Here’s a review of We Are One by N.R. Montgomery of ThePomPom.org
When was the last time you flipped through a children’s book?
If you can remember, what did you see? What questions did you ask?
For some children, flipping through vivid pages of whimsical storytelling instantly sends them to a far-off place. Some of these children flip and then stare, captivated, without question for where the line between reality and fantasy lay….
And why should they question, right? They have their whole lives to inquire.
Some children will question. AND question. AND question–till YOU are blue in the face. Why do the dwarves have such silly names? Why is the wicked witch so mean? Why would anyone eat green eggs and ham? Why?
Parents and caregivers, does any of this resonate with you?
Imagine yourself the caregiver or parent of an interracial child (perhaps you already are). This child of yours is the inquisitive example.
Grandma, why don’t any of the princes have brown skin like I do?
Dad, why don’t the princesses have black hair and dark eyes like me?
No matter the answers you’d conjure up, the identity of this child has been stifled, halted in some way by a TV show, by a movie, and yes, by a children’s book that fails to offer any image bearing resemblance to their mirror’s reflection. Some will look for this validation in all that they see.
As a young girl with a diverse heritage, native features and dark hair, Tasha Ina Church was the inquisitive one. Though her parents wrangled her questions about culture and race the best they could, it took a decade or two for Tasha to develop an outlet for the unresolved tension of the young reader that lived within her: her own multicultural children’s books.
During her interview, Church casually joked about a vendor she spoke to who said that multiculturalism was a new trend. Though this comment was a sign to her that people are finally beginning to acknowledge multiculturalism, it was also clear to her how unaware some remain to the commonplaceness of multiculturalism for those growing up in diverse households and communities. For Church, multiculturalism is a birthright for all, not a dated fad.
Tasha’s first children’s book, We are One at the Falling of the Sun, a love story that tells why the sun rises and sets, is written in the style of traditional Native American folklore. Using cultural depictions and names from Algonquin Native, Chinese, and North African cultural origins, it is the tale of Kiros (“King” in North African), a merman whose movement throughout the sea creates the ocean’s currents, and his love MeiFai (“Beautiful Beginning” in Chinese), a sun princess who sews together sunbeams for the earth below. The two connect and find their union a challenging feat as one lives in the sky and the other in the sea below. The lovers not only live in two vastly separate domains but come from lineages that expect homogeny among their race.
They each are forced to ask for approval from their families to be with one another. To their parents, a union seems impossible. (The language Church uses in this portion of the story is particularly poetic and rich, like her hand drawn illustrations.)
As the story ends, a clever compromise is made that allows Kiros and MeiFai to remain true to their cultural upbringing and be united with one another. The sun sets, bringing MeiFai and Kiros together, and then rises, separating the two again so that they may continue bringing their gifts to their own worlds.
In this tale, there is an underlying commentary about race relations that gives caregivers a unique opportunity to discuss racial and cultural differences. Church states, “it is important to start this discussion early because kids today see what is presented in the media and are unable to appreciate their own multiculturalism and diversity.”
Today, if Church encounters someone who says, “I wish that I had more cultural heritage,” she tells them to research who they are: “the culture is there; they just haven’t acknowledged it yet.” In this way, Tasha hopes that We are One at the Falling of the Sun will be used by caregivers to begin acknowledging culture in their homes, daycares, and schools.
Acknowledging cultural difference was an important part of Church’s reading experience. Because she questioned the lack of diversity in popular children’s texts as a child, Church and her parents found obscure children’s books to read that offered the diversity she longed for not only in regards to race but also in terms of gender dynamics. Church easily called to mind Vassolisa the Wise (unknown author), Mermaid Stories from Around the World by Mary Pope Osborne and Paul Werstine, and her all time favorite, Weaving of a Dream by Marilee Heyer.
These children’s texts helped silence some of the questions Church had about clear representation for one (the mainstream cultural norm) and taught her to value representation for all cultures. This is why she has chosen to honor various cultures in We are One at the Falling of the Sun.
Along with being a first time author, Church is also a student and a community activist for social justice and urban youth empowerment in Tacoma, Washington. She is a contributor to Divine Table 9, a blog that she and a divine group of diverse women created to help people live life to their fullest potential. When she isn’t writing for the blog, she is with the youth of Fab-5 in their new Tacoma space, Fabitat, as they learn the four cornerstone elements of Hip-Hop Culture: breakdancing, MC’ing, DJ’ing, and legal graffiti artwork–multicultural outreach at its best.
On Spetember 9th, 2011, We are One at the Falling of the Sun will be presented to the public for the first time at the Washington State History Museum. Doors open at 5 pm. Admission is free for all who drop in, which includes their ticket to the Museum for the evening. Please come and celebrate the completion of this new important addition to children’s literature and education.