Saturday, January 14, 2006

Harlem On My Mind: Children's Literature, Dinner At Aunt Connie's House

From "Faith Ringgold grew up during the Depression years and was nurtured by hope. Now she creates bold, brilliant children's books that shine with color. Ringgold celebrates the hope that once nurtured her, and offers it to children living in another difficult era. Ringgold's finds a new freedom when she writes for children. "One of the things you can do so well with children is to blend fantasy and reality. Kids are ready for it, they don't have to have everything lined up and real. It's not that they don't know it's not real, they just don't care." Dinner at Aunt Connie's House (1993, Hyperion, Ages 6 and up, $14.95) Ringgold's third children's book, is a story built on concentric rings of hope. First, Ringgold offers hope to Lonnie, an orphan newly adopted by Aunt Connie. The story is told by his cousin Melody, who falls "in love with him the first time I saws him." Not only does Ringgold sustain Lonnie with a caring cousin and the magic of immediate relationship, she fortifies him with the strong Swahili proverb "A good tree grows among thorns." Readers get the sense that he's taken the strength to heart. During a game of hide-and-seek, Lonnie and Melody discover portraits created by their Aunt Connie. From the walls of Aunt Connie's attic gallery, twelve African-American women speake with an inspiration as strong as Ringgold's art. Ringgold introduces children to Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist; sculptor Augusta Savage; actress Dorothy Dandridge, and others including well-known figures like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. All the women faced difficult situations and have an important message of hope to bring to today's children.
Ringgold believes, "since we are going to encounter scary situations, we need reinforcement when we do. We need to be aware that life is very scary. We also need to understand what other people have gone through in their lives-to understand who they are and why they are as they are. Children learn by seeing people doing things. If all they see are people that don't try, it's going to be difficult for them to try. People who reinforce us in these desperate times are to be celebrated, like Harriet Tubman, they came through." Ringgold's art provides her with hope too. "Hope isn't something you get, and then you've got it, and you don't need it anymore. You need a daily dose of it. Sometimes you need it three, four, five times a day."
Here's part of the book in slide show form

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