Celebrating Diversity Through Reading: A Live Storytelling Series

November 13, 2020

 

Celebrating Diversity Through Reading is a virtual storytelling series featuring various authors and children’s books about race, diversity, and inclusion. Held weekly on Thursdays at 4:30pm CST, this series invites individuals to engage and learn about different topics through an interactive and creative session!

This series was started in June by Kimberly Jimenez and Varee Saetang, the community engagement interns in the Houston Regional Office. The idea began as a way to integrate books that represent a variety of cultures and backgrounds into our initiatives. Attendees would also have the opportunity to hear authors reading their stories live, along with a Q&A session and an interactive and creative activity.

The activities in Celebrating Diversity Through Reading allow individuals to participate in the  #CreateForUNICEF campaign through artistic expression and reflection. During these challenging times, #CreateForUNICEF invites individuals to channel their energy positively by using creativity to produce something and dedicate it to young people in the world. We recognize that creativity can manifest itself in many forms: fashion, painting, coloring, singing, dancing, writing and even cooking. 

Here, we would like to highlight our events and share all of the wonderful moments and memories that made each event meaningful and unique.

Session 1: M is for Melanin

Our first event was held on Thursday, July 23rd, featuring author and illustrator Tiffany Rose and her book, M is for Melanin: The Celebration of the Black Child. Each page of the alphabet book contained  affirming, Black-positive messages, from E is empowerment, to L is for Lead, to W is for worthy.

The reading of this fun and colorful book led to questions from participants about Tiffany’s inspiration for the book, and she shared “I hope this book gives children a positive sense of self  in this book. And also see that other people’s skin tones are worthy of being put into books and being celebrated as well”.

Following the read aloud, Tiffany led an engaging drawing tutorial on expressive characters, as she drew a character with bright purple hair, mix-matched shoes, and vibrant patterns.

Session 2: Justice Makes a Difference

Written by Dr. Artika Tyner, Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter Esquire is the inspiring story of one young girls’ realization that her name is her destiny.

In this superhero themed session, participants learned about important women and men throughout history who changed the world: Shirley Chisholm, Dr. Wangari Maathai, Paul Robeson, and Ida B. Wells. During the Q&A, Dr. Tyner shared her experience of being an advocate for justice and gave inspiring advice for participants to become changemakers in their own communities.

Session 3: Chocolate Milk, Por Favor

Our third session featured author Maria Dismondy and her book, Chocolate Milk, Por Favor. This book is about Gabe, a boy who just moved to America and doesn’t speak any English. This story shows how a simple act of kindness is worth more than a thousand words.

Inspired by a true story on Maria’s experiences as a teacher, she expresses how kindness is a universal language, and how we can practice empathy in our everyday lives. To understand how our words can impact others, Maria led an activity where participants drew a heart on a piece of paper, which symbolized kind and thoughtful words. She asked everyone to crumble their paper, to show what happens when we hear negative words. When we unraveled the paper, we realized that the paper will never be the same as it was beforehand, just as negative words can have a lasting impact on others.

Session 4: We Are the Water Protectors

Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We are Water Protectors issues an urgent cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption. Anishinabe/Metis author Carole Lindstrom discusses the importance in protecting Earth’s most sacred resource from harm and corruption.

Carole’s bold and lyrical book prompted attendees to draw and share what natural resource they would like to protect. A participant (Sahasra) showed her beautiful drawing of a coconut tree, sharing that she wants to protect trees because of how much they do for our Earth.

During the Q&A, participant Savannah, expressed how inspiring Carole’s book was to her as an Indigenous person herself, and how amazing it is to see her identity and culture represented in a children’s book. Savannah and Carole also taught attendees how to say “miigwech”, meaning thank you in Ojibwe.

Session 5: A Kids Book About Racism

Our fifth session featured A Kids Book About Racism, written by author and publisher Jelani Memory. The read aloud was very impactful in bringing up topics of what racisim is, how it makes people feel, and how to spot it when it happens.

Following the read-aloud, Jelani led an activity asking participants to create their own mini “A Kids Book About” story. Attendees had the freedom to choose any topic they wanted  and use a guided format to create their story. Several participants shared their powerful stories, such as: A Kids Book About Being Non-Binary, A Kids Book About Traveling,  and a A Kids Book About  Leadership. One youth participant read his story, A Kids Book about Anxiety , expressing, “The most important thing to know about anxiety is everyone gets anxious sometimes. So its a normal feeling. One thing I learned from anxiety is its okay to be anxious.”

Hearing the stories from our participants was such a profound experience, and we hope these stories can continue inspiring others as they did during this session.

Session 6: When Everything was Everything

For our sixth session, author Saymoukda Vongsay read her book When Everything was Everything. This book is a memoir of Saymoukda’s life, as it shares the details of Southeast humanity and celebrates Lao American Refugee stories. Saymoukda’s enthusiasm brought excitement as she asked attendees to search for all the foods in her book as she was reading. After the read aloud, Cori Lin, the illustrator of the book, leads a drawing activity where everyone draws a picture of an item but in three different points of view, from a bird’s, to worm’s and a human’s point of view.

Session 7: Omar El Jaguar

Our seventh session featured Spanish book, Omar el jaguar, a story that embraces diversity in friendships, and showcases Hispanic culture and animals native to South America. Author Andrea Olatunji reads her story in both Spanish and English, allowing the audience to hear the story in both languages and give an opportunity for individuals who don’t speak Spanish to learn new words.

The session invited participants to embrace their culture and language resulting in individuals asking questions and engaging in Spanish. Attendee Jonathan shared ¡Me encanta tu libro con tantos animales y colores también! I love your book with all of the colorful animals!

Participants were also able to channel their creativity through a paper ‘molas’ activity. Inspired by the stitching of fabric designs from Panama, author Andrea led a tutorial on how attendees could create their own Omar, el jaguar mola from construction paper.

Session 8: Black Barbie

UK-based author Comfort Arthur read her newly released book Black Barbie as a part of our eighth session of Celebrating Diversity Through Reading. During the reading, Comfort shares her own experiences with harmful beauty standards, and how important representation is. She shares, “I hope everybody can read it, relate to it, and love who they are. Don’t let society tell you that you're not beautiful.”

This lively book led to discussions of self-love and representation, and allowed participants to create their own mini Haiku poetry books, based on social issues. A young attendee (Emma) shares her short poem titled, Everybody is Beautiful.

Session 9: The Colors of Us

The ninth session of Celebrating Diversity Through Reading was a pre-recorded event that is a fantastic opportunity for attendees to watch and participate however they choose to in their own time. In a video, author Karen Katz read her book, The Colors Of Us, a story that celebrates the differences and similarities in each person. In the book, seven-year old Lena learns there are many different colors of people, and that’s what makes each person unique.

At the end of the reading, Karen Katz suggests that attendees at home can draw a self-portrait of themselves and think about “what makes you, you!”.

Session 10: A Kids Book About Empathy

Author Daron K. Roberts read his book, A Kids Book About Empathy for the tenth session of our series. This important book taught our audience what empathy is, and how they can feel “with” someone and not just for them. Daron talked about his passion for writing, and how he came to write this book from his own personal experience with empathy.

There was much positivity in this session as attendees from all ages came together in a compelling conversation about compassion and how everyone can benefit from being empathetic towards others.

'Celebrating Diversity Through Reading' -  A live storytelling event has been a wonderful experience and joy to participate in. Thank you for providing this unique opportunity. I was hooked after the first author and looked forward to each session. There is nothing better than reading a children's book or any book aloud to anyone but especially to children. The big bonus was that authors of the books read rhem to us with the original expression and meaning they meant to convey. It was fascinating and inspiring. Every author's passion for their writing became obvious. I was amazed in the insight into their inspiration to change the world and make it a better place that resonated in the Q&A portion after the reading. All the authors were excellent, the topics spot on and timely. The activties were also great. Who knew I could paint on a canvas or decorate a letter. I have enjoyed the children in attendance, especially their questions and contributions. Congratulations UNICEF USA team on a job well done and for making one day of the week very special for all of us. You have empowered people to write, share, and embrace reading together.                                                                                                                          -- Susan Sanchez

Session 11: Beyoncé: Shine Your Light

Our last session was on October 30th, featuring author Sarah Warren and her book, Beyoncé: Shine Your Light. This dazzling picture book biography shares the inspiring story of Beyoncé and how she followed her dreams. This book aims to empower everyone to shine their inner light like Beyoncé!

Following the read aloud, Sarah had Q&A and leading an exciting draw-along activity!

Thank you to all of our authors for collaborating with us and contributing to our series. Your books have shared wonderful messages to our audience and have made a substantial impact on us all. We would also like to thank the attendees and supporters for your incredible engagement and participation. On behalf of UNICEF USA staff, we extend our greatest gratitude to everyone who has made these events possible, together, we hope to continue inspiring readers everywhere!

UNICEF UNITE Houston has always been active and speak up! If you are willing to learn more about the UNICEF USA Houston UNITE or to join the team, please contact the Olivera Jankovska. Community Engagement Associate for the Southwest Region at ojankovska@unicefusa.org or the Regional Office at houston@unicefunite.org