Moses and Sleeping Beauty

There are two things that can stop a husband and wife fighting. (This is perhaps my little marriage or friendship primer). One option is for both people to turn totally neutral, hearts reaching to express love, especially if apologizing. Fights are melted. It’s scary at first, maybe, to apologize or start a real sincere conversation without blaming, but disaster is averted.

Another: laugh if something ridiculous happens. I guess a third situation would be if some catastrophe occurs, making it so all tension over a dumb argument is rendered unimportant. Big things make fights look stupid. (Of course, focusing on the little zany children of ours also help us to see the big, lovey picture).

During our recent squabble, he made me laugh, then held my hand. So a little of Stopping the Fight, Routes Two and One. My guy is wise and our marriage gets better and better. One particular evening last week, though? It was tough. Here’s the story:

We’re out on a Sunday night, which probably contributes to some cold thorns and exhaustion, no matter how cool the plans are. I am pregnant. I get tired and sensitive. He gets bristled and can act like a dude. We are walking, two kids, no stroller, on a crowded street in Tokyo’s Omotesando. The ballet of Moses starts in twelve minutes, but he and my daughter leave us to backtrack, cross the footbridge, then rejoin us with convenience store food and drinks. It is a tense walk when parents fight and each has one kid. Nothing feels okay.

The lineup is this, I tell him that week and maybe on the train ride over. We will see excerpts from Sleeping Beauty and then a full production of Moses. I grab us seats on a bench and lay down our scarves and jackets. Just two rows back and no orchestra pit, we see the dancers’ every breath and flexed muscle. We’re enveloped by dim lights, Tchaikovsky’s score, and long lines in arabesque.

Maybe fifteen minutes in, four fairy dances later, plus the black fairy/evil witch’s incantation over the tiny princess baby, Aurora is about to be woken up by her prince. At this point, my guy leans over and asks, “Is the blue one Moses?”

I am stumped and mystified. “You’re absolutely joking, right?” Do I smile or look slack-jawed and stunned?

“Um, no. So who is Moses? The blue one?”

The divide is gone. He can’t possibly really think that the blue, winged fairy dancing beside Sleeping Beauty, infant Princess Aurora, with a gift at her Christening, is baby Moses. Can he? Who does he think Pharao is—the black fairy turned terrible enchantress?

This is like seeing Broadway’s Rent and twenty minutes in, thinking it’s The Book of Mormon. Or Sound of Music? I thought this was Fiddler on the Roof!

Heads turn as I try to stifle my laughs. We hold hands as he says a bit mystified, “I did think that was the strangest rendition of Moses I had ever seen.”

And that, friends, is how you stop a fight. Look for the laughter and hold hands.







Running Fast on Multicultural Children’s Book Day

I’ve been matched with a children’s book for this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day! It’s like they know me! Okay, maybe I would have adored any book sent, but I am so pleased. It’s not just me—my daughter, especially, lit up with The Quickest Kid in Clarksville! 


It’s not a princess book catering to cuteness. It’s not a boring, knock-your-head-on-the-table-non-fiction which should only be pulled out for the dullest of school reports. It does not talk down to kids. It does not use trite cliches to say we are all a gorgeous melting pot or rainbow pot of fondue. (We may be, sometimes, but that kind of very kumbaya “rainbow washing”  can diminish the struggles and needs many people and people groups came out of and/or still face). Like I said, I’m so happy to have received a book with depth. (Teachers: scroll down to receive your free book, as well!)

The Quickest Kid… is the polar opposite of every negative trait I listed above. It is truthful, real, and engaging.

This is a book with verve and voice which tells, through a more modern character, just some of what makes track legend, Wilma Rudolph, so deserving to be the focus and inspiration of a book.



How we viewed our book from Chronicle Books & the MCCBD Team. (Reviewers living stateside received hard-copies.) Hey, the international life bring slots of digital copies.


Set in Clarksville, Tennessee, the hometown of the revered Wilma, this story is told in the voice of young and spunky Alta. Like Wilma, her absolute idol, she runs. She knows she’s quick. She does not have the means to buy shiny new shoes, no matter how deserving she is. Alma knows and remembers, through a rival and a new friendship, that shoes do not matter. Fast is fast.

The author, Pat Zietlow Miller, and dynamic illustrator, Frank Morrison, must have deeply channeled Rudolph’s energy and lifeblood when they created Alma, her enemy Charmaine, every bit of the need and love for running cleverly depicted.

“I bite my lip. It’s OK. Wilma wore a leg brace and flour-sack dresses before she got big. “Shoes don’t make you fast,” I say. Charmaine’s face tightens.”

See how they insert a little statement like that? A quick dig on the internet, almanac, or this encyclopedia link, reveals countless blow-your-mind-facts about the three-time gold medal Olympian.


  • Wilma was number twenty of twenty-two children! When Alma talks about her broken-down, never been white lace shoes before, how much must Wilma have known the inevitability of hand-me-downs!
  • That metal leg brace was due to young Wilma’s infantile paralysis, twisted leg, and a bleak bout with Polio at four-years-old. Doctors told Wilma that she would never walk. Her left leg remained paralyzed for years.

“My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”—Wilma Rudolph

  • At the 1960s Olympics in Rome, where she snagged three gold medals(!), media and television coverage made it so that Wilma and other athletes, such as Cassius Clay, later called Muhammed Ali, became hugely celebrated and famous, worldwide. The Olympics brought people together—nations, creed, and sex, but still, in Rudolph’s town, segregation was in full effect.
  • It wasn’t until the Olympiad’s victorious homecoming, that the town gathered for its first integrated (blacks and whites) event, at Rudolph’s insistence.

When the characters gather to cheer on their idol, we catch a glimpse of some of that power. To be the first female, black, record-setter of all time in 1960? Well, that parade must have coursed with electricity. Wilma didn’t just run. She heralded new things and broke through barriers for people of color, for women, and certainly, for women runners.

She toppled all negative beliefs that she (as a poor, diseased, disabled, perhaps sometimes ignored as a child of twenty-two, segregated, female) couldn’t do much. She blew down the hurdles for girls like Alma for decades and decades to come. No, she didn’t just walk; she ran. And when she ran, she was an elegant gazelle, bounding for the high places, setting records every few paces.

Heroism like Wilma’s is timeless. Passion is infectious and all girls, all children, parents, all adults should know of Wilma Rudolph’s life through the power and spirit of Alma in The Quickest Kid in Clarksville!

View footage from the small but glorious Wilma archive!

More later about my daughter’s responses and questions over dinner. Wilma’s life brings up so much inspiration. Learning her history and surrounding circumstances also helps us to question the challenges she faced so that we might see her strength even more and grow, personally. That is the power of a well-crafted, beautifully created children’s book, inspired by non-fiction.

A valuable Follow-up activity through Colorful Trading Cards! This PDF activity is from Chronicle Books and can inspire and support the kind of research which gets kids connecting the dots and looking for more diversity in leaders within sports or any field.

The athlete penned her own autobiography, Wilma, which I’d certainly love to read.


I’m so thankful for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day for getting this book into our hands. They do good work, not merely looking at a bottom line, but rather to “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.”


More on MCCBD, this very giving organization:

Our Mission: The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day #ReadYourWorld.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

2. Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China*

  1. Our CoHosts-Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.
  1. Classroom Reading Challenge: Help spread the word on our Classroom Reading Challenge . This very special offering from MCCBD offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children’s book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.

What we could really use some help with is spreading the word to your teacher/librarian/classroom connections so we can get them involved in this program. There is no cost to teachers and classrooms and we’ve made the whole process as simple as possible. You can help by tweeting the below info:

Teachers! Earn a FREE #Multicultural Kids Book for Your Classroom! #teachers, #books #teacherlife

The Classroom Reading Challenge has begun! Teachers can earn a free diversity book! #teachers, #books

Teaching Character, Place, & Empathy

–Learning to Appreciate Our Differences & Similarities –

Best Children’s Books Featuring Multicultural Characters

A good children’s book has the ability to open up places in the mind and heart, to bring new words and expressions into the landscape of a children’s brain. Reading books with rich diversity can open up discussions that go well beyond comprehension. The ideas and concepts that children and families pull from books can bleed into their world, creating more opportunities to expand one’s ideas of friendship and discovery. 

Here is just a small smattering of such books we’ve discovered here in our house.

Enjoy! This is a prompt brought to us by Multicultural Kids Blogs and Pack-n-Go Girls.

First up, Hug Me, by the extraordinary Simona Ciraolo:


This is the story of a prickly cactus, desperate for the closeness of a hug. This is not the thing to do or be in his prickly environment. He’ll hurt any animal, poke any soft thing, and his family expects total complacency, NO HUGS.


This is a book that while not preaching any message, can help us see the needs of those around us. It may help children see more of what they have to offer, too. We may have to be a bit creative with those who need extra care, including ourselves. Isn’t this what we hope for our kids? They that will be strong friends and will see goodness even through spikes. Felipe is the best name, too. I love every illustration and want to see more from this author/illustrator, who, by the way, grew up in Italy.


Next up, a book that is aimed at the Young Adult readers, Gadget Girl, by Suzanne Kamata. Incidentally, I have had the privilege of interviewing this prolific, award-winning author. Our conversation is here. Besides the superb writing, the standout feature is that her main character, Aiko, has cerebral palsy. This is not a trait often found in books, certainly not pertaining directly to the main character.


Aiko is also bicultural, of American and Japanese heritage. She is being raised by a single mother, dealing with all of the typical fifteen-year-old stuff, plus navigating her own unique terrain. She is complex and talented. Hooray for such a person with a disability being painted so beautifully.


Such a well-written chapter book could be read aloud by parents to children and discussed. It is so refreshing to meet this main character who teaches us and shows us her life with a different gait. It helps me be more ready to understand and befriend someone with any range of special needs. Aiko also helps me to look beyond the physical as she is witty and possesses a great passion for art.


Sometimes language or lack of language can be a disability. Kids and their parents may be teased. Living abroad now, raising children who are in school, I understand, more than ever, the pressure kids and families can face as they try to establish themselves in the community, meet needs, and gather friends.

Enter YOKO books, by the beloved Rosemary Wells! We first discovered the original YOKO, the Japanese cat who lives in America and brings in sushi lunches and red bean ice cream, to her classmates’ horror.

The idea of Difference is paramount in YOKO. The drawings and Japanese washi paper used in Ms. Wells’ illustrations are lush and dialogue is realistic with plenty of “EEWS” and a “YUCKORAMA” thrown in. YOKO, like many of our children, doesn’t quite fit. She is across two worlds. YOKO is becoming bicultural as well as bilingual.

Did you know there are other YOKO books? Look!

Yokyo Books

YOKO Learns to Read and YOKO Writes Her Name You’ll be rooting for this sweet cat and her hardworking mother.

Yes, kids will look different, act differently. No one is totally alike! We come from a wealth of backgrounds, languages, and experiences. DNA. Fingerprints. No one is the same, but we can become aware of the similarities that bridge gaps and help us understand bigger things.

We may not like our own differences, of course.


Freckleface Strawberry knows all about that and so does the fabulous Julianne Moore, yes, that actress, and the book’s creator.

Freckleface cover

Freckleface Teasing

She is teased to no end and resorts to the kinds of “remedies” found in Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice. Remember that goodie?

Often characters grow by first accepting their own differences. I know. All of us struggle with this. It’s a lifetime thing.


Last up is another classic, stories by Ezra Jack Keats! We own this collection, Keat’s Neighborhood.

Keat's Neighborhood

Besides the timeless nature of his characters and plots, Mr. Ezra Jack Keats was a forerunner in creating diverse books for children.x A Jewish author and illustrator in New York, he was the first noted creator to give us a main character of color. Peter, as in Peter’s Chair and Snowy Day was perhaps the first African American character that kids, all kids, would come to love. Ezra Jack Keats bridged gaps and didn’t just mend fences; he built ladders and forts with his characters. All of this was legendary, groundbreaking stuff. An author/illustrator didn’t have to create another See Dick Run book. He expressly went out of his own cultural background and into another. He did so with aplomb, giving us someone to whom we could relate.

Additionally, in A Letter for Amy, Peter invites his friend, Amy, to his party. She is the only girl, much to his friends’ chagrin. Hello, friendships beyond gender. Hello, children seeing others as friends and not the enemy.

A Letter for Amy

Well, that is my first take on enjoying books of diversity with my clan. There are so many gorgeous books worth exploring and collecting.

Again, this is just a peek, a part 1, into my grouping of children’s book with multicultural characters! I did not include any Sandra Cisneros, any Yangsook Choi, Angela Johnson, or two dozen other incredible authors. Okay? Officially, let’s call this a “To Be Continued”. There’s just so much and the need is there. We are a world of diverse readers. We need good libraries and of course, follow-up discussions.

What else do you suggest for our modest home library? What is a must?



Blowing Up Balloons & Disbanding Frowns

Here I am here waiting after peeing in a cup. It’s been a rough morning, taking the trains, using my navi system to find, but not find the bank, getting lost so that I walk six extra blocks with this growing babe in my tummy. It’s pressure. It’s getting heavy.

Then, after finally arriving late, I couldn’t fill out my forms. I never remember which Kanji (Chinese characters) refers to my birthdate and which asks for today’s date. I get emotional bringing in another life when I still flounder. It’s pretty nuts. I remember those fears before I ever became pregnant.


Mel Willms Photography-33

Photo by my unbelievable friend


And yet, G-d becomes more real in these moments. You have come through in dazzling ways that turned over what might have been, I think

I am the pregnant woman crying on the banquet. Tears just come as I finally sit. It’s a chance to reflect and change my thoughts.

G-d is the One who gives me comfort and stillness, then chance–a million glimmery chances to rock myself with the comfort of enduring, surviving goodness.

I hear the music.

Every time I come, there is every song I need to hear. “Oh, I believe in yesterday”, because G-d’s peace was there, too. Two months ago, when I came to verify my pregnancy, it was Judy Collins–that song I sang to my beautiful Grandpa. Every other visit, it’s Izzy’s rays of ukelele love, Somewhere Over the Rainbow coming through. This is the song we blew bubbles to at our wedding sendoff. There’s also the time I heard “Hey, Jude” which became the name of our son. I had just written the name that morning and then, boom: Jude was emanating from speakers.


I sit four pregnant women from the left and five from the right, plus all of them in front. We are all here, trusting in Your goodness to some extent. In present form, You support the living. You make room for babies. You raise them up from seed and open up our lungs to take in fragrance, to dive to Asiatic depths and zoom up in flight. It is startling.


I relax, supported.

I blew up pink balloons this morning with these same lungs I breathe more evenly with now, tears no longer falling down. If they do, they’re the happy kind.

I spurted air from those pink balloons at my son before tying knots. This is the love a mother, too, needs to feel. I breathe and pfffhhhhhewwww at his cheek and turn his soft neck into giggles.

We explode. We come to life in the place of love and all they say about trust. We hope in your unfailing kindness.

We grow, we bend, we birth.