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!

 

The Empty Fridge

Gaetan Doremus
Wilkins Farago, 2013

It seems everyone in Andrew’s block has been so busy during the day, they’ve forgotten to buy anything for dinner. Their fridges are empty…but not quite. With only three carrots to eat, Andrew decides to go upstairs to ask his neighbours if they have anything.  As the growing group of neighbours ascend each floor of their apartment, they gather more ingredients from more neighbours until they reach the top floor and everyone finally has enough for a meal. But what to cook? The Empty Fridge tells us what they decide and then ends with a fun twist. It’s also really fun because the book, itself is oddly well-shaped like a refrigerator!

This story is a very well-told, fun to read aloud story that is a welcomed update to Stone Soup. As with all good stories, there are so many different directions one can go and meanings one can take from this story. After reading aloud, I’ve had delightful conversation with children about what it means to be community. The fact that no food in the fridge doesn’t have to spell disaster for one person, or for that matter, for any of the apartment dwellers to have to suffer their empty fridges alone. They can come together to contribute what they have in order to be healthy together (physically and socially). And in fact, the whole apartment block participated in the cooking making time and opportunity for real friendship. Communities should be able to do this for us: to decrease our isolation and to make it more possible for more people to thrive.

The willingness and ability to share is another easy theme to explore within the book. There’s the opportunity to learn the wisdom that holding one’s possessions (even their groceries) too tightly can lead to a loneliness that openness and sharing can remedy. None of the neighbours thought that their little ingredient should be kept to themselves. In sharing, they all ended up with something better.

A word about the twist at the end (spoiler alert): Once the meal is cooked and all are enjoying it on the rooftop, we look out to see that all the other apartments in the city are doing the same thing and eating with one another. Soon after, we learn that this was all a dream. Andrew wakes up, but rather than it being the end of the story, he decides to act out the vision he had in his dream, taking his three carrots to the neighbours. Rather than inciting a groan to this well-worn story-telling technique, I find it actually brings a sense of reality and authenticity to the fancifulness of the neighbourhood scene. It hasn’t happened in this idyllic way…yet. But it could if Andrew (and us readers) follow through on such a beautiful vision of community.

I love this book and hope you will too.

Verdi

Janell Cannon
Toronto: Harcourt, Inc. 1997

When Verdi’s mother tells him to grow up big and green, Verdi can’t imagine why. All the big green snakes seem lazy, boring and rude. So he decides he simply won’t turn green, which is why he finds himself in a whole heap of trouble.

Verdi is a children’s book. But like so many good children’s books, this one focuses on a theme appropriate for all of us. When we grow older, we worry about remaining who we’ve always been, losing pieces of our identity, and losing what has made us feel like ourselves. When changes happen around us (and to us), this book helps reassure us that we can remain true to who we are. Our aging, our graduating to a new grade, a new school, a new job, or a new reality doesn’t mean that we can’t be true to the essence of who we are on the inside.

This book can also lead into a conversation about knowing our limitations. There are certain things that we can learn about ourselves – what we’re good at, what we’re not so good at, what our strengths are and what we’d like to work at. Verdi believes he’ll be young forever, but he forgets that as he gets older he will appreciate different things about life. We might really miss something we used to do, but can focus also on the things we can still discover about ourselves when we try new things, or do things differently.

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