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!

Celebrating Islam in Maine, Moon Watchers and Out of Nowhere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast 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.

Many attendees waited to be decorated in beautiful henna designs

Many attendees waited to be decorated in beautiful henna designs

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.

Prayer rugs and a video on how to pray were on display

Prayer rugs and a video on how to pray were on display

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.”

Shobow Saban (left), Reza Jalali and Maria Padian (right) stand together after their panel discussion on cross-cultural collaboration

Shobow Saban (left), Reza Jalali and Maria Padian (right) stand together after their panel discussion on cross-cultural collaboration

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.

Guests of all faiths were invited to break the fast at 8:15

Guests of all faiths were invited to break the fast at 8:15

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.

Ramadan Mubarak: A Holiday Celebration and Education for Families of All Faiths 8/2/13

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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).

Out of NowhereMaria 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.

img189.jpgMoon 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.

Celebrating Bread Song

Fred Lipp reads from his book Bread Song

Fred Lipp reads from his book Bread Song

On July 24th, adults and children gathered at the Portland Public Library to celebrate Bread Song with a reading by the author and the tasting of bread from many cultures. Author Fred Lipp, his wife Kitty and three grand-daughters were present. Alison Pray, the owner of Standard Baking Company and who sparked the “AHA” moment for Fred when he was writing this book, was also part of the audience.

Lipp and Alison, owner of Standard Baking Co.

Lipp and Alison, owner of Standard Baking Co.

Lipp began with a discussion about new neighbors and overcoming shyness. He talked about the taking the initiative to talk to someone new because the other person might be too shy to talk to you first. During his time at minister at First Parish, he said he would often meet new people by simply walking the streets of Portland and striking up conversations. Lipp imagined it might be especially true for new arrivals coming from different countries to be shy about speaking in a new language. These thoughts were the inspiration behind the friendship between Alison the baker and young Chamnan in Bread Song. 

Lipp then read aloud from his book, acting out Chamnan walking across the street and counting the steps with his grandfather. His energetic reading engaged all members of the audience and kids followed along with copies of the book. After he finished, Lipp shared a secret with the audience. He explained that when he was younger, he too was quiet and rarely spoke because he had difficulty reading and stammered. He remembered what it was like to be shy and the importance of having a friend who reached out and helped him overcome his shyness. “A little bit of Chamnan is in me,” he said.

Samoons, red bean buns and baguette from local bakeries

Samoons, red bean buns and baguette from local bakeries

Following Lipp’s reading, everyone was given a Bread Song matching activity, in which pictures of different kinds of bread had to be matched up with the bakery and country of origin. While it was easy to connect baguettes with Standard Baking and French origins because of the story, others were more tricky. Even some of the adults were stumped!

Attendees were given the chance to sample three different breads from local bakeries all representing three different cultures. Iraqi samoons from Tandoor Bakery, Chinese red bean buns from Bubble Maineia and French baguettes from Standard Baking were available to taste. The red bean buns were most unfamiliar to many, although some had had similar pork filled buns at Chinese restaurants. The samoons were very popular, and several asked where they could find them for purchase.

While they snacked on the breads, people could chat with Lipp and Alison about the book and her bakery. A former South Portland librarian said he was excited to share Bread Song with a Thai family member and her children. Lipp signed copies of his books and then said his good-byes as he and his family were off to lunch at a Thai restaurant to celebrate.

Celebrating The Good Braider

Copies of The Good Braider provided by our generous donors

Copies of The Good Braider provided by our generous donors

On July 11th, I’m Your Neighbor, Portland celebrated its first featured book in the collection, The Good Braider. Author Terry Farish was joined by local performers O.D. Bonny and Bianca Abdalla in an evening of exploration and celebration of both the title and the Sudanese American community in Portland.

Bianca Abdalla reads "Be Free" from The Good Braider

Bianca Abdalla reads “Be Free” from The Good Braider

Kristen Cappy, project director, opened the evening with wishing South Sudan a “Happy Birthday,” as July 9th marked its second year of independence. Student and performance artist Bianca Abdalla reading from the chapter “Be Free,” which takes place early in the novel while the character Viola and her family lives in Juba, South Sudan. Bianca beautifully expressed Farish’s writing and the character Viola’s voice.

Farish then led the audience through a discussion of the mother-daughter relationship a central theme throughout The Good Braider, based on what Farish observed in the Sudanese-American community in Portland. One audience member noted Viola’s preference to confide in her grandmother over her mother and wondered if that was a common occurrence in Sudanese culture. Bianca responded that like Viola, she often talked more to her grandmother about certain things that she would never talk to her mother about. She shared that her mother commanded more authority and might try to lecture, whereas her grandmother, as an elder of the family, would listen.

Sudanese rapper OD Bonny performs from his album "Kwo I Lobo Tek"

Sudanese rapper OD Bonny performs from his album “Kwo I Lobo Tek”

Sudanese rap artist OD Bonny came on stage next to perform two songs from his album “Kwo I Lobo Tek” sung in Acholi, OD’s native language and one of the languages spoken in Sudan. He concluded his set with “A Girl from Juba,” which was inspired by the book. He also shared a special preview of The Good Braider book trailer that he is currently in the process of filming.

Many wonderful connections were made during the book discussion, from OD relating his own personal experiences coming to Portland from Uganda to Viola’s story, to a Portland librarian connecting the book’s theme of identity to her family’s history of being Russian Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s. O.D.’s friend Chris, who plays Andrew in the trailer, said that he enjoys friendships with people of all different backgrounds and that as a child, he felt a connection with the kids who were bullied because of their skin color since he too was often picked on.

Bianca performed a second reading, “Flea Market,” which takes place in Portland and describes an afternoon with her American friend Andrew and a moment when Viola first experiences a step towards a new identity in the U.S. The discussion concluded with a conversation on the ability of fiction to connect readers with people of a different culture and life experience. “I moved to Portland a few years ago,” one participant said, ” and I’m aware of the immigrants in the city, but I don’t know any of them, I don’t know their stories. This book series opens your eyes… It offers a chance to hear their stories.”

Terry Farish (right) with OD (center), Chris (left) and Kirsten Cappy (back)

Terry Farish (right) with OD (center), Chris (left) and Kirsten Cappy (back)

Afterwards, the audience was free to talk with the performers or have Farish sign a copy of her book, as they tasted  Sudanese Cinnamon Sweet Tea, and vegetable sambusas and himbasha bread from Asmara Restaurant. They were also able to pick up an I’m Your Neighbor Portland discussion guide to the novel to continue the conversations.

35 readers of varying ages and cultures joined in this wide-ranging discussion made more powerful by the performances of Sudanese Americans, OD and Bianca. Thanks to all who joined us and to the staff of the Portland Public Library who support and partner with I’m Your Neighbor Portland.

 

The Books Have Arrived

Check out the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland book collection at the Main Branch of the Portland Public Library!  Look for the beautiful bookcase between Children’s Services and Circulation.

The books were funded by the marvelous Maine Humanities Council.