Community Organizations Receive I’m Your Neighbor Portland Collection

Intern Lanie Honda putting together the collection for distribution to the communiity

Intern Lanie Honda putting together the collection for distribution to the community

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.

Author Profile: Frederick Lipp

Frederick Lipp (right) with author Maria Padian (left) and Kirsten Cappy (center_

Frederick Lipp (right) with Maria Padian (left) and Kirsten Cappy (center)

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?”

Without hesitation she answered, “All bakers know the secret of what’s called the “Bread Song” – when we take the newly baked loaves out of the oven at dawn, they snap, crackle and wonderfully sing!”Bread Song

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.

“Aha!”

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…”

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 Good Braider Book Guide

BraiderhiresWe 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.

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.

Visit moth written at Old Port Festival

Visit moth written's booth at Sunday's Old Port Fest

Check out moth written designs at Sunday’s Old Port Fest

“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 Profile: Terry Farish

Author of The Good Braider

Braiderhires“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.

Terry with author Maria Padian (right) at the I'm Your Neighbor, Portland launch

Terry with author Maria Padian (right) at the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland launch

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 AncestorsFor 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!