I’ve recently had the pleasure of contributing to a Kickstarter campaign for a children’s book. Chirp, Chirp, Pio, Pio is a bilingual book about animal sounds. It reminded me of when I was living in Israel and learned that sounds are described differently in Hebrew than in English. Ku-ku-ree-ku instead of cockle-doodle-doo stood out among the animal sounds. Ap-chee instead of A-choo for sneezing was another memorable difference. But for me, the bigger takeaway was the lightbulb moment that people hear and translate the world differently.
Chirp Chirp, Pio Pio, with its beautiful illustrations, could help little children grow up with that understanding that eluded me until adulthood. I mean, it is one thing to know people speak different languages. It is another to think that different cultures ascribe different words to define the sounds they hear. That is, our way isn’t the only way. This is an important message at any age.
And the earlier it is absorbed, the more open and accepting we are all our lives.
And then I learned about another children’s book this week, Osnat and her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi, also beautifully illustrated. This one tells the true story of a 16th-century woman, the daughter of a rabbi in Kurdistan who studied with him when she was young and married another rabbi when she grew up. They ran a yeshiva in Mosul, Iraq where she taught, and when her husband passed away, she ran the school herself and was referred to as a scholar, a leader, a miracle worker and a rabbi. The author Sigal Samuel, herself a Jewish journalist of Iraqi and Moroccan descent, saw a story that needed to be told because the message it delivers is so different than the one so many grow up with. Women rabbis are not only modern, Ashkenazi, Reform or Conservative.
Part of the reason there is an emphasis in children’s books today on publishing those that tell stories’ from other points of view is because of the absence of representation. This list of “25 Amazing Inclusion Book For Kids” offers a wonderful selection, as do other sites. A Day in Our Shoes, which published this list, help parents navigate the IEP process, ensuring parents of children with special needs get the individual education plans their children need from US public schools.
But what I think is extremely important is that not only children who are different in any way see themselves represented in books, television shows, movies and importantly among faculty in the schools they attend, but that everyone read these books, watch these programs and learn from these teachers.
The best way for all children to grow up into accepting adults is for them to be in surroundings that are all-encompassing from the start. This also reminds me of a Nas Daily clip I shared with my class on affordable housing that was an elective in the Master of Public Administration degree program I am in (on that point, I cannot recommend enough that adults all read The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America which spells out the multi-faceted discrimination in housing that has contributed to the problems we have today in the United States). Nas Daily points out the dangers of segregation and the way Singapore put in policy to prevent it, by ensuring mixed housing. Who we grow up with matters, whether that is in school, in our neighborhood…or on the pages of the books we read.
When we sit in our homes and look at our surroundings, do we see only people who look and dress and speak and pray like ourselves? Is that what our children grow up thinking is normal, and that anything different is not the norm? Or can they hear the birds that go Pio Pio?