Help Broaden a Child’s Horizons: A Diverse Book List

Scroll down for the highlighted book list!

I know this to be true: Children with access to a broad range of perspectives, those who understand that one must look at history through a variety of lenses and consider the motivations of the historians who came before them, will grow up to be educated, open-minded individuals who have a much better chance of having a positive impact on the world.

It is imperative that we teach our children critical thinking skills as well as the ability to be humble. If they don’t discover that “our way” is not the only way, they will be incapable of thinking outside the box to create the solutions that their generation will surely need for their survival. If they don’t learn about the many choices in this world, they will not be capable of making informed decisions in their own lives.

There is a trend in our schools to cut off access to any knowledge that might offend closed-minded adults, and we allow this to happen at our peril. I want our future leaders to know some things without question:

  • Other cultures have other perspectives.
  • Evolution is real.
  • People with special needs deserve kindness, too.
  • Christianity is not the only religion in the world.
  • Some people choose not to believe in any religion at all.
  • Women have made a positive impact on this planet, as have people of color.
  • Science is real, and it evolves over time as we continue to explore new paths of inquiry.
  • Getting to know people who do not look like you is a very good thing.
  • We live amongst people who have different sexual orientations and/or gender identifications than we do, and that fact should not be considered a threat.
  • Diversity is beautiful and provides the broader perspective that we need to effectively solve problems.

It becomes increasingly evident that if we want children to have a well-rounded education, we will have to take matters into our own hands. For many years I struggled to find a way to assist in this effort. Then I realized that I may not be able to change the world, but I can certainly make a difference in my little corner of it.

Since I genuinely believe that that access to books that might not be found in our increasingly-censored schools is imperative if we want our children to have a global perspective, I decided to start a little free library in front of my home. This library contains books for adults as well, and it has become increasingly popular over time.

The fascinating thing about this library is that the adult books often come back so that other people might enjoy them, but the children’s books almost never do. That’s perfectly fine. Kids love to read books over and over again.

Unfortunately, that means that it’s very difficult to keep enough children’s books in stock to meet the demand. People are kind enough to donate books occasionally, but they’re rarely as diverse as I would like them to be. For example, I have dozens of books about Christmas, but no books at all about Kwanzaa, Eid, Diwali, Hanukah, or Ramadan. I can’t afford to purchase all these books myself.

The other night I was thinking about this problem, and finally accepting the fact that putting out pleas on the Facebook pages for my community was yielding nothing, and I began to daydream about the kind of books I’ll like to have for the library. A wish list of sorts.

Then I remembered that Amazon allows you to make wish lists. So I hopped over to their website and started making one. It’s a work in progress, and will definitely expand over time.

So, without further ado, check out my list entitled Children’s Books for Clark Lake Park Little Free Library. 

Because this cause is so near and dear to my heart, I encourage you to use this list as a resource to obtain books for the children in your lives. If this list causes people to put even one diverse book in the hands of even one child, the world would be a much better place.

But make no mistake: I would also be thrilled if your generosity extended to my little free library. So, if you’re willing to purchase one of these books for the kids in my corner of the world, I would be almost as thrilled as the child who ultimately receives that book. The wish list contains my shipping information.

Thanks for your consideration. It takes a village!

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CHARLAS AL FRESCO

A delightful tradition that’s worthy of preservation.

Once again, listening to NPR during my morning commute has yielded dividends for me, in the form of delightful information. It seems that the mayor of Algar, a tiny town in Southern Spain, is applying for UNESCO world heritage status for the residents’ tradition of sitting outside their homes in the summer, to have outdoor chats (“charlas al fresco” in Spanish) with their neighbors. Not a specific spot on the map, not an ancient building, but an intangible cultural gem nonetheless.

The mayor says this tradition has continued during COVID, albeit with masks and at a safe distance. He fears it will die out if it’s not officially recognized, however. More people are starting to stay indoors, engrossed in their social media and television. The loss of this ritual would be a shame.

According to this article, the mayor contends that the tradition provides the residents with many benefits. It bonds the community. They discuss the latest local news as well as events from around the world. It saves energy as they usually turn their air conditioning off when they sit outside. It also decreases loneliness. These chats can turn into a sort of free therapy session. And when someone brings up a problem, the neighbors naturally try to help them out, whether it be an elderly person who needs a small home repair, or someone who needs a ride to tomorrow’s job interview. There’s also an expectation of increased tourism to their small town if UNESCO approves their application.

We are losing so much as we rush toward the future. When’s the last time you saw kids outside riding bicycles? When did you last have to break up a game of kickball in the street so that you could get to your driveway? I’m seeing fewer and fewer picnics in parks. These are all intangible parts of human history. We keep forgetting, as we modernize, that it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It’s rather heartbreaking.

I wish the people of Algar the best of luck in keeping their tradition of charlas al fresco alive. It certainly makes me want to visit them and have a chat. Imagine. Making new friends on a warm summer evening in Southern Spain. Sign me up.

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Art Unites Us

Art exists in every culture.

We are definitely living in high stress times. And we are more polarized than we have ever been. It’s really distressing to see so many connections being shattered. It’s making me desperately cast about for anything, any little thing at all, that can be labeled a force for unity.

And then I thought: Art. Hold on. I know what you’re about to say. Art can be controversial. And there’s a debate over whether things can be considered art or not or whether they require historical context and education to be displayed. And there’s also an ongoing debate over whether art should be federally funded. I get all that.

But I would argue that all those issues are ancillary to the fact that art exists in every culture, one way or another. Culturally, we all feel the need to express ourselves. We want to put a mark on this earth. We want to add beauty to the world.

I think that creative streak is the thing I love most about humanity. If we lived in dull, grey, blocky, uninspiring spaces, if we had no ability to be unique in any way, this world would be a dull and lifeless place. It is a delight to go somewhere I’ve never been and see unexpected murals or sculptures or whimsical fountains. It is one of the primary reasons I love to travel.

So, yeah. Art can be controversial, but it exists in one form or another within all of us. It may be different from country to country or from artist to artist. Some things might be more my cup of tea than the next person’s.

But the fact that art exists is the thing. So I’ll cling to it for now, for some much-needed sanity, and if you are on Facebook, I encourage you to join my Public Art Lovers Group.

I’ll leave you with some public art from around the world that I received from Pokemon Go friends. Enjoy!

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Bonobo Culture

They may be more like us than we thought.

Bonobos have always fascinated me. They are the hippies of the primate world. Peace, free love, and hairy bodies. And genetically they happen to be our closest relatives, along with chimpanzees, who are much more warlike. Which direction will we go?

Bonobos may be more like us than we thought. According to an article in the Harvard Gazette entitled, “Differing diets of bonobo groups offer insights into how culture is created”, they do, in fact, have a rudimentary culture going on. I’m intrigued.

It seems that scientists studied two bands of bonobos in the Congo for five years. These bands lived and hunted in the same forest. They were genetically identical. They hunted with the same size hunting parties and displayed the same amount of teamwork. And yet the two groups had two different food preferences.

All things being equal, that had to be a learned behavior or, at the very least, different cravings. Which amounts to culture. Isn’t that astounding?

It’s now believed that since bonobos have the beginnings of culture, and we of course do as well, then our earlier, common ancestor must have had it, too. I wonder what their culture was like? I love the idea that someday we might learn the answer to that question. Who knows what archeologists will dig up next?

Science rocks. Just sayin’. And all this talk has me craving Chinese food.

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The Cultural Iceberg

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down.

I took the picture below at the Highline Heritage Museum. It’s really a densely packed topic, and I love how they have simplified it in a nice graphic display. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

They prefaced this image by saying that about 10 percent of most icebergs are visible above the surface, and that culture is the same way. There’s a lot of culture that’s hidden beneath the surface. Here are some of the cultural encounters I’ve had.

  • Body Language. In Turkey, raising your eyebrows means no. Once I mastered that, I was able to fend off many aggressive salesmen. But it never came naturally to me.

  • Personal Space. When I lived in Mexico, I never quite got used to how “in your face” people preferred to be. I’m sure I came off as rather distant and cold.

  • Self. I once dated a Maori, and his extended family was continually in his house, for weeks at a time. That would drive me nuts. I need my “me time”. I can’t be myself when I’m surrounded by so many people, but he didn’t feel like himself when he was alone.

  • Time. I’ve long been fascinated by the Aboriginal Australian sense of time, but try as I might, I can’t grasp it.

  • Animals. I’ve had many friends from many cultures who are horrified that I allow my dog in my house.

  • Expectations. A Hindu friend of mine once told me that we Americans expect to be happy, and are constantly disappointed when we aren’t. In other cultures, he said, no one expects to be happy, and they’re therefore pleasantly surprised when they are.

  • More Expectations. A friend from Spain once told me that we Americans always seem to think everything is solved with an “I’m sorry.” He was really surprised by that.

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down, one from another. The picture below really shines a light on that in a beautiful way. There’s more to individuals than the clothes that they wear and the accent they employ. It makes me really want to get to know people beneath the surface.

Cultural Iceberg

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Highline Heritage Museum

Particularly impressive.

I had the opportunity to visit yet another small-town museum, this time in Burien, Washington. The Highline Heritage Museum highlights the Highline region, which comprises the cities of White Center, Burien, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and part of Des Moines, Washington.

I’m always delighted by what I learn in these earnest little museums, but this one was particularly impressive. First of all, the displays were extremely well crafted and kept my interest. They were fun, colorful, and interactive.

They had displays relating to the region’s archeology, indigenous history, war efforts, pioneers, aircraft industry, school histories, and the Highline Times newspaper. And that list barely scratches the surface. I learned so much there that it’s potentially going to generate 4 more blog posts.

Museums of this kind make a community more vibrant. They allow you to gain a deeper understanding of a region’s culture and history, and that provides you with a stronger sense of place as you walk the streets. I highly encourage you to visit your local museums and support them.

This museum, in particular, is even more remarkable when you consider that the vast majority of it is run by volunteers. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by for a visit. Also purchase something from the gift shop and/or make a donation. Consider it an investment in the region.

Tradewell, 152nd and Ambaum, Burien, 122000-0190
Highline Heritage Museum back when it was Tradewell’s.

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Sápmi

Was this a country I never heard of? How is that even possible?

I saw that word for the first time in my life at the Nordic Museum here in Seattle. And there was a beautiful flag underneath. It was in a display, right next to similar displays for Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. Was this a country I never heard of? How is that even possible?

Upon further investigation, I learned that Sápmi is the land of the Sami people, and it stretches over vast swaths of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. There may be as many as 135,000 Sami people roaming around out there. And they have been around since prehistoric times, inhabiting the area for at least 5,000 years. Again, how had I never heard of them?

Turns out I have. But in elementary school I was taught that they are called Laplanders, or Lapps. Apparently these are actually derogatory terms.

I was taught that they herded reindeer. That fascinated me. But currently only 10 percent of them are doing this, even though, in some regions, they are the only people allowed to do so. They also herd sheep, and are known for fishing and fur trapping as well.

Over the years, they have suffered the same indignities as other indigenous people. Land encroachment. Suppression of their language and culture. Forced relocation and assimilation. Sterilization (which went on until 1975). Children taken far away to missionary schools. The fact that they have their own parliaments, university, anthem and flag tells you much about their ability to resist such outrages.

The Sami people have contributed much to science, exploration, literature, art, music, politics and sports. Theirs is a vibrant culture. Sadly, due to the suppression of their many languages, all their languages are considered in danger of dying out, and that usually is a death knell for a culture. But I genuinely believe that the more of us that learn about and celebrate these fascinating people, the more likely that their culture will continue to survive for future generations.

Don’t you just love learning something new?

Sápmi
The Flag of Sápmi

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Cultural Traditions

New experiences give us a diverse palette with which to paint our lives.

Recently I kicked off my holiday season by going to Julefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum here in Seattle, Washington. It’s become one of my favorite traditions since I moved out here, because I’m half Danish, and my mother always shared that cultural heritage with us, particularly around Christmastime. I ate my Æbleskiver and I purchased my Juleneg for my yard. If you don’t know what those things are, you aren’t Danish. That’s okay, though. You can learn.

That’s what I love about cultural celebrations. You don’t have to come from that particular culture to enjoy them, but if you do, it adds another layer of pleasure to the experience. The whole day, I felt as though my grandmother were peeking over my shoulder and smiling. I was transported back to childhood and beyond.

I have never even been to Denmark, but all things Danish seem to speak to me. “Here are your roots. Here, you are home.” It’s a warm, comfortable, welcoming feeling that I get nowhere else. The Danish would call that Hygge.

If you have an opportunity to explore your cultural heritage, I highly recommend that you do so. I don’t know how these vibrations get passed down through the generations, but there’s a good chance that you’ll find that things resonate with you. It’s a wonderful feeling. It tells you more about who you are.

This planet is chock full of heritage. That’s what makes travel so exciting. That’s why I welcome immigrants of every stripe. New experiences give us depth and breadth and they open our minds to new possibilities. They broaden our horizons and give us a diverse palette with which to paint our lives.

Experiencing other cultures is not the same as cultural appropriation. That theft comes with mockery and arrogance. Experiencing, on the other hand, is a way to honor our differences. It says, “I don’t know much about you. Please tell me. I want to learn.” I can’t think of anything more valuable than that mindset. Can you?

Æbleskiver
Æbleskiver! Yum!

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A Telephonic Cultural Shift

40 years ago, I never wanted to miss a call, even if it meant twisting my ankle.

When I was little, I went through a period where I’d try to listen in on my big sisters’ conversations on the upstairs telephone. “I can hear you breathing, you little brat! Hang up that phone!”

What can I say? The teen-aged world intrigued me. Not that I learned much from it, if I’m honest.

I have no idea why I was thinking about that today, but from there I remembered how I used to run across the house to pick up the phone when it rang, often shouting “I’m coming! I’m coming!” as if the caller could hear. In those days before cordless phones or answering machines, I never wanted to miss a call, even if it meant twisting my ankle.

Phone calls used to seem so important to me. Now, in this day of cell phones and private messages and all forms of social media, I rarely pick up the phone when it rings. I’m not even sure if my voice mail is set up correctly. And 90 percent of my phone calls are spam. My friends have so many other ways of contacting me that I know that if it’s truly important, they’ll do so.

I no longer heed the siren song of my phone, especially when I’m driving or napping. I just can’t be bothered, unless the caller ID is someone close. 40 years ago, I’d have considered that unspeakably rude. Now it’s status quo.

Funny how culture shifts over time, isn’t it?

Vintage Rotary Phone

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10 Day Album Challenge #3: Paul Simon, Graceland

I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!

_______________________

In these days of digital streaming, there’s really no need to physically own albums anymore, but there is one that I like to be able to hold in my hands. If I were organized enough to digitally download all my music, I’d still keep this one CD: Paul Simon’s Graceland.

This was a controversial album from the very start. Many said that Simon shouldn’t have broken the South African cultural boycott until Apartheid was finally abolished. And while I do agree that extreme pressure needed to be applied to that outrageous system, I actually think that waking the world up to this country’s culture did a great deal to humanize it for all of us. It’s much harder to accept atrocities visited upon people whom you admire. So exposing this rich culture to the wider world by way of this amazing album hardly prolonged Apartheid. If anything, doing so made the practice all the more horrifying and unacceptable.

Another thing I love about this album is that Simon collaborated with so many different artists to bring it to life. I absolutely adore collaborations, because when you combine the best of two or more people, what you produce is more than 1 + 1. Somehow, the magical math of it all creates something even bigger and better. And that’s the case here.

If it weren’t for this album, I would have never heard of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for example, and I admire their work to this day. I had the great privilege to see them in concert several years ago, and it was an evening I will never forget.

This album has a unique bass line, and brings world music, especially African Rock, to center stage. Whether it’s “Gumboots” or “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” or “Graceland” or “Homeless” or perhaps the most famous “You Can Call Me Al”, this music is a love letter to all the culture and artistry that Paul Simon had the pleasure to be inspired by in the mid ‘80’s. I maintain that this was not cultural appropriation. This was a cultural celebration.

Even after listening to it more than 30 years after it came out, it’s like being serenaded by a wonderfully vital and valuable friend. Check it out. I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.

Graceland

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