Location and Times
 

A Church for All

Gayle E. Pitman, pictures by Laure Fournier. Albert Whitman & Co., 2018

If you’re part of a spiritual community that you’re proud of because it opens its doors to everyone, if you want to emphasize that a church is a place where everyone should feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed, if you want a way to share this understanding and pride with a new generation, then this book will help you do all of that.

In this LGBTQ-positive book, we first see two dads eating breakfast with their children, two women hand-in-hand on their morning walk, so many variations of gender and relationships, all making their way to church. “Weak and healthy, neat and messy, poor and wealthy, plain and dressy; All embracing spirit gracing, each one at our church for all!”

Inspired by Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco and other inclusive churches, this book celebrates a spiritual community that embraces all people – no matter their age, race, class, gender identity, or sexual orientation – in love and faith.

This book is a wonderful way to illustrate the kind of community SSUC has created and still creates each time it gathers. It’s a beautiful way to show children in very specific words and pictures that it is a beautiful thing to build community where everyone is welcome and feels that they have a place. Some of the best moments of this book are hidden in the various people sitting in the church….it’s lovely to linger on the pages and find all the weird, wonderful people in the pews!

When I read this book recently, a dad of twins connected instantly to one of the pages that begins “Bodies wiggling, mommies reading, children giggling, daddies pleading…” A slice of real life that affirms and encourages that children will always be noisy and active and messy…and that’s OKAY.

Let’s read this book, celebrate all that it represents as a model of radical exclusivity, and celebrate how we’re able to create a spirit of welcome in our churches, our homes, our neighbourhoods…everywhere.

The Skin You Live In

Michael Tyler, illustrated by David Lee Csicsko. Chicago Children’s Museum, 2018

In our world, we owe it to ourselves to take every opportunity to honour and celebrate the ways we’re both different and the same. These are messages that, if we hear them often enough, might just strengthen our resolve to create the kind of communities that will lesson racism, xenophobia and fear.

This book encourages us to look at all the whimsically drawn children engaged in various activities, noticing their skin colors. “The skin you have fun in; the skin that you run in; the skin that you hop, skip and jump in the sun in. The text then uses food-related metaphors as it pays tribute to skin tones: “Your coffee and cream skin, your warm cocoa dream skin… Your chocolate chip, double dip sundae supreme skin!” By pointing out what skin is not, Michael Tyler emphasizes that skin should not be divisive: “It’s not dumb skin or smart skin, or keep us apart skin; or weak skin or strong skin, I’m right and you’re wrong skin.” On the last page, four children are able to say “when we stand side-by-side in our wonderful hues, we all make a beauty, so wonderfully true.”

I’ve paired this book with a bit of a biology lesson on ‘melanin’, something we all have to give us pigment. Whether we have lighter or darker skin depends on how ‘active our melanin is’, our ancestors, and our climate. This becomes an excellent lesson when paired with an amazing book entitled “All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color” by Katie Kissinger and Chris Bohnhoff.

 

Two

Kathryn Otoshi, Publishers Group West, 2014

When Two’s best friend One starts spending time with Three, Two feels left out, but when Four, Six, and Eight try to help, they only create a new divide between the odds and evens, until Zero steps in and sets things straight. This is another great story that helps build values with themes like friendship, loss, letting go, and self-discovery.

I recently made the mistake of using this book with children that were a little too young. Whereas Otoshi’s One and Zero hold the attention of preschoolers to Grade 1/2, this title uses bigger concepts that need explaining to young ones: odds and evens, greater than, less than, “playing the odds”. In my opinion, the read-aloud aspect loses some umph in this title…not as fun and a bit more difficult to hold the attention. Despite this, the point Otoshi makes through the ‘zero’ character is that we can find a different way to make it fun to dance with everyone. This makes the work the storyteller must do through the exposition worth it.  The book is ideal for slightly older elementary – grade 3 and up?

Even if this story needs some adult explanation with young children, it’s an excellent launching pad for a discussion on the ebb and flow of friendship. All of us, even the youngest among us, have awareness of what it’s like to be included or not. We also can acknowledge that whether in friend groups or with siblings, three is a difficult number. Relationships with one other is simpler, adding a third to the mix makes those relationships more complex with sharing, with competition, with anxiety over our place and security. Finding creative ways to include and diffuse the tension of “us” versus “them” is a lifelong skill that ought to start when we’re very young. It doesn’t get any easier in the online world, in the balancing of friendships from different circles in our lives, and the bullying that can happen when differences are accentuated rather than embraced as unique opportunities for growth and learning.

Kathryn Otoshi is brilliant in the way she weaves these character development conversations into her books. Grab any and all her books: One and Zero are must-haves too!

 

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