Paul Lachelier, the founding director of Learning Life, writes that "diplomacy is a social art or ethic especially needed in our divided world." Believing that diplomacy can be practiced by families as well as professionals, Learning Life has launched the Family Diplomacy Initiative - a way to make the most of social media and our increasing hours online.
Learning Life, a USA-based educational nonprofit, is now welcoming families worldwide to participate in an international food culture project via Facebook. This project is the next phase in the development of Learning Life's Family Diplomacy Initiative.
Founded in 2012, Learning Life aims to spread learning and citizen engagement beyond school walls in innovative ways. Launched in 2016, FDI is now Learning Life flagship program, and works to connect families worldwide with an eye to developing a family form of citizen diplomacy for a more caring world. Families are widely valued across cultures, and deeply impacted by world events, from climate change to immigration to virus transmission, yet have little voice, as families, in international affairs. (Click here for five reasons why families should be involved in diplomacy.) We believe greater focus in international affairs on the needs, challenges, joys and hopes of families worldwide can help build a more peaceful, caring world.
FDI began in summer 2016 with test live internet dialogues between lower-income families in Washington DC, Dakar, Senegal, and Porto de la Libertad, El Salvador. From 2017 to 2019, we completed a community photo project then a food culture and nutrition project engaging small numbers of lower-income families in the USA, El Salvador, Senegal and Jordan. In so doing, we leveraged volunteers and the internet to engage families that don't have the luxury to travel abroad. Since summer 2019, we have more than tripled the number of families worldwide connected to FDI on Facebook as we scale up for our next phase.
In this new phase, hundreds of families worldwide have the opportunity to share and learn from each other about their respective food cultures through six questions we will pose from April to October. The questions, and the months they will be posed, are:
We ask families in the Facebook group to answer the questions with one or more photos plus a brief explanation of the photo(s) in English or their own language. A panel of families living in different countries across the world has been selected to answer all six questions to ensure we get a variety of answers reflecting some of the world's diversity of food cultures. In future years, we plan to pose new questions on new themes that invite families to share and learn more about family life, country cultures, world trends, and international issues.
In addition, Learning Life is posting other content of interest to families to the FDI Facebook Group:
Families must understand and be comfortable with the fact that what they share will be public, on Facebook, and will be publicized via Learning Life's website and social media pages (primarily Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin).
To join FDI on Facebook click here.
If you would like to participate in the food culture project, please let me know by connecting with me on Facebook, and messaging me to let me know you are interested, as well as the city and country your family where your family currently lives.
Questions? Contact me at email@example.com.
Thank you for your interest!
Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life
Buds and blossoms, colored eggs and spring breezes are thankfully not susceptible to COVID-19 and the new season is bursting around much of the world. Today – Monday, April 20, 2020 – is the Spring Festival in Egypt: Sham El Nessim.
عيد شم نسيم سعيد عليكم
(Happy sham el nessim to you)
Spring has been celebrated in Egypt since ancient times, when Egyptians offered salted fish, lettuce and onions to their deities – and these are still the symbolic foods of the season. Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Bakr, former chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority, explains that: "The spring festival coincided with the vernal equinox, and the ancients imagined that that day represented the beginning of creation. The date of Sham El Nessim was not fixed. Rather, it was announced every year on the night before the feast at the foot of the Great Pyramid. The feast of 'Shamo,' means 'renewal of life' which was later corrupted during the Coptic age to 'shamm' (smelling or breathing) and the word 'nessim' (breeze) was added. The ancient Egyptians first celebrated the feast of Shamo in 2700 BC…”
.In modern times, Sham El Nessim is celebrated on the Monday after Coptic/Orthodox Easter but it is not a religious celebration. Families gather for picnics, short vacations, trips to the beach – Alexandria, Egypt, would look like this. Until this year, when the government closed all beaches, gardens and tourist villages because of coronavirus spread. Once again the tourism industry in Egypt has been hard hit – although now, as with so many other aspects of our lives – we can keep on touring, celebrating and learning online – and of course, sharing cultures and traditions.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is active on social media, including its YouTube Channel. The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is launching virtual tours of tombs and other wonders of ancient Egypt.
Today I want to share links and resources to the best children’s books from a wide variety of faiths, ethnic groups and nationalities. What a perfect opportunity to encourage children (and their parents) to explore literature from their own background or someone else’s: books as mirrors and windows.
Let’s first open the window on Ramadan, the major Muslim month of fasting that begins approximately April 24 this year (with the first sighting of the crescent moon). Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, typically beginning when they are in early teens, although younger children may begin fasting for a few days or hours. The month celebrates the moment when the Prophet Mohammed first began receiving the Quran, Islam’s holy book. The month includes acts of charity and the joyous end of the fast each day, called iftar, features special foods. Ramadan ends with a three-day feast/festival called Eid el Fitr.
April is also Arab American Heritage Month. Salaam Reads is an imprint of Simon & Schuster focused on books about Islam and young Muslims. KitaabWorld is an online platform focused on Muslim children’s literature from South Asia. The Horn Book Magazine recently featured a conversation about “We Need Diverse Jewish and Muslim Books,” including a list of recommended interfaith books. The Arab American Book Award is presented by the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The children’s literature award in 2019 went to Egyptian American Today show host Hoda Kotb for I’ve Loved You Since Forever. Two young Muslim sisters in Michigan created "Girls of the Crescent" to identify books with Muslim main characters and donate them to schools and libraries.
Lee and Low, the largest multicultural publisher in the U.S., has a Cultures section on its website. Multicultural Children's Book Day (January 29, 2021) offers a variety of online resources and teaching kits.
The 28th annual Children’s Africana Book Awards were recently announced. The top winner is from South African author Adrienne Writer – Hector: A Boy, A Protest and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid. “While the details of Hector’s life help readers realize that he was just a regular boy who didn’t deserve to die under this unjust system of segregation, this portrayal of the protesting teens also emphasizes how much power children can have when they stand up for their rights,” from the Kirkus starred review.
The best children’s books for many ethnic groups are identified each year with awards. Here are the current winners, check the lists for honor books and past winners -
Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (APALA)
Hans Christian Anderson Award - 2020 winners to be announced May 4 – Jacqueline Woodson is on the short list for 2020. This is the highest international recognition give to an author or an illustrator whose books have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature
United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) 2020 Outstanding International Books List (winning books come from Portugal, Switzerland, Chile, Korea and many more – presentation about the winners here)
Many of the celebrations for this year’s award winners have been cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19 but the books are all waiting to be savored, opening doors to new adventures and dreams, knowledge and hope. It’s time for new adventures!
Please share additional resources, awards
or comments on specific winning titles.
“The African continent has a land area of 11.7 million square miles – enough to fit in the United States, China, India, Japan, Mexico and many European nations combined,” writes Jeff Desjardins in Visual Capitalist – and he provides this visual from the artist Kai Krause to show what he means.
In the United States we have a tendency to talk about Africa as a single, monolithic expanse – not an enormous and diverse collection of cultures, ethnicities and geography. Since 1991, the Children’s Africana Book Awards have been working to correct misimpressions about Africa by honoring children’s and young adult books that contribute to a better understanding of African societies and issues.
The 27th Annual Awards will be honored with a dinner on March 27 on the Howard University campus in Washington, D.C. (tickets available here) and a family festival (free and open to the public) the following day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. You can meet many of this year’s authors and illustrators at both events – and read these books all year long!
THE MARCH 27 DINNER AND MARCH 28 FESTIVAL HAVE BEEN CANCELLED
DUE TO CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS - STILL A GREAT TIME TO KEEP READING!
BEST BOOK FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra Van Doorn
Lantana Publishing, 2019
“For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather's house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home? A touching story of a grandfather's love for his grandson and the quiet pleasures of a rainy day.” Goodreads
HONOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Grandad Mandela by Ambassador Zindzi Mandela, Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela,Zondwa Mandela
Lincoln Children’s Books, 2018 (South Africa)
Nelson Mandela’s two great-grandchildren ask their grandmother - Mandela’s youngest daughter – 15 questions about their freedom-fighting grandfather.
“The narrative responds to important questions regarding growing up under segregation where the authoritative government punished anyone who defied the rigid laws of apartheid…. The story also shows how faith sustained the Mandela family – celebrating each of his birthdays without him. The sadness (as understood by grandkids) of growing up under apartheid highlights the spirit of “Ubuntu” that grandad Mandela fought all these years to see it through when he became the first black President of South Africa.” Fatima Barnes, Howard University
Full Africa Access Review
Mama’s Cover Cloth by Ruby Yayra Goka, illustrated by Edmund Opare
Sub -Saharan Publishers, 2018 (Ghana)
Do you know that the African woman’s cover cloth has many uses? In this delightful book that young children will enjoy, a little girl shares the many uses of her mother’s amazing cover cloth.
Animal Village written and illustrated by Nelda LaTeef (Niger)
Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2018 – African Books Collective distributor)
Animal Village is a folk tale from the Zarma culture of Niger, West Africa about a tortoise who saves her village from the ravages of drought with wisdom passed down from an “old story.” Nelda LaTeef’s colorful and strikingly brilliant montage of illustrations, in acrylic and collage, captures the richness and vibrancy of the sub-Saharan culture from which the story springs. The story is especially relevant to sub-Saharan Africa as it focuses on the devastation of drought and the importance of received knowledge. With its dual themes of wisdom and grit, the book happily entertains while it teaches the importance of hard work and persistence as keys to success.
BEST BOOK FOR OLDER READERS
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 (Nigeria)
“(Tomi) Adeyemi’s ashe or power as a writer is expressed in the success of her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone (a debut novel for Adeyemi and a New York Times bestseller)… Adeyemi’s work has flow, excitement, and notable motives. She skillfully weaves in aspects of African historical and modern politics, culture, and spirituality. The main character Zelie, and her diviner class have been persecuted, most violently by the tyrant King Saran…. The deities and domains of the Orisha clans are refreshingly similar to reality…
“The levels of violence contained within this book are difficult to swallow, even for some seasoned adults…. Millions of people are ordinarily numb to the fact that hyper-violence and wretched Africanized worlds are hallmarks of modern media (esp. Hollywood), and accept it wholesale. Remarkably though, Adeyemi inserts a critical lifeline into this abyss–the concept that the Gods of one’s own ancestors (in this case the Orisha) provide salvation unlike any other.” Jaye Winmailawe, Ph.D., scholar, author and priest of the Orisha
Full Africa Access Review
HONOR BOOKS FOR OLDER READERS
Shakia Rising and King Shaka by Luke Molver
Story Press Africa, 2018 (South Africa)
“The graphic novels – Shaka Rising and the sequel, King Shaka – are imaginative, engaging, and innovative ways of narrating the legend of Shaka, the most renowned 19th century monarch in Southern Africa. Comic book writer-illustrator Luke Molver, a South African born in Durban, does an excellent job of telling and showing the rise of King Shaka and the Zulu nation in the wider context of individuals and groups in the region at the time….
“…what we knew of Zulu history from books during my formative years in apartheid South Africa was very biased and skewed. The content of what blacks needed to know then was supported by segregated laws and controlled by the ruling party. Molver’s novels written over twenty years after the end of apartheid are a testament to the great insight and sensitivity he brings to his work. As Mbongeni Malaba, professor of English at the University of KwaZulu-Natal wrote in the Foreword to Shaka Rising, “The Graphic Novel Series aims to make great African stories accessible to a world-wide audience of young readers, drawing on multiple sources to ensure balanced and credible accounts.” Fatima Barnes, Howard University
Full Africa Access Review
Mirage by Somaiya Daud
Flatiron Books, 2018 (Morocco)
“Mirage is a fictional novel that not only draws the reader into its story and prose, but challenges the reader to observe futurism and science fiction in a unique cultural context where it is not commonly used. Readers familiar with Moroccan culture find themselves constantly encountering values and traditions that are clearly Moroccan, while at the same time navigating the author’s magically engaging futuristic kingdom… The protagonist, Amani, grows throughout the book from a victim into a heroine and it is her culture and tradition that give her the strength to transform herself and to overcome the challenges laid in her path. For a generation of young readers who are faced with ever-accelerating globalization and pressures to disregard tradition, this novel tells a story of how holding on to your identity, traditions, and even language can be a source of strength in overcoming adversity.” Suzanne Moyer Baazet, African Studies Association
Full Africa Access Review
BEST NEW ADULT BOOK
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Penguin Random House, 2016 (South Africa)
The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
Read more here – 27 years of winning books plus videos, future award nominations process, Africa Access database, teaching resources - and make plans to celebrate the Children's Africana Book Awards, in Washington, D.C., in your classroom and with all children everywhere.
Caroline Brewer is a children’s author and literacy activist, a reading coach, former classroom teacher and former Pulitzer Prize jurist and nominated journalist. She has just published her debut children's novel in verse, Darius Daniels: Game On.
Long-established, award-winning, and rising authors, poets, historians, children’s authors, and journalists, plus a continental breakfast and book-signing afterwards – all on the menu for the 2nd Annual Black Authors Breakfast Party and African American Read-In. It’s all happening this Friday, February 7 from 7:00 – 9:00 am in downtown Washington, DC. (1101 New York Ave NW).
I am the grateful founder and organizer inviting everyone in the vicinity to join us in person or to watch the C-SPAN BookTV broadcast to be announced later this month. RSVPs requested to our gracious partner and host, Signal Financial Credit Union at firstname.lastname@example.org
D.C.’s Legendary Poet E. Ethelbert Miller will be
our keynote reader and speaker, joined by ten
other D.C.-based writers. And I’m excited to offer
a “book-tasting” of my debut verse children’s novel, Darius Daniels: Game On!, which will
include accompaniment by creative vocalists
Some might wonder why it’s important to celebrate black authors. It’s important because even in 2020, black authors are still rarely seen. The average person has difficulty naming more than a few black authors, teachers still tell us they struggle to find works for students by black authors, and bookstores and many libraries showcase limited titles by black authors. When we read a book, recite a poem, tell a story, or sing a song by a black writer, or listen as they read, sing, or talk to us, we bind ourselves to that person and to that work. We announce community when we bind ourselves to that person and to that work. And in the binding, we create something new and remarkable.
We celebrate black authors because we want them to know that in keeping with the Zulu greeting, Sawubona, we see them. To see black authors is to laugh with them, cry with them, go deep into history, family, religion, culture, love, and friendship with them.
We celebrate black authors to honor the legacy of the founder of the African-American Read-In, Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, who passed away in 2017. “It’s important for all of us to see ourselves in books,” Professor Scott said, and for there to be witnesses. She proposed the event to the Black Caucus of National Council of Teachers of English (of which she was a member and so am I) so that people of all backgrounds could become part of the world of stories that black writers create.
From the beginning in 1990, the Read-In was her invitation for people to gather anywhere, in schools, libraries, bookstores, cafés, prisons, workplaces, and even their living rooms, to read books by African-American authors, and report those results. They went from 5,000 to a million readers within five years.
So, today, I invite you to celebrate the now global phenomenon of the African-American Read-In, on its 30th anniversary, anywhere you are. I invite you to help us make sure more authors are seen and more people are witnesses.
Details and RSVP at this link.
Follow @brewercaroline @signalFCU on Twitter for news and updates about the Black Authors Breakfast Party and African American Read-In.
Author Eloise Greenfield at the 2019 African American Read-in.
The inaugural Black Authors Breakfast Party/African American Read-In (BABP/AARI) was held Friday, February 1, 2019, and was aired in its entirety later in the month by C-SPAN’s BookTV. Learn more here about that event and other Read-Ins held in 2019. See BookTV video of the 2019 event here and a 3-minute highlight video here.
Guest blog by Katherine Marsh
Katherine Marsh is the author of the award-winning middle-grade novel NOWHERE BOY. She joined with four other authors on a panel at the recent National Council of Teachers of English to talk about five book that can teach kids to change the world. I'm delighted she agreed to share them with you here.
In 2015, my family and I moved from Washington, D.C., to Brussels, Belgium, for my husband’s job. I wasn’t planning to write another children’s book; my only plan was to help my children transition into a French-speaking Belgian school—a stressful full-immersion experience. But one day, while they were off at the ironically named Ecole du Bonheur (or School of Happiness), I was poking around the basement when I found a tiny door with a skeleton key. What children’s book author isn’t going to follow her curiosity and open that?
What I found was a sub-basement and far in the back, a wine cellar. It was the perfect place for a boy to hide. Hiding had been on my mind ever since I’d learned that a Belgian family on our block had hidden a Jewish teenager in their house during the Nazi Occupation. This teenager had been a German refugee and refugees were on my mind, too. The year we arrived, 2015, was the height of the European Refugee Crisis; over a million refugees were pouring into Europe, including many unaccompanied minors, or children traveling alone.
Sometimes, as an author, you don’t choose your story--your story chooses you. By the end of that year, I knew I had to write my middle-grade novel Nowhere Boy, the intersecting tale of Max, a hapless American boy dragged unwilling to Brussels, and Ahmed, an unaccompanied minor from Syria who finds himself stranded alone in Belgium. In 2018, Nowhere Boy was published to rave reviews and even won some awards (including the Middle East Book Award). Best of all, I started hearing from kids and classes who had been inspired by Max and Ahmed’s story to reach out to new arrivals and to start coat drives and fundraisers for refugees. This year, when I learned that the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference theme was “spirited inquiry,” I was eager to connect this to my book’s heart: How to inspire kids to expand their empathetic horizons and get involved in making the world a better place.
Luckily, I wasn’t the only one. In a panel entitled, From Curiosity to Civic Engagement: Using Literature to Create Social Comprehension and Changemakers, I was joined by four fellow authors whose books not only educate kids on a variety of important topics but inspire them to get involved. In all these books, curiosity leads to a deeper understanding of the world and a clarion call to change it. As our educator-moderator Sara K. Ahmed, author of Being the Change, explained, teachers need books like these to serve as “entry points for social justice.”
In Magic Ramen, the Story of Momofuku Ando, Andrea Wang tells the story of the inventor of instant ramen, a food that saved post-war Japan from starvation and that has become a nourishing, low-cost staple around the world. Wang’s book is an entry point into classroom discussion about food insecurity, which affects millions around the globe, including many American children. Wang’s book—and resources for teachers--inspire young readers to identify problems in their own community and how they would solve them, as well as to create food drives and community pantries. Preschool-Grade 3
In Another Kind of Hurricane, Tamara Ellis Smith tells the intersecting story of two boys, one in Vermont struggling with the death of a friend, the other in New Orleans struggling with the loss of his home in Hurricane Katrina. Smith herself donated clothes to Katrina victims and was inspired to write the book by her young son’s question of who would get his jeans. The book is an entry point into the impact of natural disasters and climate change. To get kids involved, Smith created the Blue Jean Project, an initiative in which one school donates jeans to another school affected by a natural disaster.
In Tree of Dreams, Laura Resau tells the story of a girl with a family chocolate shop in Colorado who travels to the Ecuadorian Amazon where cocoa beans are grown to learn about an indigenous community whose home and forest are imperiled by oil exploration. Inspired by Resau’s own travels and friendships in the Amazon, the book is an entry point into environmental destruction, particularly its impact on the poor and disenfranchised. Resau, whose website includes numerous resources to use with children, encourages students to “grow their hearts” by giving them an anatomical heart print-out whose four chambers they fill with the top things they care about and that they are encouraged to add to throughout the year.
In Fault Lines In the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights and the Flaws that Affect Us Today, Cynthia Levinson and her husband Sanford Levinson, a professor of law, explore twenty “fault lines,” highly debated sections of the Constitution that still impact what we squabble over today. Levinson’s book allows kids to explore contentious topics such as immigration and impeachment by focusing on the structures of government rather than by making these arguments personal. The Levinsons’ book is meant to inspire civic engagement, including a focus on speaking up and voting, and the couple’s blog regularly updates their material.
Middle to Upper Grade
Please feel free to use the comments section to add other books or resources for children and young adults that help teach kids - and grown-ups! - how to change the world. Here are a few more helpful organizations and links:
Why Children Have Such Powerful Moral Authority, Washington Post
Youth Activism Project
Girls Gone Activist: How to Change the World Through Education
Teaching for Change
Unity Productions Foundation
I'm Your Neighbor Books
Adam regularly gives food to a food bank. Odean listens to people to show he cares. These two boys attend elementary schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, where they are members of The Giving Square and identify themselves as philanthropists. The founder of this non-profit organization, Amy Neugebauer, believes “we all have something that we can uniquely contribute to the world around us.” Neugebauer and other parents decided to “engage children in philanthropy by starting a program grounded in empathetic connections to the needs of others.”
The Giving Square's signature program - Kids for Kids Fund - started in 2017 at Wood Acres Elementary School, spread to four schools in 2018 and now includes 10 schools in Montgomery and Anne Arundel Counties in Maryland and Elgin, Illinois.
Neugebauer and fifth grader Anna Murray from Wood Acres helped launch Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words this spring at Politics and Prose as shining examples of Malala’s insistence that “one child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.”
Teachers and counselors at each school promote voluntary participation in the Kids for Kids Fund. Altogether there are 225 third to fifth graders meeting once a week for two months. Each 35-minute session occurs during recess. “Part of the message,” notes Neugebauer, “is that kids are giving up something to participate.”
Children start by discussing what all kids need: “a home, shelter, food, friends, family and definitely love,” says one young girl. Education and health insurance were also on the list, “in case somebody breaks an arm.” Youngsters learn about stepping into the shoes of others using videos, activities and a collection of books curated by the partner bookstore Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. The books may be taken home from the school library and often help start conversations at home. Children even become change agents influencing family discussions about giving.
In order to participate in The Giving Square, schools must contribute $750 for administrative costs, enlist a donor or foundation to provide $1000 for students to donate and a teacher or counselor who champions the program in the school.
Toward the end of the sessions, kids begin talking about local solutions to the problems they’ve learned about, drawn from charities in the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy. During the next to last session – March Madness - each child nominates an organization. Following a lively debate, students vote and decide where to donate their $1000. In the last session, the newly energized philanthropists write their own giving pledges:
“I am good at speaking and I can make useful items.”
“I will be kind to people who do not have friends or have someone to play with.”
“I can help because I am good at solving problems.”
“I am a philanthropist.”
When The Giving Square was brought to a Title I school, where most students come from families with lower incomes, Neugebauer realized “there is a universal desire to help. Everyone feels there are people less advantaged than they are. Everyone feels they have blessings in their lives.” When asked to describe their personal experiences with helping others, children in these schools said,
“I taught my brother how to read.”
“I helped an old lady carry her tomatoes.”
“I sit with my mom when she is sad.”
The meaning of philanthropy for children is giving of yourself in any way you can. And really good philanthropy, adds Neugebauer, comes with understanding the full story of someone else.
·At a grand celebration this spring, giant $1000 checks were presented to the winning charities. Hundreds of kids were excited about philanthropy – and able to pronounce the word! The 2019 grantees include:
For more information about The Giving Square, contact email@example.com.
By Karen Leggett
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) met with constituents in her office recently, but it was far from a routine visit with voters. In fact, the constituents were mostly nonvoters — children in third grade to high school who were mobilized by the Sunrise Movement. They carried a large handwritten letter asking the senator to vote “yes” on a resolution favoring the Green New Deal, a plan to address climate change with economic stimulus programs.
Read more of my article in the Washington Post, March 1, 2019, here.
By Pamela Ehrenberg
In late 2016, the demolition trucks arrived at the library in our Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C., clearing the way for the new building to come.
It was the best possible reason to demolish a library. And the new branch will be terrific in two years. But in the meantime, every car ride to the interim location made me miss walking to our neighborhood branch even more. I needed a solution that focused on moving forward.
Around the same time, national conversations were unfolding about how communities could break down barriers and talk to one another. Our country needed solutions that focused on moving forward
I asked my kids (12-1/2-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son): what if we try to visit all of the other DC Public Library branches before our neighborhood library re-opens?
It’s not that people from our Upper Northwest neighborhood never venture east of Rock Creek Park, or the Anacostia River. But too often it’s in a spirit of well-meaning temporary helpfulness that doesn’t generate long-term solutions.
Our library visits wouldn’t focus on solutions: there’s too much foundational work to do first. Our visits are a reminder that every single community is built on strengths—and that many of us don’t yet know enough to be truly helpful. What better place than a library to remember how much there is to learn?
With Metro cards and GPS, a library map and open minds, we began exploring our city. Libraries provided the excuse we needed to visit the Anacostia Museum, Labyrinth Games, the DC State Fair. The Benning branch was sort of on the way to visit grandparents in Baltimore. At some branches, we didn’t have as many hours I would have liked for a full neighborhood exploration, but I’ve learned not to postpone this sort of purposeful wandering until some mythical “free time.” Our time is now.
In every community, we can find a novel to absorb on the Metro, a collection of new chess strategies, a gripping middle-grade book to enjoy together on CD. At the branches named in their honor, we’ve learned about the contributions Watha T. Daniel and Dorothy I. Height made to our city.
And we’ve been able to imagine, just for a moment, living in other communities. We’ve remembered that real live people live in all four wards, even tiny Southwest, where some of the tweens play computer games at the library Saturday afternoons. Real live people approach their libraries by car and on foot, alone and in pairs, and most of them are very happy to take our photo in front of the library sign. Real live people live close to and far from public transportation, supermarkets, the array of job opportunities that people in other parts of the country may think of when they hear “Washington.” But everyone we’ve met in libraries can access . . . libraries.
Meanwhile, the progress on our neighborhood branch reminds us of our deadline. I know I’ll miss this project after the last map pin is in place and our goal is eventually achieved. But I’ll also look to new goals—building on this initial comfort level toward deeper conversations about our shared city.
Because library locations aren’t acorns but “branches:” not a finite ending but a path to what’s next. And for our family, the exploration is just beginning.