For those who attended the celebration of The Good Braider on July 11th, you may remember the preview we showed of the book trailer featuring the song “A Girl From Juba” by OD Bonny. We’re pleased to announce that the final version has been released! You can view it below and on YouTube.
On Thursday, August 8th, families, children and almost one hundred campers from the Portland YMCA summer program gathered in the Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library for a celebration of the book A Path of Stars, written and illustrated by Peaks Island author Anne Sibley O’Brien.
Project Director Kirsten Cappy briefly explained I’m Your Neighbor, Portland and encouraged the children to find books in the library that were about children from different cultures before inviting O’Brien to the stage. The author first introduced herself and then was joined Sokunthim Nou and her husband, the Cambodian owners of Chiang Mai restaurant, who prepared the Cambodian dish mango sticky rice for a snack that would be eaten later in the event.
O’Brien showed a map of Cambodia and explained some Cambodian history to give background to her story. She also explained that her book was inspired by the stories of her friends Vaensa and Peng Kem, who were born in Cambodia and had to leave the country because of the war. The audience sat captivated as O’Brien read A Path of Stars aloud and watched illustrations from the book projected on the screen.
After the story-telling, the children watched a video of traditional Khmer dancing before standing up and trying a short dance of their own. O’Brien led the audience in learning the steps and hand movements of the dance and soon the room was filled with sounds of Khmer music as children stepped and flicked their wrists.
Once the music ended, the audience prepared for a drawing lesson of the lotus flower. O’Brien showed pictures of the lotus and explained its significance in Cambodian culture. “The lotus flower is a symbol for purity because it roots itself in the mud but blooms on the surface of the water beautifully clean and pure,” she said. The audience gasped when O’Brien showed pictures of the famous temple, Angkor Wat, and a giant statue of the Buddha sitting in the lotus flower. O’Brien led the children in the drawing lesson and drew different examples of a closed and open blossom. Once everyone had learned and practiced drawing the flower, cards with “I’m Your Neighbor” written in Khmer were handed out to everyone in the audience. They could draw and color the lotus on the front and then write their own messages on the inside. While they drew, they snacked on the mango and sticky rice.
Before leaving, the children turned in their cards that would be delivered to Chiang Mai restaurant as a thank you for the delicious snack. Some kids wrote that they hoped to visit Cambodia one day or that they thought Cambodia was cool. Others wrote “I’m Your Neighbor” on the inside and signed their name.
I’m Your Neighbor Portland is tremendously grateful to the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein, who helped sponsor this event and advertised it on the Time and Temperature building. With their generous donation, every child left with personalized copies of A Path Of Stars signed by O’Brien, a set of colored pencils and a lotus blossom drawing activity. We also thank Xpress Copy (located on Fore Street in Portland, ME) for donating cardboard mats that the children used while drawing and the YMCA for bringing their campers to the library!
Last Friday, August 2nd, I’m Your Neighbor Portland hosted its largest event yet, “Ramadan Mubarak: A Holiday Celebration and Education for Families of All Faiths.” Over two hundred people attended throughout the evening, including members from the Muslim community, Portland residents and those passing through on their First Friday Art Walk circuit.
Attendees could have their names written in Arabic when they first entered. The Portland Library had a display of their collection on Islam next to the I’m Your Neighbor Portland bookshelf, and PPL staff were on hand for anyone who wanted to check out books. The henna station was extremely popular and volunteers were kept busy as a constant stream of people were lined up waiting to have their hands painted with beautiful designs. Peaks Island author and illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien had her art work from Moon Watchers on display to show the process of her research and early sketches for the illustrations. There was also a prayer rug room set up with a video of how to pray and prayer rugs loaned to us from our Muslim neighbors on display. Volunteers were on hand to answer any questions visitors had about the prayer rugs or Islamic practices.
After introducing remarks were made by project director Kirsten Cappy, Reza Jalali, director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Southern Maine and author of the children’s book Moon Watchers took the stage to talk about Ramadan and practicing the Islamic faith in Maine. He touched on his own experiences coming to Portland and the growth he has seen in the Muslim community in the almost thirty years he has made this city his home. Jalali also spoke about the five pillars of Islam and the celebration of Ramadan as part of an “Islam 101” education for those in the audience who were unfamiliar with the practices. Attendees were given a chance to ask questions, some of which were answered from Muslim teenagers who were in the audience.
Pious Ali of Maine Interfaith Alliance then hosted a panel discussion with Reza Jalali, Anne Sibley O’Brien, Maria Padian, author of Out of Nowhere, and Padian’s cultural adviser, a Somali young man named Shobow Saban. The topic of the panel was the process of cross-cultural collaboration on the titles Moon Watchers and Out of Nowhere. Pious guided the panelists in conversations about how each team came to work together and the many conversations that took place between author and cultural adviser. O’Brien and Padian shared what they learned about Islamic practices and the Iranian/Somali culture during their research. The panel concluded with the audience answering the question “What is one thing you will take away from this evening?” The remarks made were wonderful; many commented on a greater understanding of the religion and Ramadan and one attendee expressed a reawakened desire for connection across faith. Another said it was “wonderful to be here with so many neighbors.”
At 8:15, it was time to break the fast as a community. As Jalali described during his talk on Islamic practices, Muslims fast from sun rise until sunset during the month of Ramadan, as a time to practice self-discipline and to increase awareness of and compassion for the poor and hungry. A man from the Muslim community gave the call to prayer and signaled the time to break the fast. Hungry attendees of all faiths gathered to taste food from Tandoor Bread and Restaurant including Iraqi flat bread, hummus, falafel, lentil soup, white bean soup and mountains of rice perfumed with saffron, raisins and almonds. For a sweet end to the meal, there was rice pudding and baklava.
Our thanks go to the many volunteers, Portland Public Library staff, Reza Jalali and Pious Ali, who dedicated their time and expertise to make this event a wonderful success. We also thank the family at Tandoor Bread and Restaurant for providing such excellent food to break the fast and which certainly was enjoyed by all who joined.
The picture book A Path of Stars, set in Maine’s Cambodian community, will be celebrated at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square on Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 10:30 AM as part of the city-wide read entitled “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” All ages welcome, but best for families with children ages 7-12.
Author and illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien will read aloud from her book and lead a series of events including the drawing lesson of a lotus flower, teaching a Cambodian dance, and sharing Cambodian food from the Chiang Mai restaurant. Children and families will decorate cards that will be sent to the Cambodian temple in Buxton, Maine. Free copies of the book will be given away (while supplies last) courtesy of the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein. The event is free of charge. For more information, contact Curious City at 207-420-1126.
When author and illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien received a commission from the Maine Humanities Council under the New Mainers Book Project to create a picture book about the Cambodian American experience, she knew that her own experiences and perspectives would be insufficient to tell an authentic story. However, she hoped that by listening and immersing herself in Cambodian culture a story might come through her. O’Brien read every book about Cambodia that she could find, and listened to the stories of her friends Peng and Veansa Kem, who grew up in Cambodia and escaped the war to come to the U.S. Filled with stories of beauty, trauma, loss and heroic survival, O’Brien waited. After many weeks, she had an image of a girl in a garden picking a tomato and a rose. From this image, a story began to take form and grew into her book A Path of Stars.
The children’s picture book tells an affecting story of family, loss, and memory. Dara loves the stories her grandmother, Lok Yeay, tells of the Cambodian countryside where she grew up—stories of family, food, and the stars above, glowing in the warm, sweet air. There are darker stories, too—stories of war and loss that Lok Yeay cannot put into words. Lok Yeay yearns to return to Cambodia to be with her brother. But when that dream becomes impossible, it’s up to Dara to bring Lok Yeay back to a place of happiness.
Reza Jalali’s happiest memories from his childhood in Iran are celebrations of Ramadan. Each year in Maine as he follows the progress of the moon during the Muslim holiday, Jalali remembers with a laugh how as a child he was “fascinated by how the moon seemed to follow me around.” These memories and his hope that his children will always remember their own Ramadan stories inspired him to write the children’s picture book, Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle (Tilbury House).
Maria Padian remembers her childhood holiday celebrations being a “blizzard of accents” and an unusual combination of dishes served–Irish soda bread beside Spanish rice. With both sides of her family coming from immigrant backgrounds, Padian watched with interest the arrival of new immigrants in her town in Maine. She wondered how these Somali newcomers, black, Muslim and often non-English speakers, would fare in their new surroundings. Her young adult novel Out of Nowhere (Random House) resulted from these curiosities and through many conversations with Lewiston and Portland youth.
Moon Watchers and Out of Nowhere will be celebrated in a Ramadan celebration and education at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square on Friday, August 2, 2013 ongoing from 5:30 PM-9:30 PM as part of a city-wide read entitled “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” Attendees can have their name written in Arabic, henna painted and visit a prayer rug exhibit. A panel discussion with author Reza Jalali, illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien, and author Maria Padian will explore how their knowledge of Islam grew through community relationships and research for their books. At 8:15, all are invited to break the Ramadan fast with catered food from Tandoor Bakery and Restaurant. The event is free of charge. All ages and faiths are invited. For more information, contact Curious City at 207-420-1126.
“The event will offer a great opportunity to learn about Ramadan, one of Islam’s Five Pillars, while meeting our Muslim neighbors, who call Maine home,” says Reza Jalali.
Moon Watchers is a children’s picture book that offers an inside view of daily life of a modern Muslim family in Maine during Ramadan. Shirin and her older brother Ali have a history of not getting along so when she catches him sneaking food one afternoon during his Ramadan fast, she is faced with the choice to tell on him or mind her own business. Readers from all faiths will appreciate this universal story with its thought-provoking focus on family life. The picture book is illustrated by Peaks Island children’s book author and illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien.
Out of Nowhere is told from the perspective of Tom Bouchard, a Franco-American high school teenager who seems to have it all. However, his life suddenly turns upside down when Somali refugees begin migrating to his small town home in Enniston, Maine. Not everyone in Enniston welcomes the new Somali residents and when Tom screws up in a big, way he must grapple with a culture he does not fully understand and take responsibility for his actions.
The Ramadan celebration and education allows families of all faiths and backgrounds to engage in conversation with and explore Islamic practices. Through breaking the fast together, a sense of community is created through the common act of sharing food.
Maria Padian’s title Out of Nowhere offers perspective on how members from a Franco-American long-term community react to Somali new arrivals in their Maine hometown. At the center is Tom, a high school senior, who, despite making cultural blunders and being confronted with conflicting views from his family and surrounding community, is constantly willing and open to learning about his Somali classmates. We’re immensely grateful for Padian’s work on this title and for all the support that she has shown for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.
VISIT Maria Paidan’s website for more about the author and Out of Nowhere
JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on August 2nd to celebrate this title
On Writing Out of Nowhere
I grew up in a family where the conversation at holiday dinners was a blizzard of accents. The food combinations were a bit unusual (Spanish rice served with Irish soda bread?) and often, at odd hours, the telephone would ring. My mother would answer those calls from distant relatives by speaking very loudly and slowly into the receiver, to accommodate the poor reception and delays from transcontinental lines.
All four of my grandparents were immigrants, and their stories were woven deeply into the fabric of our third-generation lives. They were maids, butchers, bar keepers and bus drivers. They arrived in New York City with little besides youth and optimism, and relied on their churches and their contacts from “back home” to get established. They didn’t send their own children to college, but my siblings and I went. They worked hard to build new lives and create opportunities for their children and grandchildren, most of whom went on to realize educational and economic success.
A day does not pass that I don’t recall them with grateful admiration.
So it was with great interest that I followed the arrival of new immigrants to my now-home state of Maine: Somali refugees, fleeing civil war in their own country, and resettling in unprecedented numbers in the city of Lewiston. Recalling my own grandparents, I wondered how these newcomers would fare. My relatives struggled despite having many affinities with the dominant culture: they were white, they were Christian, they were literate, half of them spoke English. How, in a post-9/11 America, would black, Muslim, destitute, people fare? Most did not speak English and many couldn’t read, even in their own language.
I suppose it’s no surprise that the stories that interested me the most were those from young people. As a Young Adult author, I’m naturally drawn to teens and adolescents: I love their passion and their candor. And as I met people from both Lewiston and Portland, both young and old, and spoke with them about receiving these newcomers or being these newcomers, I found that repeatedly my conversations with teens were uplifting and energizing and revelatory. My conversations with adults, except for a few cases, were dispiriting, political and cagey.
The fact is the immigrant story is written by the young, and while we adults can bluster and argue and finger point and pigeonhole all we want, our children and grandchildren are the ones who will get down to the business of living together and redefining what it means to be an American. At some point I decided I didn’t want to speak with adults any longer: I wanted to write a story about teens, from their perspective. It took a little searching and a few false starts, but I was finally fortunate enough to meet young people who not only had the command of English to tell me their stories, but also had the courage to trust me with their stories.
The resulting novel, Out of Nowhere, is inspired by anecdotes told to me by those young people, as well as accounts I’ve read about refugee communities elsewhere in the United States. I used recent historical events in Lewiston, Maine as the scaffolding for the plot, but the characters in the book are fictitious and much of what transpires is an amalgam of what I’ve heard, what I’ve studied, and what I’ve imagined. It would be a mistake to comb through these pages in search of actual people and things that really happened. Instead, I hope readers will come away with a greater understanding of what it means to be a stranger in new world as well as to receive a stranger in an established world.
“The project offers a unique opportunity to read multicultural literature while learning about your new neighbors. It humanizes New Mainers and helps us to understand who they are and why they are here.” –Reza Jalali
Reza Jalali is a teacher, writer, and community organizer. Originally from Iran, he has lived in Maine for over two decades. When not working at the University of Southern Maine or playing soccer for fun, he writes stories, which especially delight his children. Moon Watchers is his first children’s book, which tells the story of a modern Muslim family celebrating Ramadan. This title gives readers of all faiths an inside look of how one family celebrates this holiday.
JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on August 2nd to celebrate this title.
A sky watcher, Reza believes we each have a star named after us. He continues to search the night sky to find his and those of his family and friends. Reza remembers his own childhood Ramadans this way:
Some of the happiest memories from my childhood in Iran are from the time when my family observed Ramadan. In bigger cities the signal to stop eating and start the fast would be announced by the boom of a single cannon, but in our town (before people got alarm clocks) men from the neighborhood would go around beating the ground with their sticks, reminding us that it was time to finish our pre-dawn meal. My mother, always the storyteller, told me that in the old days, those fasting would check the time in the evening by carrying outside two strings of cloth—one black, another white—to see if they could be told apart in the waning light. When they looked the same, it was time to break the fast. I was a moon watcher as a child, fascinated by how the moon seemed to follow me around. (Afraid of being teased by older boys, I kept this to myself.) Even now, I chuckle when I catch a glimpse of the moon following me around as I walk outside under a full moon in the Maine night sky. I hope our children, Azad and Setareh, will have their own stories of Ramadan and will share them with others one day.