Celebrating A Path of Stars

Nearly 100 YMCA campers and staff attended the reading and participated in activities Photo by Gabe Bornstein

Nearly 100 YMCA campers and staff attended the reading and participated in activities
Photo by Gabe Bornstein

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.

Anne Sibley O'Brien with Sokumthim Nou, husband and daughter

Anne Sibley O’Brien with Sokumthim Nou, husband and neighbor, July

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.

Decorated cards would be delivered to Chiang Mai restaurant in Portland as thanks for the mango sticky rice

Decorated cards would be delivered to Chiang Mai restaurant in Portland as thanks for the mango sticky rice
Photo by Gabe Bornstein

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!

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A Path of Stars Event 8/8/13

PATHofSTARSThe 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.

Law Offices of Joe Bornstein: Neighborhood Sponsor

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We are delighted to announce that the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein has joined I’m Your Neighbor, Portland as a “Neighborhood Sponsor.”  Because of their very generous donation, 160 YMCA and other young readers attending the Path of Stars event on 8/8/13 will receive a free signed copy of A Path of Stars and get to participate in a Cambodian arts activity!

Author Profile: Anne Sibley O’Brien

Author/Illustrator of A Path of Stars

122832435“As the population of Greater Portland grows more and more diverse, all of us who share this city are being given an extraordinary opportunity: to actually contribute to creating the kind of community we want to become. My dream is that this project will challenge us to stretch and grow as we explore our commonalities and differences; to discover ourselves in each other; and  to make room for all of us to live together as true neighbors.” –Anne Sibley O’Brien

Anne Sibley O’Brien has been indispensable in her role as the Community Adviser for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland and co-creator of “I’m Your Neighbor Books.” Her children’s picture book A Path of Stars, which she is both the author and illustrator, has been honored by the Asian Pacific American Association and was named a 2013 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. She is also the illustrator of another I’m Your Neighbor, Portland featured title, Moon Watchers written by Reza Jalali. A Path of Stars tells the story of a Cambodian American girl who helps her grandmother Lok Yeay find peace and happiness after receiving tragic news that brings back memories of fleeing Cambodia as a refugee.

VISIT Anne Sibley O’Brien’s blog “Coloring Between the Lines” for reflections on race, culture and children’s books

JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on August 10th to celebrate this title

Anne teaching students how to draw a lotus flower, an important symbol in Cambodian culture, at Canal School in Westbrook, ME

Anne teaching students how to draw a lotus flower, an important symbol in Cambodian culture, at Canal School in Westbrook, ME

On Writing A Path of Stars

When approached by the Maine Humanities Council for the New Mainers Book Project, Anne Sibley O’Brien remembers writing in her journal, “Who am I to undertake this, to presume the ability to know, to understand, to represent?” While O’Brien’s background of growing up in Korea gave her a connection to Asia, she “knew that my own experiences and perspective weren’t sufficient to tell an authentic Cambodian-American story.” Instead she hoped that by immersing herself and being on the receiving end of the Cambodian American experience, a story would come through her.

O’Brien read many books of Cambodian survival stories, including First They Killed My Father, A Blessing Over Ashes, Children of the Cambodian Killing Fields, and Bamboo and Butterflies. Much of her research also came from her friends, Veasna and Peng Kem, who related their personal stories and experiences in Cambodia and their escape during the war. She gathered research about the effects of trauma with a specialist in torture and genocide and learned how it was often the third generation who “begins to dig” and tries to revive the memories suppressed by the the first generation. With this information, O’Brien began to find the bone structure of A Path of Stars.

For the illustrations, Anne studied reference photos, most notably Kari René Hall’s photo essay, Beyond the Killing Fields, for Cambodian faces. She also watched Cambodian dance and listened to Cambodian music. She noticed that gold was a reoccurring color in Cambodian culture; from the dance costumes to the statues to Cambodia’s environment, which led to her decision to do gold underpainting. She also noticed rounded qualities and an undulating line in Cambodian culture such as in the written language, Khmer, art and the dance moves and tried to incorporate this aspect in her illustrations.

Path of Stars Honored

Illustration from A PATH OF STARS

The I’m Your Neighbor, Portland featured book, A Path of Stars by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge Publishers) has been named a Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2013. The award is a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC).

The picture book set in Portland’s Cambodian American community was also named an Honor Picture Book of the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature 2013. Winners of the 2013 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature, which promote Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage and are awarded based on literary and artistic merit, have been selected by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association.

The community is welcome at an event celebrating A Path of Stars and the Maine Cambodian community on August 10, 2013 at the Portland Public Library.  More info here.