Falling Dormant, Waking Up

Note to readers (if this blog still has readers, that is):

Never, ever start a two-part blog post about race and children’s books when you are lost in the tunnels of your very real, very adult racial mid-life crisis. When the school bus driver’s confused stare, just a few seconds long, starts to stay in your mind’s eye for hours. When a row of maple trees might as well be a row of metal bars. When the path you’ve made with another person — every piece you snapped in place together, every willing compromise and good intention — obscures itself. And two things that never stood in the path before, blackness and whiteness, look so big you can’t see if the path continues on the other side.

My intention back in November was to blog about Hazel the Hedgehog, a vintage children’s book in which a brown and spikey hedgehog is banished from the barnyard by a posse of strangely blond farm animals. At a certain point, the mere act of picking up this book used to make Brian and I laugh out loud.

That was part I. Part II was to share a book that is Hazel’s antithesis: Spork, the uplifting tale of a mixed kitchen utensil.

I am going to share it now, here, because it’s a beautiful parable with beautiful pictures, and because Kyo Maclear, the book’s half-Japanese, half-British author, has her own beautiful story to tell about how this book came into being. (You can read about Maclear’s and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault’s upcoming book, Virginia Wolf, which addresses depression, here).

But as I look at this adorable spork of a child, searching for identity in the silverware drawer, I realize how drawn I am to his parents: the fork father and spoon mother “who thought he was perfect just the way he was.” They look so happy.

Do they argue about balancing Spork’s spoon heritage and fork heritage? If you are made of prongs, can you truly understand a round hollow? And if these utensils are a family, where can they all happily live? Because like much of America (still), drawer organizers tend to be segregated.

When you’ve written a children’s book that has been used as an allegory for everything from transgender identity to the Middle Way in Buddhism, and that educators use to introduce kids to philosophy, you have done something worthwhile. In an interview, Maclear said it took a common camping implement to get at the deeply personal messages she wanted to convey.

“When I conceived of this story, I knew I didn’t want the protagonist to be distinctly human . . . I wanted to avoid the ‘social studies’ approach to talking about these issues, which can become ponderous and joyless,” says Maclear, who lives in Canada with her husband and young daughter. “I definitely didn’t want to make my character purple or some arbitrary mixed color, because I find this trivializes the real historical and cultural experiences of being a person of color.”

When readers meet Spork, Maclear says, they are disarmed. I have no idea if Sky and Rose consciously see their mixed selves when I read this book to them. But I know they root for Spork, and I know more than anything they love how it all ends.

Removed from anxieties about race, class, ethnicity, sexuality or any number of other dividing lines, Maclear says, adults and children suddenly find themselves able to explore what it means to be different, and what it means to belong. “Sometimes,” she says, “we need a new language, and fresh words.”

If there is a better guiding principle when it comes to race, I can’t think of one. Yes, there are deep injustices to battle. There are presidential candidates who have figured out how to divide across color and culture, and there are families still trying to figure out how to love across color and culture . But so many of these things hinge on the stories we tell ourselves, or have told ourselves for too long. Sometimes we need a new language. And fresh words.

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10 Comments

  1. KJH
    Posted – Feb 1 at   | Permalink | Reply

    Yes, I’m still reading your blog. Thank you for another insightful entry.

  2. Allison
    Posted – Feb 1 at   | Permalink | Reply

    Absolutely still reading. So glad to see you in my inbox.

  3. Posted – Feb 1 at   | Permalink | Reply

    You are a part of my Igoogle, when you post, I read it.

  4. Karen
    Posted – Feb 1 at   | Permalink | Reply

    Wish we were neighbors…

  5. Posted – Feb 3 at   | Permalink | Reply

    I, too, am still reading! And now I am putting Spork on my “to read” list…and sending thoughts of peace and strength to you. Sounds like you are wrestling with a lot of demons. I hope you find some comfort soon.

  6. Posted – Feb 4 at   | Permalink | Reply

    I’m still reading. I love your blog and the way you write. Thanks for telling us about this book.

  7. Laura M.
    Posted – Feb 14 at   | Permalink | Reply

    I just started reading you via Honeysmoke and you are now on my blog reader because of me reading this post. 🙂 I can’t wait to check out Spork at the library. 😀

    • Posted – Feb 15 at   | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks so much, Laura! I appreciate the support! Let me know what you think of Spork when you get a chance to read it . . . Caramels

One Trackback

  1. […] race, and children’s books. So here is part two on Spork, from Caramels on Maple Street: https://caramelsonmaplestreet.com/2012/02/01/falling-dormant-waking-up/ Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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