Early one morning, children’s book author Fred Lipp asked Alison Pray, the owner of Standard Bakery to share a secret about her shop. Without hesitation, she told him about the “bread song,” when newly baked loaves snap and crackle as they are taken out of the oven.
When Standard Bakery was located on Wharf Street, there was a Thai restaurant across the street. In the twenty-five steps between those two businesses, Lipp imagined that a Thai “new arrival” or immigrant with limited English might find walking into an English-speaking bakery a challenge. But after hearing the bread “sing”, Lipp wondered how the experience would impact such a new neighbor. How would Alison’s secret loosen the tongue of a child and make him feel more at home in this new country? These explorations would become foundations for the children’s picture book, Bread Song.
Bread Song will be celebrated at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 11:30 AM as part of a city-wide read entitled “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” Author Fred Lipp will read aloud from his book. The event will include a book signing, book giveaway, and the sharing of bread from many cultures. The event is free of charge. For more information, contact Curious City at 207-420-1126.
Set in Portland’s Old Port District, Bread Song tells the story of a community helping a Thai boy who has recently immigrated to America feel welcome. Young Chamnan is new to this strange land. Across the street from his family’s Thai restaurant is Alison’s Bakery, which sells bread and where everyone speaks English. Chamnam feels shy about speaking to others in the difficult language that his grandfather is teaching him, until the day that Alison the baker invites him to witness something simply magical.
Fred Lipp is the award-winning author of several multicultural children’s picture books set around the world. In addition to writing children’s books, he is the founder of the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation, which helps educate girls in Cambodia from 6th grade through university. His organization provides the opportunity for girls from rural villages to pursue higher education and employment. He and his wife have visited Cambodia many times and built long lasting relationships with the students and their villages. Lipp is also a former minister of First Parish in Portland.
On July 17th Kirsten Cappy and Lanie Honda visited community organizations around the city to deliver sets of the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland collection in the first I’m Your Neighbor, Portland Book Distribution. Rachel Talbot Ross, head of the City of Portland’s Multicultural Affairs (also head of the Portland NAACP chapter); Hildy Ginsberg, Executive Director of the Greater Portland YMCA branch; Regina Phillips, Director of Refugee Services; and Judith Southworth, Elder Refugee Coordinator for Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services received all nine featured titles on behalf of their organizations.
These organizations were chosen because of the services they provide for Portland refugees and immigrants, and for partnering with I’m Your Neighbor, Portland events. All expressed surprise at receiving the collection and Refugee Services already had plans to make them available in their waiting room.
This free book distribution was made possible through the generous donations from members of the community. We are incredibly thankful to all of the individuals and groups for their support. Please see our sponsor page if you are interested in making a contribution. All donations go towards providing free books for those in the Portland community.
Frederick Lipp describes the inspiration for Bread Song as an “Aha!” moment. This children’s picture book captures members of the Portland community helping a young Thai immigrant overcome his fears of learning a new language. It is a wonderful portrait of the welcoming environment and diverse backgrounds that makes up Portland.
VISIT Frederick Lipp’s website
JOIN US in celebrating this book with the author Fred Lipp on July 24 at the Portland Public Library
On Writing Bread Song
While minister of First Parish in Portland, my favorite stop was for a cup of coffee and a lemon poppy seed muffin at Standard Bakery. Early one morning in search of a picture book story, I asked the owner, “Alison is there something so unique, like a secret in the bakery that you can share with me?”
Before the sun was up the next morning, I attended this life changing concert, and found my calling for what became Bread Song. Twenty-five steps from Standard Bakery was a Thai restaurant. I knew that for many new neighbors coming from around the world that simply speaking in English was an unsurmountable task that made the walk into an English speaking bakery an emotional challenge.
I wondered about the impact of a new neighbor hearing the bread sing, and how it would loosen the tongue of a child so to feel more at home in a strange land.
Salman Rushdie knew this secret when he wrote, ”My book celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs…Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world…My book is for change by fusion, change by conjoining. It is a love-song…”
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.
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 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.”
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.
We now have a book guide available for readers on The Good Braider page! Scroll down to beneath the book information to view a PDF. The guide is designed to start conversations and offer suggestions on how you can engage with the Sudanese American community in Portland. It is divided into four sections, Discuss, Explore, Engage and Read. In addition to discussion questions, it includes background and resources about South Sudan and Sudanese immigrants, and a recommended reading list.
Please join us at the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland event for The Good Braider this Thursday, 7/11/13 at the Portland Public Library.