When author Terry Farish was working at the Portland Public Library, she befriended a young man from the Sudan who told her “there is no word” when asked about his favorite family meal. “My mother will cook it for you,” he said. Terry Farish joined his family for a meal and from that day, began a journey of listening. Her new friends in Portland’s Sudanese community told of their tumultuous path from South Sudan to Portland, Maine.
The cultural exploration that started as “there is no word” became a braiding of stories, experiences, and words which culminated in the award-winning novel, The Good Braider.
The Good Braider will be celebrated at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square on Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 6:00 PM as part of city-wide read entitled “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” Bianca Abdalla, a local performer, will read aloud from The Good Braider, the author Terry Farish will talk about the development of the novel, and South Sudanese rapper OD Bonny will perform songs from his new CD, “Kwo I Lobo Tek.” The event will include a book signing and the sharing of East African refreshments from Asmara Restaurant. The event is free of charge. For more information, contact Curious City at 207-420-1126.
The free verse novel for teens and adults is told in the character’s Viola’s strikingly original first person voice. The narrative follows Viola’s dreams of South Sudan and her navigation of the strange world of America – a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.
“As I built relationships with new friends in Portland from Sudan,” Terry Farish said, “I explained to elders that I wanted to write a book about the teens as they made their homes in Maine. The elders very much wanted this story to be told and shared their experience and struggles with me. I approached the work as documentarian, spending a lot of time with families and learning how they spent their days, about their art, the work of their hands, the music they love, the stories they tell. However, I used this research method to create a novel. The Good Braider is fiction and based on research and dozens of stories I recorded.”
Sudanese American rapper and performer OD Bonny was given a copy of the book prepublication and recognized Viola’s journey in The Good Braider as he and brothers also fled South Sudan as young men. In response to his reading, OD Bonny wrote and recorded the song “Girl from Juba” and is currently producing a music video for the song and book with local filmmaker Fred Ben. OD Bonny performs in a mixture of English and his native Acholi. His new CD “Kwo I Lobo Tek” translates as “Life is Hard in This World.” “The song is about the struggle that we are facing in this world,” says OD Bonny, “and what we can do to solve some of those issues.”
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!
Delighted that the Friends School of Portland joined I’m Your Neighbor, Portland as a “Street Sponsor” allowing for over 40 books in the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland Collection to be distributed free in the city.
With a mission to “nurture children’s unfolding development as curious, creative, and compassionate world citizens” we have found a wonderful partner in the Friends School of Portland.
Author/Illustrator of A Path of Stars
“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
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.
“By learning one word, we take a small step towards bridging the gap between east and west.” –moth written’s website
Stop by moth written at the Old Port Festival in Portland, Maine this Sunday, June 9th! They will have a booth selling their line of t-shirts, bags, pins featuring saying such as “Kiss me I’m Irish” and “Whales in love” in Arabic. moth written is the brilliant designers of the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland logo.
moth written is the project of Mary E. Robbins and Nabil Sibouih, a “Moroccan-American marriage in Maine.” In Morocco, a moth is a good omen. Mary and Nabil honor their family there by encouraging positive dialogue about the Arabic speaking world through the creation of t-shirts, bags, and pins in Arabic.
Author of The Good Braider
“Tom Haines, international reporter for the Boston Globe wrote about his work, “I have sought to document intimate moments of humanity…By writing about such scenes I hope readers might find not difference of land and lives, but a more personal understanding of our common experience.” The I’m Your Neighbor, Portland books also document intimate moments about the lives of newcomers to Maine. My hope is that a community reading these books will feel curiosity and begin to imagine each other’s lives with interest and feel safe with one another.” –Terry Farish on I’m Your Neighbor, Portland
I’m Your Neighbor, Portland could not be a success without our Immigrant Literacy Adviser Terry Farish. She is also the author of featured book The Good Braider which follows a refugee named Viola in her journey from her village in South Sudan to Portland, Maine. Here Farish talks about her experience and inspiration in writing The Good Braider.
VISIT Farish’s blog “The Good Braider” for more about South Sudan and her research on the book.
JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on July 11th to celebrate the title.
On Writing The Good Braider
Terry Farish’s involvement with the Sudanese community began at the Reiche Branch Library in Portland, Maine, where she worked in 2001. She worked with families from countries around the world including children and teens from Sudan. She remembers talking with one boy from Sudan and asking him about the food that he ate and instead of trying to describe it, he invited her over for dinner where his mother could cook for her and she could experience it for herself.
Farish originally started out researching and writing a non-fiction book about Sudanese teens in the U.S. but after many years of writing nonfiction, she turned to fiction, after beginning to write scenes in verse. After talking to people in the Sudanese community, she saw that the parents worried about their children who became Americanized quickly while the parents wanted them to keep their cultural identity.
Farish researched the history of Sudan and neighboring countries, including the impact of colonialism. She also researched the civil war that was taking place in Sudan. Some of her sources included The Shadow of the Sun, The White Bone, Me Against My Brother, and Voices of the African Ancestors. For more resources, see Farish’s “The Good Braider” blog under Researching South Sudan.
To understand the Sudanese culture, Farish turned to the Sudanese community in Maine. It was in their living rooms and kitchens where she collected oral histories of the families. She saw the expectations a family has for the daughters, and the power of the mother in the family – all of which helped her create the mother-daughter relationship between her character Viola and her mother. She witnessed the ritual of braiding and learned the significance of the braids to the girl as part of her identity and culture. She also used specific details that were real for many Maine immigrants, such as the experience of going to an ESL class and working at Barber Foods in Portland.
Remember to save the date for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland’s celebration of The Good Braider!
We’re thrilled to include Anna McQuinn’s title My Friend Jamal in the featured books of I’m Your Neighbor, Portland. It’s a terrific children’s book about a multicultural friendship between two boys, one of Somali ancestry and the other of Polish ancestry that celebrates commonalities rather than differences, which fits in perfectly with the mission of this project.
We have found a fabulous teaching resource of the book to supplement your reading. Teachers, parents and students can learn background information like why some people like Jamal’s family have to leave their homeland, and explanations about Muslim culture, from foods, daily prayer and the headscarf.
Be sure to keep an eye out for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland events featuring My Friend Jamal later this year!
In addition to the seven fiction titles, I’m Your Neighbor, Portland features two non-fiction titles, I Remember Warm Rain and New Mainers. Although there will not be a specific event celebrating these two books, we encourage you to read these autobiographical stories written by Maine’s teen and adult immigrants about their experiences and journeys coming to the state. On each Featured Book page, you will find our suggestions of stories to pair with the fiction books based on commonalities in themes, backgrounds or experiences.
You will also find on the New Mainers page suggested portraits from the collection that illustrate the hardships many immigrants face no matter their history or country of origin.
The I’m Your Neighbor, Portland launch featured not only great books and discussion but also a wide spread of snacks from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East from local ethnic markets in Portland. Thanks to Anne Sibley O’Brien and her summer intern Hiroko for curating a delicious array of treats! For the adventurous chef or those looking to add new (and addicting) snacks to the pantry, here’s where they went:
La Bodega Latina (Hispanic)
863 Congress St
Portland, ME 04102
Mittapheap International Market (Various)
61 Washington Avenue
Portland, ME 04101
Safari Restaurant and Grocery (African)
30 Washington Avenue
Portland, ME 04101
Sindibad Market (Middle Eastern)
710 Washington Avenue
Portland, ME 04013
Sun Oriental Market (Asian)
626 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101
Tandoor Bread And Restaurant (Middle Eastern)
845 Forest Avenue
Portland, ME 04103