Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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Propaganda???

Propaganda is the dissemination of information that is politically charged to promote a certain viewpoint. It’s usually state-sponsored.

I have long felt that a lot of children’s literature consists of different, albeit at times benign, forms of propaganda.

One thing I’m still processing from the international storytelling festival in Iran is an offhand comment someone made about the first story of the festival.
I got a terrible feeling even as the lady began. It’s funny how I can almost sense what a story is going to be about.
And Yup, it was a story about little Elan, that three year old Syrian boy who was found on the beach drowned.

Image result for elan syrian boy

I don’t want to post the picture of him drowned. I must prefer this one of him alive.
I was not a pretty sight blubbering in the third row as the lady recounted the story. Elan had looked exactly like one of my grandsons!
The audience of young school girls had grown very silent.
I always feel incredibly guilty when I’m reminded of the struggles people are going through around the world. We are so darn fortunate and but for the Grace of God go I!
It was tough! So heavy!
And yet the tears were cathartic. I had forgotten, kind of, about poor little Elan! Life goes on and all that kind of nonsense.
So later on that day, I was at a table talking with two others and someone made the comment that the audience had been too young for that kind of story and at first I agreed.
But now…I’m not so sure.
We in the West shelter kids because we feel such happenings are too much for them but for kids there, are they too much?
Elan died off the coast of Turkey, next door to Iran.
These kids live under the specter of threats and hostility from Israel and the U.S.. The U.S. has either invaded or has bases in every country that surrounds Iran.
So is such a story appropriate under the circumstances?
I dare say it is. It’s certainly comforting.
And from my previous trip to Iran I noticed something about Iranian society. Maybe it’s because they’re Shia and they, to this day, blame themselves for the historic slaughter of the Prophet’s grandsons (peace be upon him) at Karbala.
Iran is a very martyr oriented society.
They have the graves of martyrs near their places of worship and they regularly venerate their sacrifices. Without the sacrifices of their dead they would never have survived the onslaught of Western forces.
So the lady told Elan’s story in a martyr format.
I found it deeply moving.
Then this gentleman, whose opinion I respect, said the offhand comment, “I’m going to say something controversial.”
We both waited for him to continue.
He said, ” I thought it was propaganda. ”
I was shocked.
But I respected his opinion so much I waited for him to continue.
He said, ” They could have played something like that in the Third Reich! ”
I said quietly, “Well isn’t a lot of children’s literature these days propaganda? ”
He agreed.
And somehow we changed the subject.
But I kept thinking about it.
Why is it propaganda when Muslims do it and high theatre when the West wallows in the triumphs of the past???
Look at the movies Dunkirk and The Finest Hours!
I think the thing about propaganda is that it’s designed to elicit a very specific reaction. Mostly patriotism and the nobility of a cause.
Doesn’t that describe Dunkirk and The Finest Hours???
I must confess I haven’t watched the latter but I have watched Dunkirk and yes I think it’s a form of propaganda. Yes it deals with the desperate situation the Allied troops were in yada yada yada, but what is the ultimate point of it?
Isn’t it to admire the sacrifices made much like the Elan story sums up the desperate plight of people suffering next door for them?
Isn’t the charge of propaganda harsh???
And yet accurate?
Maybe that’s why I’m so angry with the characterization. Surely I wouldn’t be angry if there was no truth to the charge.
And ultimately doesn’t this point to a double standard???
It often feels like it’s fine if westerners make propaganda, don’t you know because ours is ever so much more subtle. It’s ART!!!
For a long time I’ve been thinking about why the middle east , the native community and colonized countries are still in such poor shape even decades after their colonial masters have left.
Never mind that the colonial powers left in place a divided region with one community set against another, and a power vacuum just waiting for a strong-armed dictator to fill. Never mind that in Canada and other western countries the white overlords developed a continued infrastructure in the case of the native community that were meant to hold them back.

It doesn’t explain why these communities still can’t get their act together.
It’s my theory that a country being colonized is like being raped on a large scale.
It’s easy for us to say it’s time to get over it, harder for them to do so because they’re still traumatized. Still trying to appear civilized.
Do I still respect the guy who made the remark???
Yeah kind of.
Does that mean I’m trying to appear civilized? God I hope not!!!
He’s entitled to his opinion.
But I disagree with his characterization.
I think he just doesn’t understand.

It is always such an honor to be invited to judge a storytelling festival!

This was my second stint as judge at the Kanoon festival and I can’t believe how different an experience it was from the first time!

One person came up to me, I think it was an Iranian administrator or something, and they said that they’d seen me sitting quietly waiting for something or another and I just looked so peaceful. And then they said that a person who is peaceful has come to ‘know themselves’ and I sat there looking at the person thinking, ‘wow, how very wise’.

And I asked myself, “Do I know myself?” and I answered, “Yes, I think I finally do.”

It was a moment of clarity, and on the long long long flight back, I happened to watch Kung Fu Panda 3, which I must have enjoyed but somehow didn’t remember what it was about, and lo and behold, it was also about ‘knowing oneself’. And I wondered if Allah subhanahu wata ala was trying to tell me something. And yes, I think He is.

It tends to only happen when you’re older, when you’ve come to terms with disappointment. When you are so very young the whole world is filled with possibilities, don’t they keep telling you that at school? That you can be anything??? And as you grow you realize, no, you can’t be everything.

For example, as much as I might love the game and as much as I might try, I cannot be an NBA basketball star. I’m NOT tall enough, I’m way too fat, I’m not fast enough, heck, I’m not fast at all! I can’t dribble…you get the picture.

So what’s wrong with watching from the sidelines?

And some might say that it’s a diversion, that sports are filled with arbitrary things, that each team is composed of mercenaries who are playing on behalf of the highest bidder, yada yada yada, and they’d be right, but at the same time it’s an innocent diversion, it allows you to relax and just get caught up in a game for a while.

There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t invest too much of yourself in it, everything in moderation.

Some might call stories a diversion too. And yet they make our lives richer.

When desperately poor people get a bit of extra coin, you know what they spend it on? Not necessities like soap and a better home. They’ll go see a movie, a story in film form, because they can escape the dreariness of their lives for a little while.

Stories give their souls sustenance, hope enough to keep them going, till the next time they find themselves with a bit of extra coin.

Who says they’re not important???

And it’s so refreshing to see how seriously people in Iran take their storytelling!

So I was there, in Iran, in the moment, away from all my normal cares and worries, and I had not invested too much of myself, I was there to learn, to soak up all I could gain from the experience, all I could learn from the opportunity.

I kept remembering all the people I’d met last time, quiet shy Anna Sophia from Portugal who won the competition, bowling us over with her powerful stage presence and the strength of her voice! Mama Tok, from Malaysia who surprised everyone with her puppetry and colorful characterizations, who came in second, and Roger Jenkins who came in third. And then there was the Kenyan lady, her name escapes me, who was so wonderful, I insisted we had to break the rules and make her win too! That was back in February of 2013.

I was five years older this time.

http://www.kanoonnews.ir/news/276411/%D9%82%D8%B5%D9%87-%DA%AF%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A8-%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B7%D8%A8%D8%B4-%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D9%87%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%B4%D9%87-%D8%AC%D8%B0%D8%A8-%D9%85%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D9%86%D8%AF

This is my biography on the Kanoon webpage. Isn’t all the Farsi text cool?

اجراهای دومین روز بیستمین جشنواره‌ی بین‌المللی قصه‌گویی کانون

Me watching the stage intensely!!!

Here’s a link to some photos from the festival!

http://www.kanoonnews.ir/photo/276459/%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B2-%D8%A8%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AC%D8%B4%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%87-%DB%8C-%D8%A8%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%84%DB%8C-%D9%82%D8%B5%D9%87-%DA%AF%D9%88%DB%8C%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%88%D9%86

On Wednesday January 24th 2018 I did a workshop for Kanoon.

آموزش و پرورش مدرن روی ادبیات سرمایه‌گذاری می‌کند

The pretty girl on the left is my translator Elaheh Hematian! I used her in a story we composed on the spot, an exercise I use to teach teachers how to teach story structure. I was teaching them beginning, middle and end and I also used my Big Red Lollipop story to emphasize the lesson plan.

They’re watching my antics on stage! At one point I had them laughing out loud!!!!

Here’s the page that talks about the workshop and the other professor who shared his thoughts as well:

http://www.kanoonnews.ir/news/276502/%D8%A2%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%B4-%D9%88-%D9%BE%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%B4-%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%B1%D9%86-%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A8%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B3%D8%B1%D9%85%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%87-%DA%AF%D8%B0%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D9%85%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D9%86%D8%AF

And now for the winners of the competition!!!!

The third place winner of the International Festival of Storytelling was John Titi Namai from Kenya who had us all chanting Chagoa Rafiki fiki Chagoa Rafiki! It was a story about choosing your friends wisely!

مراسم پایانی بیستمین جشنواره‌ی بین‌المللی قصه‌گویی کانون

Second place went to Parisa Sedaei Azar who told an Iranian version of King Lear! Amazing!!!

مراسم پایانی بیستمین جشنواره‌ی بین‌المللی قصه‌گویی کانون

And Ta! Da! the winner! Brazilian storyteller Barbara Amaral who did a brilliant Brazilian rendition of a classic Simple Jack story called Juan Luto!

 

مراسم پایانی بیستمین جشنواره‌ی بین‌المللی قصه‌گویی کانون

And here’s more pictures of the final award ceremony!

http://www.kanoonnews.ir/photo/276511/%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%85-%D9%BE%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%A8%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AC%D8%B4%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%87-%DB%8C-%D8%A8%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%84%DB%8C-%D9%82%D8%B5%D9%87-%DA%AF%D9%88%DB%8C%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%88%D9%86

More on my thoughts and observations later!

 

 

A down to earth moment…

A few days ago I went to one of my daughter’s houses for dinner and the grandkids ran up to me and asked me, of course, to read them stories.

It’s always been what we do.

So we went up to their rooms, and they each chose a book. The oldest chose Rosie Revere Engineer, one of my favorites! The youngest chose a touch and feel book of animals, and then the middle child decided to bring Ruler of the Courtyard.

I don’t think he was sucking up but I can’t rule it out.

So we sat down to read it.

It’s a bit surreal reading a story you’ve written, to your grandkids.

I present the story so often when I do my presentations for primary students. I have a whole way of introducing the themes and concepts in the books and the tension in the story, the genuine fear the main character experiences when she sees what she thinks is a snake, is always good to hook even a young restless audience. But here I was, reading it, like a book!

And yet as I read the story, the grandson who’d chosen it kept interjecting, “But it’s a rope.”

I answered, “Yes, but she thinks it’s a snake.”

“But it’s a rope.” he insisted, and I had to smile.

It reminded me of something I heard an agent say once. He said beware the punchline books. These are books you can read once, and the surprise punchline gets you, but they’re not conducive to multiple readings.

And I wondered right then, if Ruler of the Courtyard fit that category.

Can you read the book with satisfaction even when you know the punch line that it’s not really a snake?

I’d like to think so.

Because really the book is not about the fear of snakes. It’s about the fear of chickens.

The snake is a distraction from the real fear of the bully chickens, who have chased the girl Saba, into the bath house, and who at the beginning of the story are definitely the rulers of the courtyard.

You can see the chickens peeking through the slats of the walls of the bath house. You know that they’re lurking outside, waiting for the heroine to emerge.

And yet when Saba sees the ‘snake’ she and you, the reader, are meant to forget all about those lurking chickens.

In fact, the point I was trying to make in the story is that sometimes a big fear can squish a little fear and put things into perspective. And sometimes it takes love, to overcome fear, the fact that Saba loves her grandmother is why she faces up to what she thinks is a snake.

I remember when we got the illustrations for it. They’re done by R. Gregory Christie who has a very bold scratchy kind of style. I LOVED the illustrations! And I got right away the fact that Christie had played with perspective.

His artwork is brilliant! The story is about putting fear into perspective! And the illustrations play with perspective and yet all this ‘brilliance’ seemed lost on my little grandkids. Mind you they are 4-7 years old.

They didn’t seem to get it.

And when I finished reading the story to them I felt a bit deflated.

It’s definitely not their favorite story.

It’s not like Big Red Lollipop which everyone seems to *get* on the first reading.

And when I finished reading it to them and we went on to the next book, I saw it sitting there, in the pile, and I thought to myself, “For all the thought and work that went into it, it’s just another book.”

And that too put things into perspective.

That’s the nature of art.

We put it out there and not everyone will get it.

And it’s not the fault of anyone. Some books will resonate and some won’t. It’s just the nature of the beast.

And it’s up to us, as parents, teachers, educators, and gatekeepers to make sure that we expose kids to enough art so they can find something they can relate to.

Lots and lots and lots of books so that kids can become connoisseurs and so they can absorb all the morals, the messages and myriad themes that abound, so that they can become educated about the world at large.

And perhaps, when they’re much older, they might revisit such a book, and perhaps then, they might get it.

Who knows?

All we can do is try.

 

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When real life overshadows fiction…

I wonder if anyone else is finding that the tumult of our current political times is messing with their creativity.

With the political shenanigans going on south of the border, it’s almost like, ‘How can I ever write a story that can compete with that!?’ Honestly, who’d have thought! Truth really is stranger than fiction.

So you know what I finally decided to do?

I finally decided to write some ‘truth’ in the form of biography and memoir.

Many years ago I met an Indian author at the Bookaroo festival in India who’d written some fictionalized pieces on some very real encounters he had with this ‘primitive’ tribe in India. It’s hard to believe that any part of the country would be unexplored or inhabited with people who had minimal exposure to modern society, but sure enough there was just such a tribe.

Oh this guy could tell amazing stories! He held huge audiences of young people captive with his anecdotes.

I was wondering why he wasn’t an international phenomenon! The stuff he was talking about was fascinating and could easily have appealed to universal audiences.

When I sat down to ask him his strategy I found out that what he’d done was write fictional stories of a group of young people encountering these people.

Fiction?

In such a situation?

No, no, I told him. You need to make it non-fiction! I could just imagine how fascinating such a book would be! As fascinating as the talks he gave!

There is a time for non-fiction!

It would require a slightly different approach but it was very doable.

He just smiled sadly at me and said no, he wanted to write fiction. And of course that was his prerogative but he was definitely limiting his audience. He might right okay fiction, but in my opinion he would have written spectacular non-fiction!

Non-fiction has come a long way from textbookish narratives! These days it’s can be just as poetic and creative as any fiction out there! And you can get away with outlandish plots, if they really did happen! In fact that’s precisely when you should write non-fiction.

And yet biography and memoir can have a certain ‘stigma’. Years ago I read a biography of Jean Little, one of the most widely acclaimed Canadian children’s authors. It was called Little By Little. When I met her at a meeting I gushed, “This might sound like a back-handed compliment but I actually thought your memoir was better than some of your novels.” And she said, “Yes, that is a back-handed compliment.”

Thing is Jean Little has always had poor eyesight. She’s legally blind and has a guide dog. Her biography was fascinating.

For years kids would ask me after a session, whether I was ever going to write my story. And like that Indian gentleman, I cringed at the thought.

But finally, finally I’ve embraced it.

You have to mine where the story is sweetest!

Maybe we underestimate our own personal stories.

At the graphic novel workshop I attended in the summer the editor said that children love memoir. And you don’t have to have lived a swashbuckling type of life either. Kids like to know that you’ve been through your own personal hell and survived.

It’s one of the reason Smile by Raina Telgemeier is such a bestseller. It’s the story of her losing her two front teeth but it’s told well. She mined what was personal to her.

Image result for smile by raina telgemeier

So next time you’re looking for something to write about, maybe try looking closer to home.

P.s. Sorry for the blog delay, it was beyond my control.

Had to update the computer stuff and lost the log in, but…I’m back!

 

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Recently I was approached by a thoughtful teacher librarian who questioned the addition of this book on my Muslim booklist:

Image result for tilt your head rosie the red

The teacher librarian wrote:

“I am a public school librarian in a diverse, growing community. We have recently seen an increase in our immigrant/refugee population, particularly of students whose families are from Arab or Middle Eastern countries. One of my passions and goals is to ensure that all of our students have accurate representation in our library collection. I strive to provide books that act as the “windows and mirrors” for our students. I already have two of your books in the library, Big Red Lollipop and King for a Day. With the advocacy efforts of a book foundation, my school library is raising funds to support building a diverse collection.

…One of the books you listed on there is “Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red.” I have not seen or read the book, but did read a few reviews. The Horn Book review said that it seemed to push Fadimata’s story and culture to the background as Rosie comes to her rescue. The Kirkus Review said that Rosie seemed to get all the attention and is shown as larger than everyone else (though I understand she is the main character, hence the book title). It sounded, to me, like a “white savior” type of story. While I want to have books that show acceptance and standing up for others, I’m not sure I want to promote a story that uses the “white savior” type of character.

I would love to have your insight on this since you recommended it on your list. Am I wrong in my assumption based on the reviews? Do the lessons of acceptance and standing up for others outweigh the potentially negative aspects? I don’t want to add books with more diverse characters that don’t show them as the strong people they are.”

First of all, I am thrilled that this teacher librarian reached out to me like she did. And also that she realized the problems with the book as ‘diverse’ literature.

When I first began compiling my Muslim booklist  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/muslimbooklist/Muslimbooklist.pdf there were so few books about Muslims that I could recommend, that I basically added any book that dealt even remotely with Muslims and/or Islam. Many of the books were didactic and clunky, but there was nothing ‘wrong’ with them. No inaccuracies, no misrepresentations, so I felt I had to include them or it would be a very short list indeed.

In terms of this Rosie book, I did have second thoughts on including it. The main character is definitely Rosie, not the Muslim girl, but the Muslim girl features prominently enough that I thought it should be included.

The thing is, I keep remembering what this principal of one of my old alma maters once said to me.

Back in 2000 I had a grant subsidy that would enable me to work in schools with students on a literacy program for five days and the school only had to pay $300 for the whole five days. One of the projects had to be done at a school outside the greater Toronto area so I approached my old school in Dundas, Pleasant Valley School and offered them this opportunity telling them that I’d graduated from there.

The principal got back to me saying, “No thank you. We don’t need that multicultural stuff here.”

The funny thing is I’m beginning to think that having a diverse author like me come to a homogenous school like that is almost more important than going to a diverse school as those kids will grow up in a diverse world, they will come in contact with diverse people, and meeting a diverse author can help ease that transition.

I included Tilt Your Head Rosie the Red for principals and teachers like him. And also for Muslim kids.

These are teachers who might NOT have diverse classrooms.

The book is avowedly didactic. It’s meant to teach a lesson. To encourage students to stick up for people they see who are being marginalized. Nothing wrong with that. So this is a book for mainstream white kids, not really for Muslim kids, although that said, I thought the tentative manner in which they portrayed the Muslim girl in the story was quite accurate.

I remember feeling that tentative when I was growing up, even though I didn’t wear hijab at the time, so I related to that aspect of the story too.

And I also thought it might be encouraging for Muslim girls to read this book so that they know there are people like Rosie out there, who will in fact help stick up for them–that they’re not alone.

It is the reality.

Growing up marginalized it’s so easy to focus on the bullies and the bigots. We tend to forget all the allies we come across and I think this book can remind Muslim kids of that.

So that’s why I included it on my booklist.

Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a soft spot for the editor of this book.

She was my very first editor and is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet! By recommending this and other books she edited it was my way of helping to promote the work she’s done. I included a lot of Second Story books because they were pretty good and because of this editor.

So yeah, even though there is a ‘white savior’ aspect to this book, I still think it belongs on school bookshelves.

 

 

 

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Taking time out to smell the golden leaves…

A couple of weeks ago I went on a road trip with my son and daughter to view the fall colors.

What an amazing experience! A real rejuvenation!

We drove up the Bruce peninsula to Tobermory!

Image result for Tobermory

Tobermory! Doesn’t the name just conjure up images of Jack Pine, golden birches, brilliant blue fall sky and rugged outcroppings of granite???

Image result for Tobermory

At Tobermory there’s a ferry that crosses the gap between the Bruce peninsula and Manitoulin island. It’s a welcome respite from driving all the way up to Sudbury to get to Sault Ste. Marie which was our destination for the day.

It takes two hours to cross, and during that time the sun broke out and warmed wherever it touched.

I always feel sorry for immigrants who don’t venture outside of Toronto.

They’ll never enjoy the quiet pleasure of the Canadian wilderness!

My son and daughter hadn’t seen many of the places we were going. I hadn’t seen them either for well on twenty-five years!

From Manitoulin island we drove north to Highway 17 and took a left, going west to Sault Ste. Marie. The scenery was spectacular but as we went further and further north, the reds of maples gave way to mostly golden birch.

It was only October 14th but the peak of the fall colors had already passed.

As we drove along Highway 17, we ran parallel to the French river, which used to be a voyageur route for canoes.

My daughter was the first to see the bald eagles! Bald eagles in western Ontario!!! Who’d have thought!

In Sault Ste. Marie we went on the Agawa Canyon train tour, a one day trip through some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in Ontario! My son agreed that it was the highlight of the road trip.

From there we drove to Sudbury where we spent a few hours at Science North. I had wanted them to see the mining expedition but so late in the season, it wasn’t open. We’ll just have to go back one day. Sudbury is known for its mining history.

And from Sudbury we drove north, past Timmins, the childhood home of Shania Twain all the way to Cochrane.

Cochrane is a small town at the bottom of a railroad line to Moosonee which is a small native settlement about ten km south of James Bay.

In planning the trip I wanted my kids to see all the terrain that Ontario had to offer. From the wilds of Algoma we were seeing the subArctic fauna of northern Ontario.

As I stood on the banks of the Moose river, looking across to Moose factory, I remembered when my husband and I, newly married, had stood on this very spot about thirty-five years ago.

I had changed but the Moose river seemed to have stayed the same.

It was prayer time when we got there and so my son and I found a field beside a building and we prayed.

Apparently native people filmed us with their phones as we did so. I didn’t mind.

It was a brisk windy day and we tried to hire a boat to take us out to James bay but the man said it was too dangerous, too windy, the waves would be too big on the open water.

We walked around Moosonee, went into the KFC/Pizza Hut combo in the little supermarket that hadn’t been there last time I’d come, and then eventually headed back to the train for the return trip.

Subhan Allah, what a wonderful time!

Came back down along Highway 11 which is Yonge St. (the longest street in the world!) through North Bay and prayed Zuhr on the lakeshore of Lake Nippising.

What with wifi I was still responding to business emails, but really, for most of the day, I didn’t think of writing, or business at all! I just enjoyed the view!

When I got back I’d clocked over 2000 km on the car odometer and the car was a mess with the snacks we ate en route but boy was it worth it.

Ontario is HUGE!!! We didn’t even cover half of it!

Had such a good time with my son and daughter!

As I get older I know that these are the experiences we will always remember!

 

http://www.va3cco.com/oqp/northontario.gif

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A Librarian speaks out…

It’s so weird to be tangentially part of a little controversy.

Recently first lady Melania Trump sent out packages of books to libraries around America and she picked, of all books to send, a bunch of Dr. Seuss books. As if all libraries don’t already carry them!

Well Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote a public post saying ‘Thanks but no thanks’ that ended up going viral. She quotes Dr. Seuss’s penchant for perpetuating racist stereotypes. In fact recently it was suggested that the ‘Cat’, in the The Cat in the Hat was black which gives the reading of the story a completely different flavor!!!

I think it took an incredible amount of courage on her part to speak truth to power.

Full disclosure, I actually know Liz. She’s booked me numerous times for skype visits for her school but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I agree with her decision anyway.

Ms. Soeiro created a list of ten books that Melania Trump would have done better to hand out.

These are books that promote cross cultural understanding and tolerance!

I was tickled to see my book King for a Day on the list.

Image result

Here is the Quill & Quire’s take on the controversy.

Canadian titles among diverse kids’ books librarian suggests to Melania Trump

I hope very much that the pressure that Liz Phipps Soeiro received taking her principled stance doesn’t discourage future librarians to call out the powers that be when they want to do politically expedient but rather empty gestures of patronage.

Personally, I’m proud to know her!

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There is helping and there is hindering.

Hindering is where you’re actually handicapping the person you think you’re helping so that they’ll never learn the skills necessary to be able to stand on their own.

Helping is when you see someone being overwhelmed, and you step in, strategically!

It’s very important.

You never know when taking such an action can save a person, give them just enough encouragement to keep going till relief comes.

I think I’m in the sandwich generation phase of my life.

That’s when I’m dealing with elderly parents who need help and children who sometimes need help too.

Sometimes you end the week sore and exhausted. But even when that happens, I feel happy that I’d picked up some of the slack.

In this day and age of heightened acknowledgement of the fragility of mental health, you never know when the help you’ve rendered makes the difference between stressful functioning and despair!

When the elderly person you called, who’s been struggling, perks up enough to keep on going and same for the young mother who needed just a little bit of help.

Sometimes I feel like the mat of a trampoline. Like I’m being pulled upon by all kinds of family obligations.

And yet I believe in doing what I can.

Especially when it comes to family, I say yes as much as I can, so that when the time comes (and it inevitably does come) when I have to say ‘no’ I can do so without any feelings of regret.

I was talking to a family member recently and he was saying that I’m not like other women he knows. I said, “Yeah, I’m totally blunt.”

And he agreed and he told me he loved me for it.

And in the moment I realized that over the years the way I’ve learned to stop gossiping and backbiting is to take the things that irk me and say it in a polite way, so the person can actually deal with it. Or…shut up about it.

For example, a lot of cattiness involves personal comments about the way a person looks. Really? Who cares! We all have times when we don’t look our best. Making fun of others is just the worst thing you can possibly do.

But…some backbiting is an airing of grievances.

Talking to other people about what so and so did only creates ‘fitna’. Fitna is an excellent Arabic word that sounds like what it means, ‘trouble’ trial, difficulty. Fitna! I love that word!

It’s better to just speak to the person you’ve got the problem with, tell them politely why you can’t accommodate them or…if you’re only going to deal with them every once in a while, suck it up and ignore them.

That was a recent course of action I took. I was fuming over something that had happened, and then I thought wait a minute! I only have to deal with this person in this way once a year! Why do I care?

Let it go.

And so I did.

I don’t care what that person thinks. I’ll just avoid them as much as I can and I absolutely won’t count on them for anything!

No gossip. No backbiting!

Move on.

Nothing to see here folks.

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There’s an OISE article about how anthropomorphic animal stories are not as effective at conveying lessons as stories with real children in them. https://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/About_OISE/OISE_study_shows_kids_learn_more_effectively_from_stories_with_humans_than_with_human-like_animals.html

I am not surprised by these findings.

The study was done on pre-schoolers.

That age is not conducive to ambiguity. You need to spell it out.

And yet so many parents and educators avoid stories with obvious morals.

This is a mistake.

A lot of the anxiety our children are experiencing these days is a direct result of a tentative approach to morality.

Moral tales might seem heavy-handed to us, but they are not to children! Pre-school children need confidence when it comes to what is right and wrong. I’m talking universal mores: sharing is good, be kind, don’t hit people, have good manners, the golden rule.

One of my grandkids’ favorites is called Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry by Samantha Berger.

Yes it’s an anthropomorphized tale, Martha is an otter, but surprisingly my grandkids get the message and even though it has a moral, they often choose the book themselves to read.

When I read it to them, after each of the outrageous things that Martha does, I ask them, “What should she do?” and even the little two year olds whisper, “She should say ‘sorry’.”

They get it.

It’s so important for me to engage them like that. If I didn’t, perhaps they wouldn’t extrapolate the lesson to themselves. It sure has made it easier for them to say the little words ‘I’m sorry.”

Image result for martha doesn't say sorry

At this age, we need to be serious with kids. Tell it like it is. Give them the moral tools in order to establish the ethical foundation they’ll need to navigate life. And do so with confidence!

Pre-school is not the time to be tentative!

Go ahead and explain what is right and wrong. Then as they grow and are exposed to different cultures, discuss how they might view aspects of morality differently but how basic principles, like the golden rule, are true for everyone.

 

 

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Addiction…

I’ve been thinking a lot about addiction these days.

It’s all over the news, the opioid epidemic and it’s starting to hit Toronto, where I live.

Two eighteen year old girls recently went into a building downtown and overdosed in a stairwell.

There was a fascinating study done about cocaine addiction.

They had this rat in a metal cage and offered it a choice between water and water laced with cocaine.

It’s not surprising that the rat chose the water laced with cocaine and kept drinking till it overdosed on it.

But one scientist observing the data made an interesting observation.

What else did the rat have to live for?

Maybe it was the cage.

So he developed a new experiment, one where the cage was much larger, had a number of interesting activities and stimuli and you know what happened? The rat didn’t get addicted to the cocaine water.

And he deduced that it was the cage.

It’s fascinating that in the most advanced culture and civilization in the world, opioid addiction should be such a problem.

What is it about our lifestyles here in the West that is causing so many people to turn to narcotic addiction?

It’s devastating.

Personally I think it’s because we are primarily dissatisfied.

We have been sold a bill of goods, that anyone can accomplish anything if they try hard enough, and although there is truth in that statement, it’s not as simple as all that.

I have a friend, an ex-lawyer who has developed a nice career in the children’s literature field.

Oprah’s minions approached her at one point to be interviewed for some show they were doing on career success but ultimately they rejected profiling her, you know why?

Because she’d spent too long studying and developing her talent to be considered a miraculous success story!

They were interested in the ‘over night’ sensation story, but most people are not over night sensations. They work hard towards goals, and they do it even when they might want to give up.

So when we’re in the midst of the grind, the doldrums, the mucking through to get the project done, that seems to be when people need to ‘escape’ their reality.

But really, if you are living a healthy stimulating life, if  you are doing and working towards something you really believe in, why would you ever need alcohol or drugs to escape?

Maybe the people who are in the midst of addiction need to re-evaluate their lives.

What is so wrong with living a life nurturing the children in your care? Earning enough to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies and working towards the future?

Someone said that comparison is the thief of happiness, and that is very true.

We need to change our cages.

Life isn’t only composed of the ‘successful’ moments.

The other evening I was talking to a voracious reader who’d picked up a copy of Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. And she said to me, “It must be so hard when the father drinks and runs away and he’s trying to find him. Why do they do that?”

And I answered quite honestly (and forgive me if this sounds a bit smug) that it is very hard and alhamdu lillah the fact that alcohol and drugs are forbidden in Islam saves us from a lot of that.

I wonder if we can make our cages interesting enough for everyone to not ever need narcotics.

I wonder if the allure of them can be completely resisted for all.

It seems to be mainstream.

The way comedians joke about getting wasted, the way singers sing about getting wasted, the way they joke about how much fun they must have had because they can’t remember a thing…

It’s just something I’ve never been able to tap into because it’s forbidden.

And what’s wrong with that?

Maybe we just do need to forbid these things to ourselves.

All I know is that I have no qualms that I would behave in any more superior a manner if I’d indulged in those things. The reason why I stayed away is simple, my religion forbids them and I obeyed, and by the grace of God, that saved me.

And as religion loses even more authority, and society decays more and more, I can’t see things getting much better.

We’ll see.

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