“Gummy, will you read me a book?” My grandson asked with a beaming smile. As most grandchildren do, he knew that a smile and bright eyes would invite me into his world to participate in bedtime storytelling.
As I sat on the edge of his bed and began reading, I couldn’t help noticing the illustrations and the characters. I looked forward to turning the pages to join the adventurous story, We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt, written by Steve Metzger and illustrated by Miki Sakamoto.
After the adventure and a kiss goodnight, I retrieved my coat and presented my own bright smile to my adult son, his father. As a mother I spent many nights reading to my children, and they enjoyed reading African folklores, as well as Japanese tales sent to my son from a college friend, who he called, “Auntie Susan.” Susan is a third generation Japanese American who invited me to an Asian American Experience class to educate me about Japanese civil rights in America.
Growing up in the South West, I knew little about Asian cultures until I moved to Boston in the 70’s. I had not recalled that my favorite childhood book was a Japanese folktale, titled, The Crane Maiden until my friend Naomi retold me.
Reading We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt, it not only pleased me to see the three friends reflecting ethnic diversity; I was thrilled that they were sharing an adventure, and friendship, which were the underlying themes.
When my grandchild chose the book, it was gratifying and validating in so many ways. As a young mother, I invested in purchasing books for my children where not only African Americans were represented, but other ethnic groups as well. Early childhood reading in our home explored cultures and civic lessons that were age appropriate and focused on lessons of friendship.
Becoming a host family to Japanese students when my children were very young, and meeting friends of the family who came from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Greece, and China, gave my children a colorful window to the world that reflected what was being read to them at bedtime.
Often diversity is thought of as teaching tolerance or focusing on difference. Our family took the approach of common ground through a focus on shared values and experiences. We delighted in joining friends in games of tennis, a day at the beach or other activities as opportunities to expose ourselves to new languages, foods, and traditions of our friends of many cultures—making life as happy as child’s play.
For us diversity is neither politically correct or an agenda for creating diplomacy, it is just simply a way of life and being kind to the colorful world nature created. All species of birds, and fish, to the color of leaves, are unique in hue and multifaceted in expression.
This grandma invites you to join the adventure, even if at first it is only through a storybook read to a child at bedtime. I hope it leads to inviting friends over and participating in their cultural foods, holidays, or traditions.
To assist in this effort, here are a few links to resources, highlighting authors who are as diverse as the storybooks presented:
Kelly Starling Lyons
Lesléa Newman and Carol Thompson