Still Waters in a Storm: The One-Room School Where Everyone Listens to Everyone (Paperback)
Previously published as Kid Quixotes, the unlikely, inspiring true story of a one-room school where children of undocumented immigrants and their teacher unlock the revolutionary power of listening.
“Haff paints a picture of what education in America could and perhaps should be. His story is passionately honest, profoundly open-minded, and suffused with optimism, and his writing is crisp and clear and persuasive.”
—Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
Still Waters in a Storm is an after-school program held in a small room in Bushwick, Brooklyn; it is a place for kids to practice reading and writing in English, Spanish, and Latin. For the students, many living in constant fear of deportation, Still Waters is a refuge. For Stephen Haff, a former public-school teacher, it is the sanctuary he built following a breakdown caused by bipolar depression. At Still Waters, all agreed that there would only be one rule: “Everyone listens to everyone.” And this has unlocked spectacular potential.
Since 2016, the students have been collectively translating Don Quixote into English, taking the Spanish tale—a story about a dreamer who never gives up—and adapting it into a bilingual musical. Six-year old Sarah tells of her mother’s journey across the desert from Mexico riding on the back of a tiger. Alex, a very private teenager, sings her coming out song to standing ovations. As the kids perform their work across NYC, they learn that they belong in this country—their voices amplifying to deliver a message of diversity, love, hope, and resilience essential to us all.
Stephen Haff is the founder of Still Waters in a Storm, a one-room school serving Spanish-speaking immigrant children in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Previously, he taught English at a public school in Bushwick for nearly a decade. He earned his MFA in Theater Studies at Yale, and has made a living directing plays and writing essays for the Village Voice and other publications. Stephen lives in Queens with his wife, children’s book author Tina Schneider, and their three children.
“I wept and cheered all through this extraordinary book. There is magic in these pages just as surely as Stephen Haff and his students prove there is magic in the act of telling and, importantly, in the act of listening. Everyone everywhere needs to read this book.” — Cristina Henríquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
“A remarkable demonstration of the actual miracles that can be performed with no resources beyond the determination of an individual and the community that rallies to support him. It’s the most inspiring book I’ve read in a long, long time.” — Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“Cervantes would be proud that his 400-year-old novel is helping these extraordinary schoolkids and their impressive teacher make sense of their lives; face their fears; and tell their stories with courage, imagination, and song.” — Salman Rushdie, New York Times bestselling author of Quichotte
“The one rule at Still Waters in a Storm, the beautiful school at the heart of this beautiful book, is ‘everyone listens to everyone.’ I listened to the many voices telling this necessary story, and I was moved and changed by them.” — Jonathan Safran Foer, New York Times bestselling Author of Everything is Illuminated
“One of the most achingly poignant and genuinely inspiring books I have ever read. Steve Haff ’s clarion call for diversity and inclusion, his emphasis on empathetic listening, and his conviction that classic literature can be urgently relevant to our lives today make his a peerless pedagogy. The story of his brave, creative, and resilient students will win your heart completely; the story of his school should galvanize reforms of our educational system and political policies and remind everyone that any true education must be founded on love.” — Priscilla Gilman, author of The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy
“In my years of experience as a writer and as a college professor, I have never seen anything like this: the love for language, the passion for discussion, clarity of mind, and humility of heart. Stephen Haff invents impossible projects and makes them possible.” — Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive
“The story of the Kid Quixotes is gritty, moving, and inspirational. It is a potent reminder of how powerful gentleness is, how important respectful, sincere attention is—an urgently needed reminder in our time. Stephen Haff is a great teacher who has allowed himself to be taught. This beautiful book shows the reader, among other things, how to learn and to keep learning through careful, gentle attention to people, words, and ideas.” — Mary Gaitskill, author of Bad Behavior
“Haff paints a picture of what education in America could and perhaps should be. His story is passionately honest, profoundly open-minded, and suffused with optimism, and his writing is crisp and clear and persuasive.” — Andrew Solomon, National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
“In a Bushwick storefront classroom, Stephen Haff and his mostly immigrant Kid Quixotes have created a community of joyful learning, resilience, courage, astounding creativity, generosity, and love. Haff is a humble genius and visionary, and this book brings you into that enchanting, truly revolutionary classroom.” — Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name
“Behind a storefront in Bushwick, Stephen Haff is doing the work of angels. The story of his evolution into a teacher making a huge difference in the lives and education of immigrant children is inspiring enough, and the stories of the children themselves are a fascinating tapestry; but the message throughout—that we listen to one another, and respect study and expression—overrides it all. It should be woven into all systems of education. You cannot read this book and go a page without being thoroughly inspired.” — Susan Minot, author of Monkeys and Evening
“A necessary antidote to despair and reminder of the immensity of what can be accomplished in a single neighborhood, in a single classroom, and how that can improve us all.” — Phil Klay, National Book Award–winning author of Redeployment
“In lively dialogue both funny and heartbreaking, and a multiplicity of narrative voices, Kid Quixotes allows its characters to tell their own deeply moving stories. This is a book that listens." — George F. Walker, author of Love and Anger, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Drama
“In Kid Quixotes, the children of Latino migrants in Bushwick, Brooklyn, carry on Don Quixote’s mission to bring literature to life and rescue the world in the process. Stephen Haff reveals the power of words to heal oneself and a country simultaneously formed by migrants and suspicious of them. Cervantes couldn’t be any prouder.” — Rogelio Miñana, author of La verosimilitud en el Siglo de Oro, head of the Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages, Drexel University
“Kid Quixotes is an adventure of the human spirit, a glimpse into the genius of immigrant children who overcome circumstances few readers can imagine with courage, heroism, and the love and dedication of a visionary teacher. . . . A riveting, inspiring, and ultimately triumphant ode to the power of education and indomitability of the imagination.” — William Egginton, Johns Hopkins University, author of The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World
“Kid Quixotes is alive with humor and heartbreak. It is a great reminder of the resilience of children in the face of adversity. Goliath may have become ruler of the land by spewing hatred toward immigrants, but, true to their namesake, the Kid Quixotes refuse to stand by idle in the face of injustice. Their stories weave into powerful songs echoing with optimism and purpose and resounding with a love that refuses to be silenced.” — Maria Venegas, author of Bulletproof Vest