles and enlists the help of her family to ensure that Martin stays in school and eventually, lives his dream of attending college in the United States.
Each chapter alternates perspectives, so readers get Caitlin and Martin’s point of view. Snippets of actual letters are included, which makes the story even more heart-warming.
At first, I was angry at how naive Caitlin was; however, then I remembered my own ignorance at 12 and I shamelessly admit, it was quite similar to Caitlin’s. Perhaps the best part of this story of two unlikely friends is that it’s true. I love this book for my students because it cultivates a sense of empathy, which I find a lot of pre-teens and teens lack these days.
Bottom Line: Add this to your classroom library; do a book talk about it and if possible, offer your students the opportunity to cultivate a pen-pal friendship of their own.