Whoever Tells the Story
Defines the Culture

June 19, 2020

Today is Juneteenth. The year is 2020. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year we start to see clearly.

As an adult, I LOVE children’s books. When I was in my 20’s working in the big city for Corporate America, I used to spend my lunch hour in Stacy’s Bookstore looking through children’s books. I find them beautiful and meaningful.

As a new mother, home alone all day with an infant who required a lot of work but was not exactly company, I would read stories. I would sit on the floor, cross-legged, sit her up in the hollow of my lap, and read book after book to her. We practically lived at the library where we started the lap-sit storytime at the earliest possible age (she was 6 months old). It was the librarian there that said this phrase that has stayed with me through these past 11 years.

Whoever tells the story, defines the culture.

Books are a huge part of my family’s life. My husband and I read to our kids each night (they are now 9 and 11), Halloween costumes are often based on favorite characters from books, and we’ve have many literature themed birthday parties (the Percy Jackson birthday party we threw in 3rd grade is still talked about 2 years later).

What culture is our story defining?
We find that much of kids’ inspiration in their ‘making’ endeavors comes from imaginative play and much of their imaginative play comes from the books, movies, and television shows they watch. At TinkerSpace and in our home, we often base our projects around favorite picture books and middle-grade fiction. Art is a way of processing our feelings and understanding of the world around us.

Three projects to bring literature to life:

  • Read a picture book and make art in that illustrator’s style.
  • Read a poem and then illustrate it yourself.
  • Read a middle-grades book and choose a particular scene to represent. This can be in comic book form, illustration, or even a diorama.

Choose your Author/Illustrator
These activities could be done with any favorite book, but let me suggest you celebrate Juneteenth (or any day of the year) by choosing a black author or illustrator. You get to define the culture by the choices you make.

My favorite illustrator right now is Christopher Myers. I love his collage work. Jabberwocky is a personal favorite as he takes Lewis Carroll’s famous poem and illustrates it with a basketball game. This is an amazing example and the inspiration for my suggestion to illustrate a poem.

Langston Hughes has many short, meaningful poems that could be the jumping-off point for illustrating a poem that has cultural relevance.

Some favorite middle-grades fiction includes ‘The Season of Styx Malone’ by Kekla Magoon, ‘The Parker Inheritance’ by Varian Johnson, and ‘Ghost Boys’ by Jewel Parker Rhodes.

Clicking on the books in this post will take you to Amazon (as an amazon affiliate, TinkerSpace receives a small portion of your purchase which supports us and in no way affects the price you pay), however, I recommend requesting these books from your local library. Particularly if you live in an area with a small black community. The more books by black authors and illustrators are requested by patrons, the more books will be ordered by the library. Librarians, television producers, and moviemakers hold a huge role in defining this country’s culture. We need to give them as much input as we can.


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