A series is emerging from recent work. Something to do with the weather?
I’ve been thinking about color, no doubt influenced by books and articles read recently, including Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker by Eric Liu, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and the NY Times editorial, “Why Do You Say You’re Black?” by Morgan Jerkins. I hope my musings make sense.
Growing up, I spent summers at interracial camps where my counselors were white and black, from the U.S. and around the world. It took me, a white woman, longer than a black friend to understand his mother’s words, “The world isn’t Trywoodie.” At camp, we were equal, but in the real world, I was the one to stop the taxi. Later in life, browsing at a tony craft shop with my black boyfriend, the sales clerk followed us around as if we were criminals. The commonplace for my boyfriend was new to me.
Drawing with pastels, I avoid using pure white or black. It’s far more interesting visually to build up light and dark areas with an assortment of colors. In physics, white and black aren’t even considered colors — white being all wavelengths of visible light and black is its absence. While our flesh may appear more white or black, it is never pure.
Some flesh tones have more red, others more yellow or blue. And as the color of daylight changes throughout the day, we appear more blue or yellow. Under the florescent lights of a fitting room, I suspect we all look half dead!
Friends have paid to find out which colors look best next to their skin. “Are you spring, summer, autumn, or winter?” they ask. Trial and error has shown me that I look sick wearing a bright yellow or green sweater, yet when I see the same colors next to dark brown skin, I want to run and get my camera.
The color of flesh doesn’t tell me anything about the person within other than adversity faced or unspoken privilege. I assume cultural differences, but there isn’t a single black or white culture or experience. Even the artist, who looks closely at eyes, facial expression, and stance, using clothes and scenic placement as clues, can only attempt to show the viewer how smart or kind the subject is.
It seems to me that diverse flesh tones make the world a more beautiful place. I’m not an art appraiser, but suspect the value of a Rembrandt painting isn’t assessed by the flesh tone of his model.
We reflect light in different ways. Calling people on one end of the spectrum, “white,” and on the other end, “black,” makes no sense. A system that places greater value on one over the other makes even less sense. That said, until the world is Trywoodie, I’m going to look for all the colors, keeping in mind the world is rife with prejudice and discrimination. It’s on me, and all of us, to repair what’s broken.
From the 1965 Camp Trywoodie yearbook:
“Our 1965 summer’s themes: The Great Society, and Futurama, are based on these words of President Lyndon B. Johnson.”
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. —President Lyndon B. Johnson
Last week I saw an amazing film, “My Hero Brother,” about a group of Israeli siblings, one brother or sister with Down syndrome, traveling together to India for what seems like an impossible feat, to trek high into the mountains.
Watching “My Hero Brother,” I experienced the frustration of not knowing what was going on in the “special” sibling’s head, feared for the young adult with altitude sickness, and wondered if the trip itself was a smart idea. I was on the journey, from muddy, rutted roads to the summit. When everyone makes it, I celebrate along with the siblings.
A week later, I’m still thinking about siblings. In the film, an older brother with Down syndrome bristles when his younger sister tells him what to do. Siblings, younger or older, take on the responsibility of caring for their special brother or sister. For many, the trip is the first one-on-one time with their siblings. But for one young woman whose parents died, caring for her brother is already a huge part of her life and always will be.
Siblings caring for each other after the death of a parent is huge. Close to home, I watched responsibility shift from the elderly parents of a schizophrenic daughter, diagnosed as a teen, to her younger sister. Over the years, the sister has worried about finding the right living situation, proper medications, and doing whatever possible within their means to give her sister the best life possible.
And I watch the brothers of a special friend take care of their younger sister. That she has been able to marry a special man and lead a normal life, more or less, with the supervision of family and social workers, didn’t happen in a vacuum. It began with a mother who got her daughter the help she needed to bring her to my public high school from a program for kids with special needs in another school district. While life isn’t easy, she’s a valued employee and has a closet full of Special Olympic medals. Long-distance caretaking goes on 24/7.
Two summers ago, shortly after our mother died, my sister and I traveled to England for a cousin’s wedding party and then to the Netherlands. While neither of us has special needs, it was powerful. Without partners or children, we got to know one another as adults. The story could have ended badly, but everything fell into place and seemed easy. That one of us ate more sweets and the other drank more cocktails didn’t matter.
During a Q & A with filmmaker Yonatan Nir, I learned that after the trip lasting friendships were forged and the group continues to meet. Whether it’s going to a movie or traveling to Paris, the siblings are spending time together. We can all learn something from this film.
The daily news brings me close to tears. I find myself looking for light, for what’s good in the world. Being active on the local level with others who refuse to accept the hate emanating from the White House, and around the world, helps, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of helplessness.
It’s at times like these that I remember my Aunt Mim, to whom I dedicated Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish.
The dedication reads:
Dedicated in loving memory to Miriam Sper Magdol z”l, whose flame will burn on long after her passing.
It’s impossible to remember my Aunt Mim without my Uncle Eddie, the love of her life. Together they fought to make the world a better place. Be it racism, economic inequality, the oppression of workers, or any other social injustice, they spoke out with words or in writing.
My Uncle Eddie was an historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the 1970’s at SUNY Potsdam, besides teaching Black Studies, he taught labor and immigration history. If he was alive today, I’m sure he’d be involved with the sanctuary movement. I’m honored to have his books on my bookshelf.
The black pages of Hanukkah: A Counting Book set off the brightly colored candles as they show through die-cut pages. Some people call it “the black Hanukkah book.” Hearing this, a friend suggested “the colorful Hanukkah book” would be a better moniker. Keeping my aunt and uncle in mind, let’s not lose sight of the colors and keep the flame burning.
In 2016, when I revised Hanukkah Coloring & Activity Book, among seven new activities, I added a tzedakah — charity — page. In the spirit of my aunt and uncle, it’s my way of creating positive change in the world…one candle at time.
Most days of summer I ride my bike up the street to Crystal Lake where I swim. On the way, I pass Bullough’s Pond. Trees line the streets and small wooded parks are scattered throughout the suburban city in which I live. I’m lucky and know it.
If I want to go one notch up the niceness scale, I can drive a half hour to Walden Pond. And, when invited, I visit friends with houses in beautiful areas of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. This makes me doubly lucky.
Thinking about privilege reminds me of The Fresh Air Fund that gives New York City children the opportunity to spend part of the summer with a host family or at a camp outside the city. While a summer of fresh air is a start, everyone deserves a safe and healthy environment all year long.
My first trip of the summer was to Freedom, New Hampshire. My friend Tatjana introduced me to a trail up a small mountain overlooking Ossipee Lake. On another trail, with varied terrain, I wasn’t quick enough to see the beaver, but later had a long look at a broad-winged hawk perched high in a tree next to the house. That evening we enjoyed wild edible mushrooms Tatjana found on our hike.
In a double kayak, we paddled through the inlet to Danforth Ponds where we found lily pads, the eyes of a swimming turtle, and mountains in the distance. With only a paddle boarder and two kayaks on the other side of the pond, I listened to the sounds of nature that are usually drowned out by man-made noise. I did have to ask the paddleboarder guide to turn down the volume of the music blaring from her phone!
Summer in New Hampshire means wild blueberries. They grow alongside roads, in the sandy soil of a former airport, in the woods, and on mountaintops. We spotted a few wild strawberries, too.
After a few days at home, I was ready to head back to Troy, New Hampshire to pick more blueberries. On my annual trek with Judy and Harry, we climb a small mountain near Mount Monadnock where blueberries are plentiful. It’s the perfect hike to do with friends who’ve never seen a blueberry growing wild. One in the bucket, one in my mouth, one in the bucket, one in my mouth…
While we ate our sandwiches, two birds on treetops tweeted back and forth. On our way down, fellow hikers showed us a photo of the snake they encountered on the trail. I wasn’t disappointed to have missed the real thing!
Unlike Sal in the children’s book Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, I didn’t meet a mother bear and cub. But, the night before I arrived at Little Squam Lake, my friends heard the growl of a bear behind the house. And I wasn’t the one to see the bear on the road, which was fine with me. Years ago, I had my own sighting of a bear lumbering across the road while cycling the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, Canada.
To ensure a healthy planet for future generations, we need to do all in our power to protect it.
Following up on my last post, here’s another early book. At the time, I was a fan of Joan Walsh Anglund.
Here’s one of my earliest books. I must have been leaving the graphic design to the book designer. Don’t you love the copyright? Enjoy.
And here’s “my dear and loving Winnie-thur-Pooh.”
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (2015)
by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way….The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease….Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. This inspirational true story shows how one person’s actions really can make a difference in our world.
This New York Times Best Illustrated Book is a mostly true and completely stinky story that is sure to make you say, “Pee-yew!” Teaching environmental awareness has become a national priority, and this hilarious book (subtly) drives home the message that we can’t produce unlimited trash without consequences.
This fun and informative book introduces kids to actions they can take to help make the Earth healthier, such as making less garbage, repair-reuse-recycle, composting, planting a tree, or not wasting electricity or water—without being preachy or silly. Colorful graphics and simple explanations of electricity, carbon dioxide, global warming, renewable energy, and the importance of trees and water add meaning to the actions proposed.
The EARTH Book (2011)
by Todd Parr
With his signature blend of playfulness and sensitiviy, Todd Parr explores the important, timely subject of environmental protection and conservation in this eco-friendly picture book. This book includes lots of easy, smart ideas on how we can all work together to make the Earth feel good — from planting a tree and using both sides of the paper, to saving energy and reusing old things in new ways.
The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling (2009)
by Alison Inches, illustrated by Pete Whitehead
Learn about recycling from a new perspective! Peek into this diary of a plastic bottle as it goes on a journey from the refinery plant, to the manufacturing line, to the store shelf, to a garbage can, and finally to a recycling plant where it emerges into it’s new life… as a fleece jacket!
I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (2008)
by Alison Inches and Viviana Garofoli
Meet Max the Little Monster. He is a cute, furry green monster who is an environmental nightmare. Among other things, he leaves on all the lights, keeps his computer plugged in, blasts the TV, hoards his old toys and uses so much toilet paper it clogs the toilet until finally, his excessive ways cause a power outage. With no TV to watch, computer to play on, video games to play with, Max finds there is a whole big world outside that he can make a difference in the environment.
Compost Stew (2014)
by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Ashley Wolff
Kids everywhere are knowledgeable about the environment and climate change. Not only is composting becoming more common in households and residential gardens, but many school gardens feature compost piles, too. But how do you start a compost pile? What’s safe to include? Perfect for an Earth Day focus or year-round reference, this inviting book provides all the answers for kids and families looking for simple, child-friendly ways to help the planet.
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World (2014)
by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner
In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, here is a biography of the pioneering environmentalist. “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmentalist. She wrote Silent Spring, the book that woke people up to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.
On Earth (2008)
G. Brian Karas
Climb aboard a giant spaceship . . . the Earth! In glorious art, G. Brian Karas illuminates our Earth and its cycles and does a brilliant job of making the concepts of rotation and revolution understandable. As you travel, watch shadows disappear into night, and feel the sun on your face as winter turns into spring. All these amazing things happen because the Earth is constantly in motion, spinning and circling, gliding and tilting. As passengers of the Earth, our voyage never ends!
Common Ground: The Water, Earth, and Air We Share (1997)
by Molly Bang
A simple story of our planet’s natural resources with jewel-like paintings by Caldecott Honor author Molly Bang. Through the example of a shared village green and the growing needs of the townspeople who share it, Molly Bang presents the challenge of handling our planet’s natural resources.
The Tiny Seed (2009)
by Eric Carle
Eric Carle’s classic story of the life cycle of a flower is told through the adventures of a tiny seed. This mini-book includes a piece of detachable seed-embedded paper housed on the inside front cover. Readers can plant the entire piece of paper and watch as their very own tiny seeds grow into beautiful wildflowers.
The Curious Garden (2013)
by Peter Brown
One boy’s quest for a greener world… one garden at a time. While out exploring one day, a little boy named Liam discovers a struggling garden and decides to take care of it. As time passes, the garden spreads throughout the dark, gray city, transforming it into a lush, green world.
When the Wind Blows (2015)
Linda Booth Sweeney
When wind chimes start singing and clouds race across the sky, one little guy knows just what to do—grab his kite! But as the kite soars, the wind picks up even more, and soon he and his grandma are chasing the runaway kite into town. As they pass swirling leaves, bobbing boats, and flapping scarves, breezes become gusts and the sky darkens. Rain is on the way! Can they squeeze in one more adventure before the downpour?
The Snowy Day (1962)
Ezra Jack Keats
In this Caldecott Award-winning book, a small boy named Peter experiences the joy of a snowy day. First published in 1962, this now-classic book broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing. The vivid and ageless illustrations and text, beloved by several generations of readers, have earned a place in the pantheon of great American children’s literature.
Giant Squid (2016)
by Candace Flemin, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
The giant squid is one of the most elusive creatures in the world. As large as whales, they hide beyond reach deep within the sea, forcing scientists to piece together their story from those clues they leave behind.
Sparrow Girl (2009)
by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.
A Symphony of Whales (2002)
by Steve Schuch, illustrated by Peter Sylvada
Glashka can hear the voices of the whales in her dreams. . . but with that mysterious power comes great responsibility. When she discovers thousands of whales trapped in a rapidly freezing inlet, she knows it is up to her to gather the people of her town to help them. Based on an actual event, this inspiring story follows Glashka and her people as they come to understand the importance of all life.
Owl Moon (1987)
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer. Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is.
Swan Sky (1988)
Despite the devoted attentions of her family, a young swan is unable to accompany them on the journey to their summer home.
Check out Tejima’s books!
Swallows and Amazons (1930)
by Arthur Ransome
The first title in Arthur Ransome’s classic series, originally published in 1930: for children, for grownups, for anyone captivated by the world of adventure and imagination. Swallows and Amazons introduces the lovable Walker family, the camp on Wild Cat Island, the able-bodied catboat Swallow, and the two intrepid Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett.
I look at the shelf with my childhood books and see the world. By the time I was ten years old, I’d made friends with children living in Scotland, Africa, and Tibet, among other countries. Some introduced me to everyday lives that were both different and the same as mine. Others, showed me that not getting along with people who are different is a global problem.
Wee Gillis in Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf brings his lowland-highland family together…
Marcel in All Alone by Claire Huchet Bishop brings a French village together…
and fighting koala bears in The Bear Party by William Pene Du Bois get along when they dress up in costumes from around the world.
In Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden, I felt Nona’s loneliness as she struggles to adapt to living with her English relatives, missing the life she knew as an only child in India. Together we built a Japanese dollhouse and navigated sibling relationships.
At a young age I absorbed concepts many adults still haven’t grasped. If all children grew up with these or similar books, we might live in a world in which all people are welcome and treated with respect.
Here are a few more books that made me who I am:
Post a comment with the title of a multicultural children’s book that made a lasting impression on you…or send me an email!
Some recent shots taken with my iPhone camera.
I didn’t know burgers ate grass, or anything else for that matter!