Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

I had a social media meltdown the other day.

Not a meltdown on social media, mind you. Thank goodness for that! This was a meltdown over social media.

I’ve been thinking about how I can reach more people with my blog. Discouraged, some days…okay, many days… over these idiotic numbers WordPress and Facebook feed me every time I open my account. Numbers of clicks. Number of likes. Numbers that represent to me — on the gray days — how few, instead of how many.

The solution, so they say, is more social media presence. More tweets, more pins, more posts, more videos.

I dutifully scroll through others’ pages to figure out how to do this thing better. Tink through Twitter feeds. Glaze over at Instagram accounts. And suddenly, everything seems utterly hopeless. All the pristine, perfectly-staged snapshots, the threaded tweets, the young media blitzers out there who have integrated every detail of their on-line presence to accumulate tens of thousands of followers. I am competing with this?

More accurately, I have no hope of competing with this. What’s more, it makes me feel mean in an Old Sneepish sort of way, this gazing at numbers. More often than not, social media is an overwhelming, soul-withering exercise for me. 


So, I have a melt down. I move rapidly from being overwhelmed by social media to sheer, existential doldrums. What is the point, anyway? What do I have to say to the world that’s worth hearing in the midst of our present, shattering noise-level of nonstop messages?

The gracious small voice that answers me, does so with a question: What do you give, when you give the gift of reading?

And I know the answer to that question. At least, part of the answer to that question.

The gift of reading, of loving books, is the gift of a magnificent doorway into a rich world. An expansive world albeit a much quieter world.  One that enhances our lives.

This door swings wide to reveal things we never even knew existed, acts as a portal connecting us to human thought across time and space so we can learn seemingly without boundary, be taught directly from the originators of ideas, the seers, the tasters, the handlers, hear the wrestlings of questioners, catch the insights of people remarkably unlike ourselves who may well have thought their thoughts in other languages and millennia. When we give the gift of reading, we put children in touch with ideas and know-how and experiences and insights and viewpoints far beyond our own limited ones. We give them rocket ships to the farthest reaches of knowledge, bridges to cultural landscapes we’ve never traveled, tête-à-têtes with powerful thinkers in areas of expertise we’ve never dabbled in. 

Reading serves as a gateway to empathy and understanding as we meet people utterly unlike ourselves, hear their stories, some so bitter, so intense, see life from their vantage point. This gateway frees us from hedged-in viewpoints, ushers us out of the small neighborhood of our acquaintances and into other communities,  other witnesses of the human experience. Sometimes these encounters rile us, frustrate us, push us to meet folks we disagree with. Sometimes they introduce us to a kindred spirit. Sometimes our new vantage points surprise us, stop us short with exquisite beauty, poignant insight, electrifying connections. When we give the gift of reading, we give access to a barrier-breaking range of human stories and voices — voices that sing and wail, remember and predict, challenge and commiserate.

Reading’s door is a passageway to a world of characters who become as dear to us as flesh-and-blood friends and who make us better people, be they a straight-talking lawyer from Maycomb, Alabama, or a house elf with a penchant for socks. What a gift these book-friends are. They understand us, articulate our pains and pleasures, amuse us, inspire us, accompany us throughout life. They are always there, unchanged by time, ready to invigorate a spare moment come what may. Reading transports us into imaginary and real places that mark us as intensely as human personalities. Middle-earth and Klickitat Street; Cather’s Nebraska and Dickens’ London. When we give the gift of reading, we open provocatively imaginative doorways .

That is part of what we give when we give the gift of reading. Teachers — blessed teachers — from ancient days to the present, keep making millions of copies of keys to that doorway so others can enter in. When we read with our children and grandchildren, when we spread books in classrooms and libraries, hospitals and refugee camps, prisons and shelters, we scatter pass-keys to rich storehouses.

 Here’s to pressing on.

As I step gingerly into more avenues in the hopes of spreading this love of books — which to be honest feels like stepping into busy traffic without knowing the rules of the road! — I invite you to follow me, say hello, help me do this thing better!

Facebook: Orange Marmalade Books
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Tricia Springstubb and Eliza Wheeler have collaborated on a duet of chapter books starring a young girl with a hugely-warm heart, following the ordinary ins-and-outs of her mostly-happy life.

The stories are a brilliant mix of contemporary society and ageless simplicity that would make fantastic summer reading for the 8- 10-year-old crowd or engaging read-alouds for listeners as young as 5.

The first volume — and you should definitely read them in order — is:

cody and the fountain of happiness cover imageCody and the Fountain of Happiness, by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
published in 2015 by Candlewick; 150 pages

I fell in love with Cody in this breezy summertime story.  Her much-loved summer vacation days are full of simple diversions that sound like the pastimes of 50 years ago — watching ants, chatting with a new friend and his dear Grandma, rescuing cats. Cody is a thoughtful, kind, imaginative young girl, and her relationships with her mom, dad, and teen-aged brother, are warm and funny.cody and the fountain of happiness illustration eliza wheeler

The book chronicles a fairly ordinary sequence of events, really. No nailbiting drama. No careening action. Yet it captivated me due to Springstubb’s delightful characters, pleasant good humor, and atmospheric charm.

I especially like that Cody’s family is economically average. Dad drives a big rig, on the road for long chunks of time, and Mom works selling shoes. They live in a working-class, multiethnic neighborhood, a setting I’d love to see more often in kid’s lit.

cody and the fountain of happiness illustration2 eliza wheeler

Cody’s plotting to comfort both her new friend, Spencer, and her teen-age brother, Wyatt, is crammed with good intentions, but leads to some consternation and troubles which need to be sorted out. That’s the basic plot. Appealing, lithe, gray-tone illustrations bring the characters to life.

The second set of Cody-adventures is:

cody and the mysteries of the universe cover imageCody and the Mysteries of the Universe, published in 2016. It’s 137 pages long.

Here is the same cast of characters — with some tangy additions — at the end of a summer, heading back to school. Cody bumps up against some thornier problems this time including a bit of jealousy over a friendship triangle and her brother Wyatt’s moodiness.

The thorniest troubles of all, though, are Spencer’s neighbors — a couple of girls whose aggression terrorizes Cody and Spencer, and their intimidating father whose name speaks for itself: Mr. Meen!

cody and the mysteries of the universe illustration eliza wheeler

Cody works through these tricky situations with the same kind heart, peaceable inclinations, and thoughtful questions as she does in the first volume.  I love the way Springstubb weaves empathy into Cody’s outlook in an entirely authentic manner.

I have no idea if more volumes are in the works, but I would welcome them. Fans of Kevin Henkes’ The Year of Billy Miller — you will definitely want to check these out.


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vilage menIf you follow Orange Marmalade you know that when my children were small, our family lived in West Africa. Nearly everyone in that vast, dusty land was a Muslim.

These were the people who welcomed us in when we were strangers. Patiently put up with me when I could not figure out how to ask, “How much for the Djibril and Gretabananas?”  Danced for joy when our daughter was born.  Sat with us in comforting solidarity when we were violently robbed. Shared with us out of their poverty. Loved my kids with warm hearts when we were far from extended family. Rejoiced with us mama rochellewhen our daughter survived cerebral malaria.

Here in Minneapolis, we have become friends with some from that same Muslim community and once again, their generosity, faithful friendship, readiness to overlook our faults, makes them some of our dearest, truest friends.

So, as you can imagine, I am outraged and deeply saddened by the xenophobic, anti-Muslim rhetoric spewing around our country these weeks. Not only by the vociferous voices of a sad number of guys with microphones, but by the bleating chorus of those who applaud them. Truly, my heart is crushed. Yet hopeful, too. It is beautiful to hear so many stand to denounce these fear mongering notions.


We must teach our children, and remind ourselves, how to welcome the stranger, show hospitality to those far from familiar faces and homes, comfort those whose lives have been shattered by violence, live in peace with those whose beliefs are other than our Muslim-and-Christian-Girls-1000x1024-e1430827324469own. We must teach our kids to listen, to learn from, and to empathize with people who look, speak, behave, eat, dress, pray, differently than we do. What richness there is in the diverse cultures of the worldwide human race.

Every day is always the right time to plant seeds of kindness and peaceableness in kids’ hearts. Reading others’ stories is one place to begin. To that end, I’ve pulled together some titles. Those I’ve reviewed before are linked to their full reviews. The others I’m only mentioning so this blog does not run on far too long BUT they are great choices. I’ve marked the picture books with an asterisk:


Books about Islam/Islamic Cultures:

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*Deep in the Sahara
A Mauritanian girl longs to wear a veil like her mama.


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*Going to Mecca, by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Valentina Cavallini, published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books in 2012
Great guided tour of all the events of a hajj for ages 5 and up.

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*The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, by Karen Gray Ruelle, illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix, published in 2009 by Holiday House
Fascinating history of heroism for ages 8 to adult.

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*I See the Sun in Afghanistan, by Dedie King, translation into Dari by Mohd Vahidi, illustrations by Judith Inglese, published in 2011 by Satya House Publications
A look at an ordinary day for a family of Afghani Muslims. Ages 4 and up.

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*Lailah’s Lunchbox:A Ramadan Story, by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon, published in 2015 by Tilbury House Publishers
A young girl wrestles with keeping the fast during school. Ages 5 and up.

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*Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali
The story of perhaps the wealthiest man in the history of the world.

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written and illustrated by David Macaulay, published in 2003 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Macaulay is a master at teaching us how things are made. Ages 11 to adult.

my name was hussein cover image*My Name was Hussein, by Hristo Kyuchukov, illustrated by Allan Eitzen, published in 2004 by Boyds Mill Press
A fascinating story about a Roma Muslim family in Bulgaria during WWII. Ages 5 and up.
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*Mystery Bottle
An Iranian grandpa and his grandson long to be together.

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*Nabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale, retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrations by Proiti Roy, published in India in 2007; published by Marshall Cavendish in 2010
A funny tale about dressing up for Eid. Ages 3 and up.

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*Nasreen’s Secret School
A courageous story of educating girls under the Taliban.



*Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story, by Hena Khan, illustrated by Julie Paschkis, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books

Yasmeen loves all the celebrations and traditions of the month of Ramadan.

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*A Party in Ramadan
, by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen, published in 2009 by Boyds Mill Press
A birthday party during Ramadan presents a challenge for a young girl. Ages 5 and up.

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*Ramadan Moon, by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adl, published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

A walk through the practices of the month of Ramadan. Ages 4 and up.

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*Razia’s Ray of Hope
A girl yearns for schooling in Afghanistan.

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*Sundiata: Lion King of Mali
A dazzling story of the ancient Mali empire.

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*Time to Pray, by Maha Addasi, Arabic Translation by Nuha Albitar, illustrated by Ned Gannon, published in 2010 by Boyds Mill Press

The practice of prayer in Islam. Ages 4 and up.

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*Traveling Man:The Journey of Ibn Battuta
The fascinating travels of a medieval Muslim.

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*The White Nights of Ramadan, by Maha Addasi, illustrated by Ned Gannon, published in 2008 by Boyds Mill Press
A story about the celebrations mid-way through Ramadan. Ages 5 and up.

Books about the refugee experience:

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The Arrival
Powerful graphic novel about bewildering newness.

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Children Growing Up With War
, written and illustrated by Jenny Matthews, published in 2014 by Candlewick
Heartbreaking true stories from a photojournalist. Fantastic read for ages 11 to adult.

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The Day My Father Became a  Bush
An affecting story of flight amid war.

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*Four Feet Two Sandals
A sweet story from a refugee camp.

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*Hamzat’s Journey
The true story of one Chechnyan refugee.

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Home of the Brave
A marvelous novel of a Sudanese refugee to Minnesota.

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The House of Sixty Fathers
Incredible novel of a little Chinese boy during WWII.

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*How Many Days to America
A harrowing journey across the Caribbean to the U.S.

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*I’m New Here, written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien, published in 2015 by Charlesbridge

Guatemalan, Korean, and Somali immigrant children cope with their arrival in U.S. schools. Ages 5 and up.

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Inside Out and Back Again
The moving story of a Vietnamese refugee.

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A Long Walk to Water
The story of one of Sudan’s Lost Boys.

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*Mali Under the Night Sky
A young girl’s flight from Laos.

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The Red Pencil
A story of one girl’s trauma at the hands of Sudanese rebels.

A few golden favorites inspiring kindness, compassion, empathy, all with links to my full reviews:

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*Boxes for Katje

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*A Chair for My Mother

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*Chicken Sunday

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*Christmas Eve at the Mellops

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*Crow Boy

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*Emma’s Poem:The Voice of the Statue of Liberty

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Gus and Grandpa and the Christmas Cookies

the hundred dresses cover image
The Hundred Dresses

if you plant a seed kadir nelson cover image
*If You Plant a Seed

the junkyard wonders cover image
*The Junkyard Wonders

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*Last Stop on Market Street

my heart will not sit down cover image
*My Heart Will Not Sit Down

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Twenty and Ten

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crow boy cover imageCrow Boy, written and illustrated by Taro Yashima
published in 1955 by Viking Penguin

Crow Boy is an extraordinary book, lodged firmly in my heart since I read it many years ago. It is a profoundly touching story with two characters — teacher and student — who will long linger in the memory of all who read it.

Chibi is a little schoolboy in Japan, a small, oddly-behaved boy who keeps himself at a distance from the other children, preoccupied throughout the day by silently taking in the world around him, seemingly lost in his own, impenetrable thoughts.

No one really knows him. He walks a long distance to school crow boy by taro yashimafrom an apparently impoverished home. Over the years he has become merely an object of ridicule for the other children, as he is simply so strange.

However, when Mr. Isobe, the new teacher, comes to the school, he takes a deep interest in Chibi. He discovers Chibi’s amazing knowledge of the natural world, his artistic ability, and one astonishing talent no one else knows about. When Mr. Isobe encourages Chibi to share his unusual gift at the end-of-year talent show, the eyes of others are opened to the unique riches Chibi offers.

Maybe this plot sounds tired and commonplace in this era of hundreds of anti-bullying books. Trust me. It is not at all commonplace. Written in 1955, its honesty and beauty are almost raw, and not at all contrived. Taro Yashima won a Caldecott Honor for his powerful illustrations which capture not only a striking, Japanese sense, but also the intensity with which Chibi experiences his world.

Highly recommended for ages 5 and up.

julia's house for lost creatures cover imageJulia’s House for Lost Creatures, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
published in 2014 by First Second

Julia lives in a big old house. A cattywampus house, with a jiggety bit here and a slight slump there. It rests upon the back of a tortoise  — yes, a tortoise — who, at the outset of our story, has trudged his way to a new spot near the sea, lugging Julia’s house with him.

Nothing unusual there.

Julia happily settles in with a fire, a mug of tea, and a good book, but after a few serene minutes she discovers something: It’s too quiet. So she whips up a welcoming sign to hang outside her door. “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures” it proclaims, and WOW! before you can say zippety-doo-da, a horde of the most peculiar creatures shows up in need of hospitality!

julia's house for lost creatures by ben hatke

Julia is happy to pamper each creature, but the sheer number of lost creatures quickly becomes unmanageable. Find out how resourceful Julia is, and how happily her home for these forlorn oddballs runs, when you read this charming book.

Hatke’s watercolor illustrations are lively and friendly. The combination of panels that move the story right along and full-stop, take-your-time pages, will suck you in from the title page onwards. His quirky, shaggy, monsters are bumbling and endearing and Julia herself is a brisk force of nature! Great fun for ages 2 and up.

the storm whale cover imageThe Storm Whale, written and illustrated by Benji Davies
published in 2013 by Henry Holt and Company

In quite a different house by the sea, a ramshackle cottage on a sandy beach, a little boy named Noi lives with his dad and six cats. 

Noi’s dad is a fisherman, and Noi is left alone to occupy himself during each long day of fishing.  He is quite a tiny figure, puttering about on the windswept shoreline, investigating.

One day, after a big storm, Noi discovers something tremendous. A little whale has washed ashore! Noi is the storm whale by benji daviessavvy and plucky and understands he must save this poor fellow. He lugs him home and installs him in the tub. There, Noi gladly spends the day enjoying the companionship of the whale.

What will happen, though, when Dad comes home? Deep down, Noi realizes that keeping a whale for a pet is not really the storm whale2 by benji daviesa good idea. The tenderness and empathy Noi’s dad shows towards his son, is echoed in the selflessness Noi shows to the whale, as together father and son do the right thing, and are rewarded in a happy way.

This simple story is unsentimental and dear at the same time. It brings both pang and balm, wistfulness and comfort without a big to-do. The obvious element, and what I love, is the relationship between Noi and his dad. It is unusual in a picture book to have just this combination of characters, and our encounter with them feels like a privilege.

Davies is a London author/illustrator I have not met before. His illustrations have a slightly Scandinavian sense, to my eye. Lovely, wide horizons of sea and shore, gorgeous blues of wave-tossed ocean, and a homely fishing cottage,  all provide the solitary setting. Noi is a little button of a boy, while his dad is immense and sturdy, a rugged fisherman with a gentle heart. Don’t miss this gem, for ages 2 and up.

mister bud wears the cone cover imageMister Bud Wears the Cone, written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich
published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Has your dog ever had to wear the Cone of Shame? If he has, I’ll bet you have a story about it. One of our dogs, the most high-energy, rambunctious Lab ever, would go completely catatonic if we put a cone on her. Dogs hate ’em.

So, you know there’s going to be both humor and pathos in a story about a dog and a cone, and that’s just what you get in this warm and funny book about Mister Bud.

Mister Bud has a “bad hot spot” which he simply mustn’t lick. His owner gives him lots of sympathy — so much so that Zorro, the other dog in the household, is quite jealous. But when the mister bud wears the cone carter goodrichowner leaves, there’s no getting around it — Mister Bud has to wear a cone, and Zorro, the rascal, is now highly amused. Teasing, taunting, and mayhem ensue, resulting in…Things Getting Broken by the guy in the cone.

Zorro is elated! When the owner comes home and sees what Mister Bud has done, all that extra attention will be over, Mister Bud will be in big trouble, and Zorro will get his fair share of love!

That’s not quite how things work out, though. Actually, there’s plenty of understanding and kindness to go around, and all ends well…almost.

The characters of Zorro and Mister Bud leap off the pages under the talented hand of Carter Goodrich, who has an extensive background in majorly-popular animated films. Truly, reading it is a bit like watching a flurry of an animated short. Give this a whirl when you need a smile, ages 2 and up.

fox's garden cover imageFox’s Garden, a wordless book by Princesse Camcam
first American edition published in 2014 by Enchanted Lion Books

Coming to us from France, this snowy, enchanted story is a fine choice to pull out as winter draws near.

The forest is still, the mounds of snow are shadowed in chill amethyst twilight, as a solitary fox creeps her way out of the trees and into a small village. From quiet houses, lamplight casts a friendly glow, but it is accompanied only by harrassment from those that dwell there. No one, it seems, harbors any love for a fox.

Except for one little boy. From his cozy window, he spies that fox as she slips into a shuttered greenhouse, and he takes pity on her. Trudging out past the tall, lean birches, through the fox's garden illustration princesse camcamfalling snow, he carries a basket of food.

What does this little boy discover about that fox when he greets her? And how can a fox repay such kindness? Those are surprises for you to discover in this magical story.

Impossibly-gorgeous cut-paper illustrations, mesmerizing scenes, winter wonder, and kindness, are all wrapped up in this sweet, wordless story, accessible to ages 2 and up. It’s not meant as a holiday tale, but I think it would be quite fitting for up-coming December reading.

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