I’ve always loved National Geographic. I remember going to my grandparents’ farm when I was younger and, after playing a round (or 10) of zim-zim, heading down to their basement where my grandfather kept his massive collection of National Geographic magazines. I would sit and sift through them for hours, intrigued by the photos of ancient Mayan civilizations, Vietnamese fishermen, and the reed islands of Lake Titicaca. All so stunningly majestic. And real! So real that I was able to transport myself to faraway lands where the people looked a bit different. Yet the same.
So, as you can imagine, last week, when I picked up the 125th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of National Geographic, I was ecstatic. There was an article on the “Changing Face of America” with a series of stunning, close-up portraits of Americans by famed photographer Martin Shoeller (photo credit). There was something about these people’s features…that reminded me of, well, me! It was as if everyone was some wonderful ethnic conundrum of sorts. Yes, that’s the real America. An America that is often defined by diverse cultural identities. And blends that would seem practically unfathomable in most other countries.
When Malini and I embarked on this journey and launched 2Lokas 6 months ago, we knew that we were determined to make an impact. Socially, yes, because that had been our calling for so long. That was a given. But, culturally as well. We recognize that there’s a multitude of books out there that address diversity; however, these are typically geared towards older children and adults. We also realize that ethnicity and culture are often uncomfortable topics for many. And, bringing children into the discussion can be a tricky task. Especially when you’re dealing with the youngest of the young – our target audience. But, we truly believe the conversation is an important one. Our little ones represent that “changing face of America”. So, we want to start having the conversation with our boys at a fairly early age, an age when curiosity rules supreme and those first impressions of society – and the world in its varying entirety – are made.
Of course, there’s no denying that this will be a challenge. Despite the fact that many in the U.S. embrace multiculturalism, for lack of a better word, some do not. And, the uproar against Miss America, whose family is Indian, proved just this. Which is why these discussions are all the more important. And timely! Obviously, engaging young children in a serious discussion about culture may be a fruitless effort that leads to frustration or, even worse, boredom. For this reason, we’ve decided to weave elements of playfulness and fun throughout each book within The Little Loka™ Series, while also providing some contextual background. We’ve found that lighthearted discussions can often be just as powerful.
Anyway, it’s fairly easy to wax cliche when talking about diversity, culture, and the world. Even just looking at those terms on my computer screen makes me cringe a bit because of the campfire Kumbaya-esque feel to it all. And, it’s easy to assume that most children will just pick “it” up somehow, that is, that understanding of differences. But, allowing them to explore not just their own environment, but the world as well, whether it be through a board book in the comfort of their own room or as they set foot in a new country, just seems to important. So, if anything, we hope not only to bridge that gap in children’s literature, but to enable our two boys, and all young children out there, to play a game of passport make-believe as well. Stamping their way through the world…one book at a time. 🙂