Knuffle Bunny, Worlds Expanding, and the Danger of the Single Story

If you have young children, know young children, or have ever been in the children’s section of a bookstore, it’s likely that you are familiar with the books of Mo Willems. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or Elephant and Piggie are basically household names. When my boys were young, they were obsessed with the Knuffle Bunny books. You might be familiar with them, but if you aren’t, they center on a character named Trixie (based on Mo’s daughter in real life) and her beloved green stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. The second book in this sweeping trilogy is called Knuffle Bunny Too, and it’s been on my mind this week.

In Knuffle Bunny Too, Trixie’s world is about to expand – she’s going to school for the first time. But when she brings her beloved Knuffle Bunny to school, she learns that he’s not the only Knuffle Bunny in the world. A fight ensues, a mix-up occurs, and a middle of the night rendezvous saves the day.

I pulled this book off the shelf as a mentor text for something I’m working on, but when I reread it, I saw this metaphor for something we are experiencing collectively on so many levels in this country. This week, our newsfeeds have been full of women (and some men) sharing their experiences with sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the smaller, insidious ways women walk through the world in de-escalation mode daily. In my small corner of the world, most of the conversation has been productive, but I’ve also seen a number of posts derailed by people chiming in to negate someone’s personal experience. These statements, in short, say “That’s not my experience, so therefore it’s not reality.” And this made me think of Trixie.

Trixie, like most young children, started off with a small world – her immediate family. Her world, like most children’s, grows as she gets older. It begins to encompass neighbors, friends, perhaps church, then school. As she grows older (spoiler alert!) it will even encompass foreign travel. This isn’t exactly revelatory stuff here – all our worlds expand as we age.

But what I’m seeing right now, what I’m struggling with, is how many of us seem stuck in a childlike mindset, unable to accept something as real because it hasn’t entered our personal world yet. Trixie assumed her Knuffle Bunny was the only one in the world because she hadn’t seen another one, but when her world expanded, she was able to accept that it did, in fact, exist. But so many of us don’t want to see the other Knuffle Bunny. When someone says, let me share my experience with you, if it doesn’t match what we have already experienced ourselves, we are rejecting it as fake. Instead of accepting that perhaps our own reality is limited, and being open to listening, we’d rather maintain our bubble.

From a psychological perspective, this is the height of narcissism. The insistence that the world’s objective reality matches our small existence couldn’t be more self-centered. And while it’s natural for young, growing children to have a self-centered view of the world until they go through the stages of development that expand their thinking, it’s not okay behavior for adults. It’s harmful, it’s shallow thinking, it displays a desire to remain ignorant, it lacks empathy and imagination.

I know we can do better. We can be better listeners. We can take baby steps in this direction by resisting the urge to insert ourselves into someone else’s narrative. If a friend tells a personal story online, and we can simply listen without responding. If the story doesn’t match our own experiences in the world, instead of writing it off as false, perhaps we can try expanding our worldview to include it as part of a bigger story.

I’m going to leave you with this TED Talk that I share at least once a year because I believe it is that important. I believe in the power of story to connect us, but we have to be willing to listen.

Whole Universes Extinguished

Gather round, if you have a moment, for a brief history lesson.

I’ve read some comments made recently by conservatives comparing being conservative in the current US political climate to living in 1930s Germany.

Let’s talk about 1930s Germany for a moment. There are volumes of pages of material written on the subject and I’m going to share just a tiny fraction here.

One of the first concentration camps to open in Germany was Dachau, in March of 1933. This is the very same month of the passage of The Enabling Act, which gave then Chancellor Hitler the power to enact law without checks or balances from parliament, paving the way for dictatorship. This is important to understand – in 1930s Germany, Hitler, and subsequently the Nazi party was law. It was the government, holding absolute power.

Back to Dachau. When it opened, its earliest inhabitants were those who opposed the Nazi regime, members of opposing parties and political ideologies, as well as those convicted of crimes in court. The sign over the door read “Work Will Make You Free” and the political prisoners (again, I remind you, most of whom were German citizens who opposed the party in control of the government at the time), were forced into labor, creating the very bullets that would murder their fellow countrymen in the years to come. It was forced slave labor, and that was just the early years. As the camp grew more populated by Jewish, gay, Jehovah’s Witness, and disabled people, prisoners were tortured in some of the most horrific medical experiments imaginable, the details of which I will not share here. You can look it up, this part of our human history is well documented. And, as we all know, they were murdered. At Dachau, and at other camps. By the millions.

Those who did not share the politics of the government in charge lived in fear for their lives. They did not speak publicly, and resistance to the Nazis in Germany was small, fractured and difficult to organize because the threats were real and could lead to death. Total allegiance to the government was required – pledges recited, flags hung on every door. You were with the Nazis or against them, and against them did not end well.

At the close of Cabaret at the Fox last week, the lead actor made the statement that each of the lives lost were whole universes extinguished. Those words haunt me.

To state that being a conservative in the United States is akin to 1930s Germany is so far-fetched, it boggles the mind. To begin with, our government is currently under conservative leadership in both the executive and legislative branches. Even if that leadership were a dictatorship, which it is not, conservative Americans would be on the side of the current administration. The behavior that conservatives are reporting range from name calling to possible exclusion from job opportunities to property damage to assault. I don’t support those actions in general, but let’s be very clear- those things are happening at the hands of private citizens and not our government. They happen every day to people of all political persuasions and the frequency of their occurrence does NOT make them right, but it is important to recognize the difference between disputes between groups of private citizens and systematic oppression from the government in power. The latter, at this moment in time, is not happening to conservatives or liberals in this country. We are still a free people. But most importantly, being on the receiving end of this behavior is not the same, by any stretch of the imagination, as what happened to those who opposed Hitler in the 1930s. To conflate the two is beyond disrespectful to the millions who were tortured, imprisoned or killed. It is shameful. If you are tempted to make such comparisons, I implore you to try harder to find a more apt metaphor. Because this one is wrong.

Peacemaking

Peacekeeping is not the same as peacemaking.

Peacekeeping involves silencing marginalized voices to create an absence of conflict. It values lack of conflict over true justice.

Peacemaking knows there can be no real peace while there is injustice. It acts in love towards the creation of true peace, but it does not silence the oppressed and it faces conflict head on in order to make right what is wrong.

Peacekeeping seeks unity for unity’s sake, even if that unity is merely an Instagram filter slapped over a broken situation.

Peacemaking insists we remove the filter and do the hard work of reconciliation, so that we don’t need a filter in the end. The actual photo will made beautiful by true unity.

Peacemakers, take heart. There will always be those who will choose the absence of conflict over true peace, but know your choice to make peace instead of keeping it is the work that changes the world.

I Lift My Lamp

To say that my heart is broken feels like a trite understatement. I just looked at the news after a migraine-induced nap, and even though I knew this was coming it still hurt like hell to read the details.

I’m not going to rehash my support of refugees in this post. Here’s a link to an essay I wrote a couple of years ago. I feel the same now as when I first wrote those words. But I’m also not going to stop talking about this. Ever.

We ask the boys how they want to serve our community every week, and we take at least one action step to do so. Last week, we set aside a full day of service. One of the things the boys were concerned about was what would happen to refugees seeking asylum in the US when the new administration took office. I didn’t mince words. I told them that our country would shortly be banning some refugees for an unknown amount of time. Then I told them that we would continue to support those refugees in camps on the ground through our financial donations. I told them that we would keep supporting the refugees that are already here. And I told them we’d never stop advocating for those without a country to call home.

So we did this tiny thing, and we looked up the current needs of refugees settling in St. Louis, and on that wish list was tea pots. Liam loves tea, so naturally he gravitated to that. We bought a few and made these tags for them, ready to deliver them to our dear friends who set up apartments for refugees upon their arrival. They are still sitting in my garage.

It’s unconscionable what happened today. On a day set aside to remember the horrific murder of millions of Jewish people because of their religion, some that our country turned away at our shores during WWII, our president signs an executive order to ban specific refugees from our country based in part on their religion. If this breaks your heart too, please join me in one of the many ways you can support refugees. Donate to organizations that are helping refugees around the world:

https://www.whitehelmets.org/

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org

http://www.preemptivelove.org

Read about the lives of people fleeing violence:

http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/refugee-stories

Educate yourself on the vetting process for refugees and the facts about refugee crime rates (which are extraordinarily low):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/26/trump-says-syrian-refugees-arent-vetted-we-are-heres-what-we-went-through/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.90b9366d468e

http://time.com/4116619/syrian-refugees-screening-process/

Educate yourself on how this actual impacts our national security:

https://m.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/607/didn’t-we-solve-this-one

https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/01/27/if-trump-issues-an-executive-order-on-refugees-it-could-alienate-some-of-americas-staunchest-allies-its-interpreters/

Attend a march or vigil to show your support:

https://www.facebook.com/events/650320751796304??ti=ia

Donate or volunteer with a local refugee agency:

https://www.iistl.org

http://www.irwp.net

We are a nation of immigrants, of refugees, of native indigenous people, of ancestors of slaves. We are many things at once, never monolithic, never one race or one religion. That is our legacy and our future. This is an ugly chapter but this story is not finished. However, we have to keep writing it together.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Carnation Days

“IMAGINE YOU HAD ONLY ONE DAY LEFT ON EARTH. WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH IT?”

 

I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in a single sitting, on an airplane en route to California for 
vacation. My mind, filled with excitement of the week to come, full of big events and 
exciting outings, slowed and focused as I turned the first pages of 
John David Anderson‘s novel.

 












Three hours and many tissues later, I set the book down as we hit the tarmac, looking 
at vacation in a new light.

There are many things to say about this book. I could write about teachers and the 
tremendous impact they have in the lives of our students, or tell you about the ones 
that mattered most to me. I could write about boy friendship and the way it is honestly 
explored and depicted in Topher, Steve, and Brand. I could write about the ways our 
small acts of kindness to one another have a ripple effect, beyond our wildest
 imagination, or about what it means to be truly seen by another person and 
celebrated for who we are. All of these themes appear in the pages of this at times 
vulnerable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, always perfectly voiced novel.
But instead, I’m going to write about carnations. As in, the flowers.
Please continue reading at All the Wonders

Bring a Book!

I’m delighted to be featured at All the Wonders this week talking about one of the most often heard phrases in our home – bring a book!

Summer has always been analogous with reading for me, as far back as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other summery things too—the swimming pools, the backyard barbecues, the roasted marshmallows, summer camp, the fireflies, the road trips, all of it. But for me, those things all had one thing in common—the book that was (and still is) always tucked safely in my bag. Just in case.

Now, as a mother of two young boys, these are the reminders as we get ready to leave the house:

Did you brush your teeth?
Yes, you have to wear shoes!
Bring a book!

And at least one member of our family takes that last reminder very seriously.

Reading at Six Flags…
and at Go! St. Louis marathon…
poolside…
in between customers…
and at the beach. Like mother, like son here.

 

 

Today, I’d like to share a few book recommendations for all the places you or your children might find yourselves this summer. They range in age from picture books to young adult. So, brush your teeth, grab your shoes, and above all, bring a book!

Please continue to All the Wonders to see my recommendations for books for the beach, summer camp, the pool and more …

Pick a Lane

 

Our family has a brand-new swim team member this summer, and it is the highlight of my day watching him and his teammates practice. This morning, those little fish were all lined up on the bright blue starting blocks, goggles on, hair sneaking out the back of their swim caps. Coach blew the whistle and they dove into the still chilly June pool water. They sprinted to the other side. Their first meet is tonight, and they have a lot of things to practice and remember.  

 

Two-hand touch. Don’t pause. Don’t look at the other swimmers. Stay in your lane.
 
 

 

Last night, my family huddled on the couch to watch The Tony Awards together. I never miss The Tonys, but this year, my boys were as excited as I was. They, like so many of us, have serious Hamilton fever. And last night, the Tonys were a balm to many broken hearts – a strong show of love, inclusion, possibility and progress.  In the words of Lin Manual-Miranda – “Love is love is love is love is love.”

 

But this morning at the pool, I found myself circling back to different words from Miranda. In the CBS pre-show on Hamilton, when asked how he got to where he is today, he said, “’Cause I picked a lane … it was like, ‘All right, THIS.’”

 

Miranda is talking about theater, and how choosing an area of focus for his energy and talent gave him the direction he needed to succeed. But as I watched those kids swimming all different strokes in their individual lanes, I thought of his words and how they apply to our response to tragedy. 

 

Already today, I see the aftershocks of the Orlando shooting ripple across social media. I’m sure you’ve seen it too. Someone says guns are responsible. Someone else says it’s not about guns, it’s about mental health. Someone else says that’s insulting to the mentally ill. Someone else says that homophobia is to blame and yet another person says this boils down to religious extremism. 

 

I’m all for identifying action pieces and working for solutions. But instead of picking a lane and swimming full speed ahead, we so often look at the swimmer in the lane next to us. We see him swimming a different stroke than the one we are swimming and we stop our race to yell at him. “You’re doing it wrong! That’s not the right stroke! Switch to my lane or we’ll never solve this problem!”

 

Friends.

 

It’s the same finish line.

 

We are, almost all of us, swimming towards the same finish line. 

 

The finish line is an end to violence, an end to mass shootings, a recognition of our shared humanity, a celebration of the dignity of all human life.

 

You can swim any stroke you want to get to the finish line and in fact, we desperately need people to swim different strokes.

 

We need people addressing gun violence. We need people taking our mental health care system to task. We need people standing up against bigotry, discrimination and oppression. We need people challenging extremism in all religions. We do not have to argue over which of these things is the most important thing. We need to fill the roster.

 

Just pick a lane and start swimming. 

 

Those of you out there today staying in your lane, I see you. And those of you working quietly behind the scenes, I’m cheering you on. I might be swimming a different stroke in my lane, but I’ll still sign your petitions, listen to your research, go to the polls for you. We are not enemies. We are racing towards a common finish line. 

 

Let’s not waste our arguments on each other. There are actual, powerful forces out there that will require our collective strength to defeat. Let’s not lose our race to each other on the Internet.  

 

We were blaring Hamilton on the way to swim practice this morning when the song Dear Theodosia came on. My nine-year old says to me, “You know, Hamilton and Burr think they are enemies, but they want the same things for their kids. They have more in common than they realize.”

 

We have more in common than we realize.

 

I’ll see you at the finish line.

 

Team Love Warriors

Over the course of the last year, I’ve watched the discourse around the global refugee crisis expand. 

I’ve watched as we’ve divided ourselves onto tidy teams.

I’ve shared my opinions and perspective, on more than one occasion, and will continue to stand in solidarity with those seeking refuge from unimaginable horrors. 

I’ve listened, really listened, as those on the other team explain their fears when it comes to welcoming refugees.  I’ve come to understand that many who disagree with me share my compassion for those in crisis, but differ in opinion on how to help.  Unfortunately, I’ve also come to understand that others don’t share my compassion at all, but that those voices are the minority.  I refuse to cast a broad stroke over those with whom I disagree – that kind of thinking is at the root of most conflict. 

So, I’m not writing today to try and recruit more members to my team (though, if you want to join, there are no try-outs and an unlimited number of spots).

I’m writing today to speak directly to my teammates.  Consider this a pre-game pep talk.   

Team – if you aren’t already aware of the tremendous work that the Compassion Collective is doing, please start here.  And if you are aware, and have donated to this effort, read the update and see how you are making a difference. 

The refugee crisis will not be solved by a singular government agency, or a non-profit organization.  It is too big (but, unlike a bank, not considered too big to fail).  It will be solved by a collective of individuals, agencies and political policies, and it will require small actions from large numbers of people. 

And it’s working.  Right now, the funds raised through the collective are feeding 6,500 people.  Providing tents.  Lanterns.  Cell phones.  Water.  These funds are literally saving lives.  Funds raised by people like you and me in no larger than $25 donations.

We can do small things with great love. – Mother Teresa  


This past weekend, I attended a SCBWI conference on writing for children.  I had the privilege of listening to Linda Sue Park, Newberry award winning author of A Single Shard, talk about the importance of story in transforming lives.  She shared the story of Salva Dut, a lost boy of Sudan who came to the United States as  refugee and orphan, was adopted, received an education and went on to found the agency Water for South Sudan.  Linda Sue Park’s book, A Long Walk to Water, shares his story along with a fictional character, Nye, who represents the children in South Sudan.  It’s a beautiful book, and one I recommend you share with your kids.  I sat through her presentation blinking back tears, but when she shared that since the book’s publication, children around the US have collectively raised more than one million dollars for Water for South Sudan, they streamed down my face.  Children all over this country, including those living in socio-economically depressed situations, were moved to action for their fellow humans.  This is the power of story. 

Please read the stories of refugees.  Don’t turn away.  I know it is painful to imagine, but it requires our collective imagination to solve this problem. 

Image from Momastery

The Compassion Collective needs our help again.  They need our small acts of great love.  In the next hour or so, Glennon Melton and her team of love warriors (hint- that’s our team too) will be announcing a new initiative and we get to be a part of it.  Are you ready? 

And let’s talk about that $25 donation, because I know for some of you, that’s not pocket change.  It may require sacrifice.  Skipping a meal out or a night at the movies.  Or adjusting the meal plan for the week to include a couple nights of rice and beans.  A couple less shirts for the summer wardrobe.  I think those things are worth saving a life.  I hope you do too.

I’ll be back to share the link right here as soon as they announce their goal later this morning.  But in the meantime team, let’s get ready for the game.  It’s not going to be a short one.  This isn’t a nine inning kind of deal.  In fact, if you decide to be on the team of those who stand alongside refugees, you’ll be playing this game as long as you live.  You may never see a final score.  But you’ll see some home runs.  You’ll see folks crossing the plate.  And that has to be enough for us. It has to be enough to hold our own children tight, grateful that we don’t have to leave everything we know behind, and then take that gratitude and turn it into action for those who do.   It has to be enough to get to play at all.

“no one leaves home unless 
home is the mouth of a shark 
you only run for the border 
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.”
– Warsan Shire, continued here

Finding Courage in Raymie Nightingale

My very first post at All the Wonders is up today, and it’s been such a joy to work with this team of talented and creative people who love to talk about children’s literature as much as I do.  

Today, I’m on the site exploring the theme of courage in Kate DiCamillo’s newest book, Raymie Nightingale.  I adore Kate DiCamillo’s work.  For me, she is right up there with Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume when I think of authors who authentically capture the heart of children in their writing.  Her latest book is no exception, and I’d encourage you to pick up a copy to share with your kids.  It’s a perfect summer read.  


“Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, 
absolutely everything, depends on you?”
Raymie didn’t even have to think about the answer to this question.

“Yes,” she said.

Raymie Clarke is certain that absolutely everything depends on her. Everything having to do with getting her dad to come back home where he belongs, that is. And she has a plan. She is going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, and when her dad sees her face in the newspapers, he will realize he has made a terrible mistake and come home.

Please visit All the Wonders to continue reading …