baby proof: bedtime stories about race & social justice.

    August 16, 2017

    bedtime stories about race and social justice | reading my tea leavesOn morning walks with Faye we look for the Statue of Liberty. Faye often travels with her binoculars so that when we spot the verdigris lady rising above New York Harbor she can adjust the dial and get a better look. Faye screams and points. The Statue of The Liberty, she chants. She’s jubilant. I’m proud. 

    As a child I had my own obsession with the statue. According to family myth, my New Yorker grandfather climbed to the crown of Lady Liberty as a child and carved his initials in its interior, making his mark alongside the scribbles of countless others. When I was ten or so, he told me to, “line up your nose with hers, and then look to the right.” I’ve searched without finding evidence of my grandfather’s boyhood vandalism, but it’s still a family story that I hold on to. The Statue of Liberty: a beacon of hope, a symbol of opportunity and safety and greatness, my grandfather’s initials etched mischievously into her steely interior.

    But myths and symbols don’t tell the whole story. Twelve million immigrants passed through Ellis Island in the New York Harbor, seeking refuge and opportunity. Twelve and a half million African people were enslaved and shipped across the same waters these immigrants traveled. The indigenous people who first lived on this land and fished in these waters were systematically removed from it. This land of freedom and opportunity is also a land of violent, systemic racism. There are Americans who have fought those systems and there are Americans who have kept them firmly in place. This is all part of the American story, much as we might be ashamed to tell the whole tale.

    So what do we tell our children? How do we talk about race and social justice with kids? As a white parent, I know I’ve been afraid that I’ll fumble the task. I’ve wondered whether talking about race will alert Faye to ideas she doesn’t yet have about identity and difference. This is wrong. If we’re not anti-racist, we’re part of the problem. We’ve got to talk about it.

    This isn’t just my opinion. Peer-reviewed, academic research shows that taking a colorblind approach on matters of race with children does more harm than good. Talking openly about race in fact helps children to question the bias they are sure to encounter as they move through the world. Ignoring, glossing over, or shushing questions or observations about difference doesn’t make difference disappear. And because all children will encounter differences in race, size, gender expression, physical and intellectual ability, income, dress and custom as they move through life, we do them a disservice when we pretend these differences don’t exist. If we supply them with unbiased, honest, age-appropriate answers about (in)equity and (in)justice, they’ll know when they spot bias and prejudice—and they’ll know when to speak up against it. Still, like all parenting, these conversations can be hard. I’ve found that books help.

    Below, some of my favorites along with recommendations from two of my favorite independent Brooklyn bookstores: 

    THE COLORS OF US, words and pictures by Karen Katz
    Seven-year-old Lena and her mother observe the different colors of their friends and neighbors; a cheerfully illustrated introduction to the diversity of human skin tones.

    WE MARCH, words and pictures by Shane W. Evans
    A simple, straightforward look at the 1963 March on Washington and the power of peaceful protest.

    LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, words by Matt de la Pena, illustrations by Christian Robinson
    One of Faye’s favorites, a story to remind folks of the power of teaching children about the world around them.

    STAND UP AND SING, words by Susanna Reich, illustrations by Adam Gustavson
    A little wordy for the littlest among us, but a wonderful story about using song to further activist goals.

    ///

    From Maggie Pouncey, owner of Stories Bookstore*:

    NELSON MANDELA, paintings and words by Kadir Nelson
    “I really love picture books about change-makers because I think the only bearable way to talk to small children about atrocities human beings commit against one another is through hopeful, empowering stories of change.” 

    BLUE SKY, WHITE STARS, words by Sarvinder Naberhaus, paintings by Kadir Nelson 
    “It’s a simple, exquisite poem of a book, an ode to America, with stunning art, about all that connects us as a country, and it’s quite impossible to read these days without crying. But a good kind of crying!”

     OF THEE I SING: A Letter to My Daughters, words by Barack Obama, illustrations by Loren Long
    “Similarly moving/tear-jerking/hopeful is Barack Obama’s book…It really is written as a letter to Sasha and Malia, but also to all young Americans, and who says it better than Obama? He explores other great Americans (Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackie Robison) and the great American strengths—creativity, bravery, and more—they embodied.”

    I DISSENT, words by Debbie Levvy, illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley.
    “We also are all crazy about the RBG picture book biography. I mean, what a great title, and that is the theme of the book— how throughout her whole life [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] stood up to voice her disagreement even against powerful adversaries, even when she was the only girl/woman for what seemed like miles around.”

    *Stories also has an Activist Book Club, a monthly book subscription where each month an inspiring story arrives in your mailbox accompanied by a page of prompts for discussion, storytelling and art-making. Recent books have been Rad Women Worldwide, by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, and The Case for Loving, by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls.

    ///


    From Amanda Bruns, children’s book buyer at Community Bookstore:

    SKIN AGAIN, words by bell hooks, illustrations by Chris Raschka
    “‘The skin I’m in is just a covering. It cannot tell my story.'”

    THIS IS HOW WE DO IT, words and pictures by Matt Lamothe:
    “There are lots of ways for a childhood to be.”

    STRICTLY NO ELEPHANTS, words by Lisa Mantchev, illustrations by Taeeun Yoo:
    “For echoing the generous words of Vivian Paley: ‘You can’t say you can’t play.'”

    WE CAME TO AMERICA, words and pictures by Faith Ringgold:
    “‘Our food, our fashion, and our art made America GREAT.'”

    LIFE, words by Cynthia Rylant, illustrations by Brendan Wenzel:
    “‘In every corner of the world, there is something to love. And something to protect.'”

    ONE FAMILY, words by George Shannon, illustrations by Blanca Gomez
    “There are lots of ways for a family to be.”

    PEOPLE, words and pictures by Peter Spier:
    “There are lots of ways for a human to be.”

    SUBWAY SPARROW, words and pictures by Leyla Torres
    “For working together to help friends in need.”

    THEY ALL SAW A CAT, words and pictures by Brendan Wenzel
    “For considering how perspective shapes what we see.”

    WHY AM I ME?, Paige Britt, Selina Alko and Sean Qualls
    (This book comes out on 8/29. If you’re in the area, Community Bookshop is celebrating the launch!)
    “For thinking what it might be like to feel like someone else.”

    ///

    Other things:

    If you’re a parent who feels like you could use more guidance on broaching race and social justice with kids—or anyone—I’ve also found these podcast episodes to be really enlightening:

    This American Life: Episode 557 Birds & Bees 

    The Longest Shortest Time: How to Not (Accidentally) Raise a Racist 

    If you’re looking for more resources on talking about race to kids specifically, this is an excellent site:

    Raising Race Conscious Kids

    If you’re grappling with how to fight white supremacy more generally, these articles, podcasts, and sites provide some helpful starting points:

    Ten Ways to Fight Hate, A Community Resource Guide

    Scene on Radio: Seeing White

    So You Want to Fight White Supremacy?

    Nice White Ladies

    17 Books on Race Every White Person Needs to Read

    simple stuff: pouches and bags.

    August 14, 2017

    Simple Stuff: A series devoted to talking about the stuff that might prove useful or helpful or otherwise necessary while making a home in a small apartment or anywhere. Its aim is to provide a bit of inspiration for simplifying your space sustainably and stylishly. Its contention is that what’s useful can be beautiful, and that you might already have everything you need.

    If you’ve ever endeavored to do a proper clean out of a room, you know that the little stuff that filters out can be the most perplexing of all. Where to put it? How to organize it? How to keep it from accumulating?

    As I’ve said before, part of the answer for me is a handful of pouches, bags, and other soft-sided vessels for keeping everything tidy. And as I’ve also said, the secret is keeping like with like. Cramming true miscellany into one bag isn’t a route toward organization, it’s a route toward hiding things and, possibly, unwittingly repurchasing something you already have. This is serious business, after all, and we must stay vigilant.

    Suffice to say, I’m not a stockpiler. Don’t ask me for a spare toothbrush, in other words, I probably don’t have one. But there are items in the world of bathroom and kitchen supplies where having more than one of something is either helpful or unavoidable. For those things—mason jar lids, and nail grooming supplies, and essential oils, and hair elastics—small bags are an answer. 

    The bags are helpful for keeping these kinds of things organized, but they’re also helpful for creating a bit of visual order. Opening my closet door and seeing a series of similar bags neatly tucked into a basket feels better than opening a closet and seeing a jumble.

    They can also function in the same way that keeping only a limited number of hangers in your closet might: by staving off the accumulation of things you don’t really need. Impulse nail polish buys (or hoarding nail polishes that are long past their prime) might become more rare when you know you have a finite space back home to keep them in.

    As you all know, order can be achieved regardless of the design on the outside of the bag. Choose whatever you love, or gather whatever you already have, and put small bags to use for a bit of organizing. I especially like to use plain old cotton or canvas, but I have a few old favorites (like the embroidered pouch from India in these shots) in the mix, too. Many of the bags that we use are the same kinds of small drawstring pouches that find their way into our lives via gifts (and that I recently talked about being nice for toting around snacks). As it happens, they’re also nice for storing bobby pins, or extra bars of soap, etc. 

    If you’re hoping for a fresh start or you’re otherwise bagless, here are a few other options:
    Zippered pouches:

    + Linen Fred Pouches from Fog Linen come in subtle stripes or plain gray. They have wide gussets that allow for ample storage room and easy propping in a spot like a closet shelf or cabinet.

    + I recently bought a few of these plain jane Natural Canvas Pencil Cases (pictured above) in an assortment of sizes for better tackling my bathroom-related clutter that I actually need to store in my clothes closet. (#lifeinatinyapartment). I personally love their simple shape and customizable size.*

    + Alternately, this set of four Cotton Canvas Zipper Bag would also look neat and uniform.

    + If you’re afraid of leaks or spills, this First Aid Ditty Bag is made of natural linen and it’s lined with water-resistant fabric. It looks like a lovely option for first aid supplies or essentials oil.

    + For folks looking to make your own: This Purl Soho Simple Lined Zippered Pouch Pattern looks simple to follow (and then you get to make all the decisions about color and size you’d like!).

    Drawstring pouches:

    + Most small drawstring bags of the sort that gifts sometimes come in can be purchased very cheaply in very large numbers. I’ve never found buying this sort of thing to be particularly valuable, but if you have a need for a larger number of bags (but still not an order in the hundreds), these Cotton Muslin Bags are a sturdy choice (pictured above!). 

    + If you have the need to stash anything quite a bit bulkier, the Field Bag from Fringe Supply Co. is one that I’ve long admired. It’s designed to stand upright on its own, and it’s made especially with knitters in mind, but I think it could be handy for all kinds of sorting needs. Plus, it looks built to last an actual lifetime.

    +For folks looking to make your own drawstring pouches: Consider making a set of Drawstring Bags in Linen Grid. Simple and pretty.

    *A note on labeling. I babysat for a family in college who had the most immaculately organized home of any I’d ever seen. Everything in the house had a spot to live in and those spots where labeled with an old fashioned label maker. It struck me as a combination of smart and wacky (a favorite combo). While I haven’t gone so far as to label the contents of my linen cabinets or my pouches, I can understand the impulse. At least occasionally, it’s nice to acknowledge that you share a house with other humans who might not also be mind readers. Colored ribbons on zipper tabs, fabric marker notes on a corner, or a bit of rustic embroidery, would all make for easy distinguishing factors. (Brightly embroidered pouches brought to you from a best friend in India work too.)

    my week in objects (mostly).

    August 11, 2017

    five little things that made my week.

    1. this tote of borrowed things.
    {going back from whence they came.}

    2. these red runner bean flowers.

    {because wonders never cease.}

    3. this little loupe.
    {for suddenly getting some love from a tiny scientist in the family.}

    4. this backpack.
    {for saving my back and sanity on long commutes.}

    5. this bowl of summer fruits.
    {the fruit for being delicious, the bowl for marking five years married.}

    other things:

    given something that was good and received it as something that was perfect.

    barnacles and oysters and seaweed. (plus quilts.)

    quitting the internet.

    instagram playgrounds.

    baby cactus.

    undercover tissues.

    eat your zukes.

    bees + hexagons.

    it must be addressed in the tiny nooks and crannies of childhood.

     

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