ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by the "small vices" square in my 9-1-14 card for the [community profile] ladiesbingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Danso & Family thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This story mentions censorship in the context of several children's books which can be interpreted in different ways, some of which are distasteful to certain readers.  If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your headspace before reading onward.


"The Stories We Tell"


Lakia came home from school one day
dragging her tail behind her.
She plunked herself on the couch,
scrunched up her knees, and
wrapped her arms around them.

"Story time is stupid," she said.

"You sound upset," Hannah said.
"What happened in story time today?"

"Mrs. Wilson read a mean book,"
Lakia said, tucking her chin
between her knees.

"What book?" Hannah asked.

"The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings,"
Lakia said. Her tail flicked over her toes.

"I remember that one," Hannah said.
"What did you think was mean about it?"

"The rabbit just wanted to be more than he was,
so he got a pair of pretty red wings," Lakia said.
She caught her tail and squeezed it in her hands,
a worrisome habit that Hannah was trying to break.
"But then his mother didn't recognize him, so she
shut the door and left him out in the street."

"I can see why you'd find that upsetting,"
Hannah said as she coaxed Lakia's grip loose.
"Be gentle with your tail, sweetie."

"Then nobody wanted him around, just because
they'd never seen a rabbit with red wings before,"
Lakia said. "When he tried to practice with his new wings,
he crash-landed in a sticker bush, because he didn't know
what he was doing and there was nobody to teach him."

"It's frustrating to learn new things when people
aren't supportive, isn't it?" Hannah said.

Lakia gave a glum nod. "He gave up,"
she said in a low voice. "He went back
to the magic pond and wished his wings away.
Then everybody pretended to be his friends again!"

"Did you tell your teacher how you felt
about the story?" Hannah asked.

"Yeah ... Mrs. Wilson said she was sorry
for reading a book that made me sad,
and that I could pick one for tomorrow,"
Lakia said. "But I still don't feel any better."

"Would a hug help?" Hannah offered.

Lakia's tail lashed. "No," she said.
"I'm all prickly. I don't want to
touch anybody now."

"Okay," Hannah said.

"It makes me mad that there's a book
on how it's okay to shut someone out
just for being different," Lakia said.

"That's one way to read Red Wings,"
Hannah said. "Another is that it
encourages people to accept themselves
just the way they are, without trying
to be like someone else."

"But which is the right way?" Lakia said.

"Well, they're both right," Hannah said.
"There are two parts to a story:
what the author brings to it,
and what the readers bring.
That's what starts discussions, and
it's good when stories make people think."

"Why do they even have mean books
in the school library?" Lakia grumbled.
"Somebody should take them out
so there are only nice books."

"We don't take books out of libraries, sweetie,"
said Hannah. "Even if we don't like a certain book,
somebody else might want to read it. So we don't
ask the librarian to get rid of Red Wings, and other folks
don't get rid of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

"But the forks do it all the time," Lakia whined.

"Yes they do," Hannah agreed.
"Are they people you want to copy?
Do you think they have good ideas?"

"No," Lakia said, scowling.

"Then you should probably look for
better ways to solve problems," Hannah said.
"You're a smart girl; I'm sure you can
figure out a good solution."

"I don't know what," Lakia said.

"Is this the first mean book that
you've heard in class?" Hannah asked.

"No," Lakia said. "There's The Rainbow Fish.
He had these shiny scales and everybody else
wanted one, so the octopus made him give up
all but one of them." She shivered. "I think
it's creepy that they took away pieces of his body."

"Sometimes children's stories have scary things,
don't they?" Hannah said. "If you think about it,
'Rock-a-Bye Baby' is about falling out of a tree!"

"And then there's Morgan Morning," said Lakia.
"This baby horse went exploring and got stuck
down a cliff, so his mother just left him
instead of trying to find help." She sniffled.
"Then he got turned into a unicorn but he
couldn't ever go back to his horse family again."

"Blow your nose, darling," said Hannah,
handing Lakia a tissue. She had a suspicion
how those stories got there in the first place.
"As vices go, donating bigoted books
to the library is a pretty small one."

"It still stinks," Lakia mumbled into her knees.

"Let's look at some different books,"
Hannah said. "You might enjoy them more."
Maybe that would help Lakia uncurl.

"Like what?" Lakia asked, looking up.

Hannah brought out one of her old favorites.
"This is Little Black Sambo," she said.
"Some people think it's just a fun story.
Others think it says some nasty things
about people with brown skin.
I like it because Sambo uses his wits
to keep the tigers from eating him."

"Like the rabbit story," Lakia said,
brown fingers petting her brown tail.
"It can go all different ways."

"That's right," Hannah said.
She took out another book,
In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall.
"So I also keep books for people
who don't like the Sambo story.
Does this one remind you of anybody?"

"Blankie," said Lakia with a grin.
"He lets us ride on his shoulders.
He wanted all of us even when
nobody else did, and he still
wants us now that you do too."

"You see, the stories we tell say a lot
about who we are and how we see the world,"
Hannah explained. "They show our virtues
and our vices. You get to pick the book for
tomorrow's story time. What do you want to say?"

"That it's okay to be different," Lakia replied.
"You shouldn't have to change yourself
just to make other people like you.
They shouldn't act like bullies
or leave anyone behind."

Hannah pulled a few more books from the shelves
and helped Lakia sort through them to find
ones that agreed with the kind of messages
she wanted to share the next day.

"How about Barry the Fish with Fingers?"
Hannah suggested finally. "He has body parts
that nobody else does, and they save the day."

"Yeah!" Lakia said, accepting the book.

"Go put that with your school things
for tomorrow," Hannah said.

Lakia did so, although when she came back,
she didn't have her usual bounce yet.
"My day still sucked," she said.

"That happens," Hannah said.
"Let's do something fun to cheer you up.
Would you like to come help me make
tiger butter fudge for tonight's dessert?"

Lakia wasn't all that fond of cooking, but
she loved fudge and often hovered around
while Hannah and Hadyn were baking a batch.

A grin flickered across Lakia's face. "Okay!"
she said, and scampered into the kitchen.

* * *

Notes:

Story time is important for developing literacy. In our world, preschool programs abound but it's less common for gradeschool. In Terramagne-America, story time as a social activity lasts until students are ready to read silently to themselves for the same amount of time. Adults also recognize that it's crucial for children to choose their own books. Know how to read aloud to a child. Here are some online storybooks.

Dealing with books you hate is a natural part of reading. Get kids to think and talk about books, so they'll understand what they like or dislike about a story.

The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings is about personal changes and social rejection. Here it is on YouTube.

People may pretend to be your friends because they want something from you, in this case conformity. Conditional friendship is one element of bullying. Lakia is very sharp about recognizing false friends, because they only tolerate the rabbit when his appearance is pleasing to them. True friends accept you for who you are, and there are ways to encourage this.

Affectionate touch should be offered but never forced. Lakia's background with her birth family and foster care has left her with attachment issues. Often she is indifferent or actively resistant to contact comfort, but it's getting better with time.

Library censorship is a serious issue.  People still attempt censorship in T-America, but less often and with considerably less success.  A better alternative to controversial topics is to discuss them openly and promote media literacy.

The Rainbow Fish is another book about visual differences and social dynamics. Read it here or listen to a reading.
A beautiful fish had multicolored scales, and did not want to play with the other fish when invited. A little blue fish asked him for a scale, and he refused. He wondered why nobody liked him. The octopus advised him to give away his scales. So he did that, and then he went to play with the other fish.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer began as a poem about an unusual reindeer. It has since gone through complex cultural evolution. In Terramagne, it has become an iconic image of superpowers. "Rudolph" is a rude nickname for a soup, and "reindeer games" refers to superpowered and ordinary people mingling. So it's controversial; some soups love it and others hate it.

Children are natural mimics. To discourage them from copying inappropriate behavior, try the "same or different" game. Help children think about examples and choose good role models.

Morgan Morning tells about a young horse turning into a unicorn.

Fear of abandonment is common in childhood, and worse among children who actually have been abandoned. Children of substance abusers and foster kids are especially vulnerable, and Lakia is both. Ironically it's a good sign for her to find this upsetting, because it's an improvement over not caring if adults take care of her or are even around. There are resources for understanding and addressing abandonment issues.

The Story of Little Black Sambo is a classic book about new clothes and hungry tigers. You can read it online. Videos are available for a read-aloud book and for a cartoon based on the book.

There are now many African-American children's books including In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall.

People also write books about the importance of being yourself. Barry the Fish with Fingers is one example. There are teaching resources to go with it and a video of it read aloud.

Tiger Butter Fudge is traditionally a tricolor fudge made of chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla portions swirled together. It's easier to find in a fudge shop than to get good instructions online. Here is one way to do it. This recipe gives you an option of chocolate or peanut butter chips for flavoring. Cooking is a valuable coping skill and an opportunity for family bonding. Notice that there's a difference between cooking to relax and overeating as a negative coping method.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 01:08 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
Poor, poor Lakia. I love Hannah, here. I just love Hannah in general, I admire the way she can calm the kids down, and help them to see alternatives.

Way to go!

Date: 2015-01-27 02:07 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Lakia, for SPEAKING UP. She's run into "mean books" before, but hadn't said anything... which shows how much more faith she has in Hannah's willingness to actually DO something about the situation!

Lots of fun to read, and that fudge looks GORGEOUS.

Re: Way to go!

Date: 2015-01-27 02:43 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Malted fudge???? DO TELL.


Now I really, DESPERATELY want to have the kids meet the Finn littles. Aida and Danso would hit it off in a quiet way, and Danso and Drew in a different way.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 02:30 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I was going to mention that "true friends accept you for who you are" can be misused to become one of the Geek Fallacies, but your link already addresses that issue.

It's been a long time since I read Little Black Sambo; I could swear the version I saw only had one tiger, and that Sambo climbed the tree and tricked the tiger into chasing its own tail, but I could easily be misremembering -- or there could be multiple versions of the story out there, as happens with many folk tales. I can definitely see both sides of the argument about whether it's more of a nasty racist stereotype or a story about a clever child using his wits to get out of a bad situation.

I also remember that there used to be a restaurant chain called Sambo's in the South, which used the character and his story in its trade dress. That was definitely the nasty racist version, and the chain died sometime in the late 60s IIRC.

I would be tempted to try making the Tiger Fudge with butterscotch instead of peanut butter; I would also score it into squares with a knife before it was fully set, rather than breaking it up afterwards. But those are just variations on a theme.

The idea of forks donating bigoted books to libraries makes me pull the disgusted-cat face. OTOH, in our world the nastiest bigots also tend to be suspicious of books and reading in general, so maybe it doesn't happen as often as it might.

marshmallow peanut butter fudge

Date: 2015-01-27 02:42 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I'd make a batch of marshmallow peanut butter fudge, the one from the back of the jar, and use that to alternate the textures of the different types of fudge. But that's just wishful thinking, as one of the key ingredients is evaporated milk, and coconut milk is a no-go in substituting coconut cream for the evaporated milk. I'd have to spend some time making multiple batches to find the right substitutions.

So, as I said, the pictures are gorgeous.

Our local library gets challenges at least monthly. It's pretty sad, because the librarian already WON'T ORDER books she thinks will be challenged to begin with. Seriously.


Re: marshmallow peanut butter fudge

Date: 2015-01-27 03:09 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Remember those five pounds that caught up to me? They're going to have buddies, as soon as I hit the grocery store!

The library here is very, very conservative. I drive half an hour to a smaller town with its own library system and get REAL information.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2015-01-27 06:53 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Ideally, friends accept you as you are now, weather the changes as you discover new aspects of yourself, and encourage you to improve. Friendship should not be contingent on making less of you than you are, refusing to let you grow, or demanding that you conform to herd mentality.

All that is true, but the way it expresses as a Geek Fallacy is from the other direction -- "if you're REALLY my friend, you'll accept me without complaining about my flaws". Hence you get the Missing Stair phenomenon, or the creepy guy who keeps getting invited to group gatherings because "he's our FRIEND". (The second part of that overlaps with "exclusion is EVIL", which is another Geek Fallacy.)

Sambo's. Don't read the comments! And ye ghods, they lasted a lot longer than I thought. Maybe they were gone from Nashville by the time I moved there in 1972?

I donated $100 worth of science fiction/fantasy books (at used-bookstore prices!) to the library of the small private school where Russ' daughter went to middle school. I noticed it was a bit short in that area, and wanted to rectify the lack.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-28 01:40 am (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
Heh. The "accept you for who you are" is what made me cogitate on the idea of "be yourself". And for me, the better advice is don't try to be something you aren't.

A person can be in a bad way, and reacting badly, and their "self" might not be what they want to be, if they could step back and see their situation with wisdom and detachment. But trying to be something they're not won't generally help. Trying to be a better version of what they *are* is more likely to help, IMHO.

I sometimes think about "imagine there's a series of novels, The (yourname) Story. You might find there are times when the audience leans forward - *this* is where the protagonist usually *shines*. And there are times when the audience groans, 'oh no, not *again*, this never ends well!' If you can understand those things, you can sometimes write a better story for yourself."

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 03:46 am (UTC)
lb_lee: M.D. making a shocked, confused face (serious thought)
From: [personal profile] lb_lee
Sneak: Tiger butter is AWESOME! OM NOM NOM.

Rogan: Funnily, just yesterday, we found ourself looking up one of the books of our childhood, Balloonia. It was a pretty cute, harmless book, but godDAMN can it also be read as a creepy metaphor for childhood dissociation. It's all about this little girl turning into a balloon at night and drifting off into the sky, where there's a magical happy land of balloons where nothing ever goes wrong, but she can't stay there forever because children shrivel and deflate if they try. So before the night is over, she has to return to her bedroom.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I think we really loved that book when we were young.

Books

Date: 2015-01-27 06:21 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Sneak-- have a piece for me, when you get a chance?

Rogan-- I kind of agree with you, but I've written down the title to go looking for the book to read as well, and I wanted to say thank you for that! Especially if you're right; it's hard to find books that littles and bigs can read together and discuss! Most are so straightforward that re-reading them at all is kind of a chore.

Re: Books

Date: 2015-01-27 06:45 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
That was one way of talking about books, and yeah, I looked very hard, every week, for new things to read with the boys, but I could always find at least ONE book, and if I was lucky it was long enough to take at least a week to read.

I was actually thinking of something that a friend's System could read TOGETHER, which I'm told has to balance a lot of other factors, because sometimes the bigs don't want to be reading familiar stories TO the littles for various reasons, and a lot of the little don't read. I'll know whether to even suggest it after I read the story for myself, though.

Re: Books

Date: 2015-01-27 07:23 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Why wouldn't I be nice to them? Just because I'm a "lonely only"? Bah, that's no reason to be a horrible person. It's no odder to me than the number of siblings people grow up with, because that has huge effects on adult personalities!

Squish!

"Inside Out" seems like the inside of MY head often enough that I'm not going to throw stones. I think -and this is a guess, not science or psychology- that the only real difference is that (a) everything has /my/ mental voice, instead of several, and (b)it turns off and on depending on what I'm doing, rather than being a constant element to deal with.

Re: Books

Date: 2015-01-27 09:14 pm (UTC)
lb_lee: A happy little brain with a bandage on it, surrounded by a circle and the words LB Lee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] lb_lee
Yeah, Balloonia is pretty good, and the author, Audrey Wood, has worked with her husband on a bunch of other books we liked as kids. They were really prolific; one of the more famous ones was, "King Bidgood's in the Bathtub and He Won't Come Out." Lots of good stuff!

--Rogan

Re: Books

Date: 2015-01-27 09:32 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Thanks. Written them down for the next trip to the library!

Re: Books

Date: 2015-01-27 09:44 pm (UTC)
lb_lee: A picture of Sneak smiling (sneak)
From: [personal profile] lb_lee
Oh, and 'the Talking Eggs' by Jerry Pinkney and 'Library Lil' by Steven Kellogg too! Make sure you get the version of Library Lil with the wedding cake on the back cover!

--Sneak
Edited Date: 2015-01-27 09:44 pm (UTC)

Re: Books

Date: 2015-01-27 10:05 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
OH, thank you, Sneak!

I liked Jerry Pinkney as a read-aloud for my boys, but I don't think I've heard of "Library Lil," so that's GREAT for me. (Especially today, which kind of bummed me out.)

I actually keep pages in my notebook of "books to find" and just make checkmarks instead of scribbling titles out, so I can keep even a little bit of track of what I've read. It's GREAT to have different things to add.

Re: Books

Date: 2015-01-28 12:54 am (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a blue-shaded dyed egg (not enough blue in the world)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
I remember "King Bidgood's In The Bathtub"! Somebody set it to music. They played it for us in elementary school! "I know!" cried the page, and he pulled the plug... glub glub glub. XD

I need to get that one for the nieceling.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 04:57 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Been a long time since I read Little Black Sambo. I think I remember a slightly different version; probably a Golden Book abridgment.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-27 12:23 pm (UTC)
gingicat: drawing of me based on wedding photo (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
This poem definitely says a lot in a little. :)

Another terrific book is Cakes and Miracles.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-28 12:51 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
Growing up, I never knew the original name for the story Little Black Sambo. I knew it as 'Little Brave Sambo' until a conversation several years later. Mind you, I heard the version I knew on a Disney story collection circa the late 1980's.


I'm sorely tempted to get a copy of In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall for a coworker and her family. Said coworker and her husband are as white as I am (very), but their adopted daughters are African American. The next time one of them has a birthday... hmm.

more good reads for kids

Date: 2016-09-30 02:52 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
There's a children's book author who I learned about a few years ago, whose books I like very much, especially for younger kids (say, before age 10). His name is Mo Willems. I think his most famous book is, Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus. His "Elephant and Piggie" series is wonderful, imo; lots of interesting stories with topics like empathy and boundaries being addressed in positive ways.

Re: more good reads for kids

Date: 2016-09-30 03:16 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
The funniest part for me was when we got to the middle of the book, which is a two-page cartoon where the pigeon claims, "I'M NOT TIRED!" ... and the *kids* would crack up... totally not recognizing their own behavior, therein. :-) Every adult whom I ever saw read the book bursts out laughing at that point, too.

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