I’M YOUR NEIGHBOR is the name of a website and a concept. Kirsten Cappy is the creator. Ann Sibley O’Brien and I are on the I’m-Your-Neighbor team, and we’re writers of books that Kirsten features on this new site which is about creating events around children’s and YA books. The events are designed to serve as a bridge between new Americans and the community that is their new home. I met Kirsten in Chicago – well, I already knew Kirsten in Maine, but one evening in Chicago, I came to understand her and our mutual I’m Your Neighbor passion. Annie and I were sitting with Kirsten in our hotel room on the 13th floor overlooking the community of guests gathered in the center lobby below. We had come to present at the International Reading Association conference and we were practicing our presentation. We already knew what Annie and I were going to say, but Kirsten was still writing her comments on the plane flying west. So over abundant snacks from Jet Blue, we each ran through our Keynote talks with our ipads.
Kirsten’s turn came. She decided to read hers to us and said she was still putting the photos in order. She began and Annie and I were spellbound. Kirsten described that she decided to leave her marketing job, working with many bookstores in NYC. She was going to focus her work and had accepted a job with a single store in Portland, Maine. One clear September day, she was driving north on the interstate on her way to Maine when she heard the news of the men who boarded a plane in Portland and committed the acts of terror at the World Trade Center. She continued the journey in a world that was transforming as she drove.
Difficult days passed. Then Kirsten described a book fair she had set up and presented at a Portland school. She brought excellent books – classics and books she knew readers loved. A student approached her wearing a headscarf and asked if she had a book about Muslims. Kirsten didn’t and knew that even back at the store she didn’t. Another student asked for a book about Pakistan. She didn’t have any books about Pakistan. She was challenged to research and attempt to find books for the diverse students in Portland’s schools.
Years later she coordinated the visit to Portland of students from Muslim countries for the Middle East Partnership Initiative. Using children’s books featuring people of the Muslim and Christian faiths, she created events to bring Christian and Muslim families together.
The idea of creating models to use literature to bring people of different cultures into conversation and sharing was taking shape.
We listened in the hotel room to Kirsten’s personal journey. Her story still stays with me as she told it that first time. Annie, Kirsten, and I are continuing to build I’M YOUR NEIGHBOR. Annie brings the extraordinary stories of books she creates in collaboration with families of new Americans, including Path of Stars and Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle. She also brings her ongoing research about racial identity featured in her blog, Coloring Between the Lines. I bring the story of my writing of The Good Braider and my work with the NH Humanities Council to create a bilingual Nepali-English folktale with new neighbors from Bhutan.
We are very excited about the site. Please follow us at I’M YOUR NEIGHBOR. And tell us about your own successful projects.