Don’t Judge a Book By the Cover

Holding my booksRaising hands

I was recently invited to read to Mrs. Charles class of second grade students at Marquette Elementary and Middle School on Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Once again, I was awestruck by the inquisitive nature and insight of little people who say the “darnedest things.”

MCCBDay, was started last year by two children’s book authors to promote diversity books and authors, and to send a message to publishers that the demand for multicultural books is real. Last year, I wrote about my experience at University Prep with students who brought in their favorite diverse books and talked about why they liked them.

This time, I read my latest book, Malcolm Mows the Lawn, a story about a little boy whose chore turns into an exciting adventure, and he becomes a hero. The literacy instructional specialist, Aretha Snadon, also asked me to read another book, The Royal Bee by Francis and Ginger Park, which was about a little boy in 20th century Korea whose persistence earned him an education and eventually, a national prize that allowed him to feed and clothe his family.

Right away, the story points out that only rich children were allowed to go to school. One little girl raised her hand. Yes?

“That’s not fair,” she said. “All people should be able to go to school.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

The kids had other questions too, and I had mine. Was Malcolm’s adventure real or imagined?

“It was fiction,” said one boy. “He was dreaming!”

Which book was your favorite?” I asked, so assured of the answer. When the majority of the children said the Korean book, Why?

Royal Bee book
“It was inspiring,” said one little girl.

“But the book you wrote was fun!” said a boy. (Ahhh…my target market has spoken!)

I had expected the typical second grade class: Jittery, a little noisy, anxious to one-up the last answer someone gave. But these young people were thoughtful, calm and very good listeners.

While some parents and teachers may already know this, here’s what I learned: Our kids may be little and noisy and constantly craving fun, but once you turn the page, you will see their desire to connect the dots, and to understand how and why things are the way they are, whether real or make believe!

Reading—especially about diverse children and cultures—is a great way to help them to do that.

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When Crashing Is a Teachable Moment

Kitai takes flight in After Earth

Kitai takes flight in After Earth

I saw two very good movies this weekend and was genuinely surprised that my earlier dismissal of both was turned on its ear.

The first movie, After Earth, starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden (Kitai), was an exceptional portrayal of a father-son relationship fraught with trust, love and acceptance issues. After a horrible crash onto a planet where “everything lives to kill man,” Ranger Cadet Kitai has to venture out into the wilderness alone to find a rescue beacon to save his skin and that of his incapacitated father. As I’m watching him being chases by manic gorillas, I say to myself, “This is an adventure story, just like the ones in my two books, Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn.”

Taj and Malcolm are both African American boys and their chores turn into adventures. Taj learns the Golden Rule, and Malcolm becomes a hero. It’s light, fun stuff for the 2-7 age group. In After Earth, Kitai faces a series of challenges (adventures) too that force him to overcome his fears and rely on his instincts.

Yes, there were moments in the film when things did not quite mesh together. There were also a couple of times when it appeared as though, for Kitai, following directions was a concept as foreign as planet Earth. But hey, all kids do that and to be honest, Kitai had his reasons. Did his Dad not see that monster-sized tarantula on his son’s arm after telling him he could protect him by watching his every move via that giant TV screen that survived the crash? Eventually, the son, guided by the father, comes into his own, trusts himself and emerges the hero. Just like Malcolm did…in a way! The other reason why I liked After Earth is because it lays out such a positive relationship between an African American Dad and his son.  I am not sure, but I think this is a first for Hollywood.

Internship01

The second movie, The Internship, wasn’t bad either. To be honest, I don’t get Vince Vaughn. It takes me too long to zone into his borderline humor, even in this movie. But I was fascinated by the idea of having both Taj and Malcolm, and little boys and girls who look like them (not depicted in the movie, by the way) to grow up one day and compete for an internship at the greatest place to work in the world…Google!

That’s part of the movie’s charm. It is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of what we’re missing as employees of any company, anywhere else. In The Internship, both guys “crash” the party. They’re outsiders who want in, and they bring their unique games to the party, spicing it up in a way that only age and experience can contrive. They’re after the perks of all perks: At Google, you get lots of free coffee drinks and food, reflection chaises where you can recharge yourself—not just your batteries—and you’re surrounded by young, smart kids who are the best of the best, and they know it!

If the internship competition is really one of the ways to get a job at Google, then kids, pay attention! I would like to show both of these movies to the children I have been reading to in Detroit and Southfield Public Schools. In both cases I would ask them very basic questions.

What would you do if you thought that the team you were assigned to could not win a competition?

What would you do if you had to run half-way across a dangerous countryside to find a rescue beacon that could save you and your Dad’s life?

I am a reader and a huge advocate of reading as the backstage pass to everything you can possibly want to do in life. But as I become more adept at mining the broader messages that relate so deeply to my heart and soul, I will also sneak in a movie lesson, especially if it offers the chance to tap into a child’s imagination and become a teachable moment, either by hook, by crook, or by crash!

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