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Women Writing About War via @PatFurstenberg #war #women #writerslife #literature #books

The question I was asked most often after publishing “Silent Heroes” was: why I wrote a book about war?

To me, “Silent Heroes” is a book that asked to be written. The idea behind it began to germinate in my mind long ago. It took over two years of research and assiduous work for this book to see the printing press.

Having lived through a Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc, I can see that the power of historical knowledge is often overlooked. From my point of view, the situation in Afghanistan is of global interest. There are many similar historical hot spots throughout the world. My interest in the War in Afghanistan was stirred on understanding what a major influence the use of military dogs has on the lives of civilians. Most books written on this subject are from a military or political perspective. A retelling of true facts. I wanted to create a work of fiction that will appeal as well as stir emotions, something plausible, yet appealing to a wider category of readers.

We tend to read a book from the perspective of our own experiences. Some books, after reading them, manage to change the way we see our own life – and this is what I tried to achieve with “Silent Heroes”. Find out more about the symbolism behind its pages here.

I would rather have you ask me “why I wrote ‘Silent Heroes’, rather than “why I wrote a book on war”.

Women writers wrote about war many times over. But how many are know?

War is a part of life. As in life, there is fear in war, but there is also resilience and a raw lucidity in it.

War draws in all kinds of people, men and women, children and elderly, rich and poor. War stamps its tattoo on their lives, no questions asked, by killing their loved ones, by forcing them to relocate, to give up the mere life necessities in order to survive. To give up life, as they knew it, in order to stay alive.

Most war literature I came across during my lifetime and while researching for “Silent Heroes” and for “Joyful Trouble” before it was written by men. True accounts of battle and hardship. “War and Peace” by Russian author Leo Tolstoy must be the best known war novel. I have enjoyed Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and loved, for its epic descriptions and sensitivity in portraying human beings and raw emotions, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” in which an entire generation was wiped out by the Civil War.

The question that inevitably rose was:

what is the major difference between a war story written by a woman and one written by a man?

And I don’t mean linguistic differences.

When reading a book written by a woman, I tend to feel closer to the author than when to a male author. I find their writing style more interactive. This aspect does not involve characters, but the overall feeling I get when reading -reading for pleasure.

Male authors tend to focus on conveying information, on the courage of the soldiers, on their super-human acts and vigor and less on the emotions that trigger or haunt them. On the intensity of their pain, the taste of their passion, the gut feeling.

From a sociology-cultural point of view we are a product of our upbringing and of the society we live in. Considering ideological factors and forces, we are a product of our interactions with and of our reactions to society. It is only normal that this will reflect in a writer’s work.

What about the communications style?

Will the fact that men and women have a different communication style reflect in their writing? Much like a piece of art or a music sheet reflect the author’s core structure.

On the other hand, writing is very much a products of our biographical reading. Which brings us back to our upbringing, influencing us in everything we do.

But since we only speak of the war theme here, I think that this difference shows in the type of relationships the characters tend to built with one another.

If you look at a novel as it would be a river, I tend to see a woman’s writing running smoothly, in a fluid movement, while a man’s is almost bubbling in it’s banks. But this is only my own imaginary.

War stories are a two way narrative.

War involves those who actively take part in it and those who are sucked in it, no choice given. Soldiers and civilians. And civilians, too, deserve to be heard. Their emotions should be given a voice, too.

But what if we don’t know if a book was written by a man or a woman? Would we still be able to spot the difference? And how will that knowledge influence our perception of the book?

Again, we only look at war books here.

We are past the women’s rise to prominence during the mid-nineteenth century and past the women’s rights movements.

Do women still need to prove themselves by writing about war?

War is a topic monopolized by men authors throughout the centuries.

Four years ago The Guardian published an interesting article, “Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds“, VIDA being a group of volunteers interested in drawing attention to gender inequality in the field of book reviewing. The results of the study shows that men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review; three times more often in the London Review of Books; The Times Literary Supplement and others had worse numbers.

If reputable publications involved in book reviewing choose less books by women, will this influence the reader’s / buyer’s choice and view of books written by women?

My view on this subject may be biased as I am both a woman and a woman writer penning stories about war. Yet I feel that little is known about war stories written by women.

Amazing fiction books on war written by women

  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (for the vivid image of how much the American Civil War changed people’s lives and characters)
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (an entire generation changed by WW1)
  • The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (for its hypnotic details of the Sri Lankan Civil War)
  • The Gold Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell (for depicting so truthfully the surviving nature of women during the Iraq War)
  • Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (filled with the human sensitivity that often escapes WW2 written by an author who, sadly, died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz)
  • Nella Last’s war by Nella Last, an inside view of WW2 from a civilian’s point of view.
  • The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (a touching tale of teenagers’ experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces)
  • The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (an amazing novel about the Vietnam War).
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (although an autobiography, is a must-read portrayal of the Holocaust)
  • Transcription by Kate Atkinson (a great spy novel of WW2)
  • The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (a great historical fiction set during WW2 London)
  • Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian (an amazing WW2 read for children over the age of 10, especially boys)
  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (set during the WW2 occupation of Ukraine and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018)
  • Good Evening, Mrs Craven: Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Donnes (short stories written during WW2)
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht (set during in an unnamed Balkan country experiencing a rebirth after the collapse of communism).
  • Can you Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami how three women survive the rise of the Sikh separatists in India).
  • Sparta by Roxana Robinson (about a war veteran’s battle with PTSD after the Iraq War).
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (for the humanity shared by different cultures when held hostage by terrorists)
  • Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg (on the strong connections between US Marines and the Afghan civilians during the Afghanistan War).
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5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for via @PatFurstenberg #travel #castle #monument #history #culture

Whenever I read a book depicting real locations, actual places I can find on a map, a novel in which genuine artwork is described, and tangible, concrete buildings I know I can also visit are part of its setting, I tend to be more immersed in its story-line. The storytelling becomes more credible and, if by chance or choice, I visit those place I find myself immersed in that particular book again and, often, I pick it up and read it again.

On researching location for my latest novel, “Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” I discovered a few sensational places; some new to me, secrets buried by history and war, others I have heard of but had not known how inspirational and amazing they were. I know, now, that I’d like to visit them all, one day when traveling to Afghanistan for tourism will be a safe endeavor once again.

1. Buddhas of Bamyan

The two Buddhas of Bamyan - the taller and the smaller one, as they once stood since their construction around 500AD and before the Taliban attack in March 2001
The two Buddhas of Bamyan – the taller and the smaller one, as they once stood since their construction around 500AD and before the Taliban attack in March 2001 – Source Wikipedia

“The Taliban did not succeed in wiping out the two Buddhas, but they became unrecognizable as the figures they once were. A cultural, religious, historical and entomological symbol and landmark.
It was a bleak day in human history when something that watched over the valley for 1 500 years was destroyed in a matter of weeks.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

The Buddhan of Bamyan were two colossal statues carved during the 6th century into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley, once along the Silk Road, in the central highlands of Afghanistan, 230 km NW of Kabul, its capital city.

The bodies of the Buddhas were carved in the mountain cliff, while delicate details have been modeled out of mud and straw and coated with stucco for resistance. The faces, hands, and folds of the Buddhas’ robes were painted for an enhanced effect. The big Buddha, 53 m tall, was painted carmine red while the smaller Buddha, 35 m tall, was painted in multiple colors. They represented the Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni.

“Taliban forces operating in Afghanistan had destroyed these colossal statues in March 2001. They started by damaging the Buddha with anti-aircraft firearms and cannons. Yet the damage inflicted was not enough for the Taliban. They returned with anti-tank mines that they placed at the statues bases. When sections of rock broke off, the statues suffered further damage.

And still, they did not stop here.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Destruction of Buddhas March 21 2001. Source Wikipedia
Destruction of Buddhas March 21 2001. Source Wikipedia

“The Taliban dropped men down the face of the cliff. They had placed explosives into the various grooves found in the Buddhas. The plan was clear, to completely destroy the facial features of the two statues. Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran: Islam condemns idolatry. When one of the blasts could not destroy the facial features of one statue, a rocket was used in its place. It left a hideous gap in whatever was left of the Buddha’s head.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Taller Buddha of Bamiyan before and after destruction. Source, Wikipedia
Taller Buddha of Bamiyan before and after destruction. Source, Wikipedia

But there is hope.

7 June 2015: Xinyu Zhang and Hong Liang , a Chinese adventurist couple, created a 3D image of the Buddhas and donated projector used for the installation, worth at $120 000. The 3D projection was able to fill once more the void cavities where the two majestic Buddhas once stood.

2. Qala-e Bost Fortress

“Qala-e-Boost or Bost Fort is the remnant of Alexander the Great’s Fortress in Afghanistan. What still stands today from this millennial old fortress is an impressive ruin. Helmand’s crown jewel is located on the east bank of the Helmand River, near Lashkar Gah, a city in southwestern Afghanistan and the capital of Helmand Province.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

Lashkargah, or Lashkar Gah, means “army barracks” in Persian language.

Qala-e-Bost, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia
Qala-e-Bost, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia

“The stones of Qala-e-Boost have seen wars as well as the joys of celebrations. They have known wealth and ruin. Early hymns of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest religions in the world, were once performed here. One of them was the Nowruz, the famous ceremony dedicated to the Sun and marking the Iranian New Year and the Spring Equinox. Along the years Bost fortress has been used as a guard post for the traditional caravan trade from Iran to India. The Mongols, then the Persians have been here too, then the Arabs, even the Russians. Leaders and warriors came here as attested by the terracotta figurines, the inscribed seals, and the many coins discovered here, and then they left. Still, Bost remained.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
The famous arch at Qala-i-Bust or Bost, in Helmand. Source Wikipedia
The famous arch at Qala-i-Bust or Bost, in Helmand. Source Wikipedia

” At noontime, the sun spat yellow venom over the desert surrounding the ruins of the Qala-e-Bost fortress, over this war-cursed land where a misconceived culture and an overpowering international necessity to meddle fatalistically merged, long-stalling the Afghan peace process.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

What is amazing about Qala-e-Bost Fortress is not what is visible above the ground, but what is hidden underneath, the entire Bost castle, 5 levels, being in the shape of a well hidden underground.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress as seen in“Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for"
Qala-e-Bost Fortress as seen in“Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for”

“As an eerie glow spread over the flat expanse of sand, from his high point Marcos caught a glimpse of what Qala-e-Bost’s crumbling walls would have been in its time of glory. No longer a ghostly silhouette, a mere reminder of an existence long forgotten, but a castle again.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

I researched so much about this underground castle that stood the test of time. It would be incredible to walk its corridors, to see the light bouncing from the walls of its shaft, to hear the echoes of history as it was buried in its secret rooms.

3. An Afghan garden

Gardening says a lot about the nurturing abilities of a person. When an entire population has a gift for gardening it means that they have peace in their hearts and know the value of life.

An Afghan garden
An Afghan garden

I was amazed to discover how much gardening means to the Afghan people and how connected they are to their roots, to the soil of Afghanistan, nurturing or arid. How inventive the Afghans proved to be, making the best out of each situation, when it comes to gardens.

I tried to depict their nurturing nature in the pages of “Silent Heroes“.

“Afghans are gardeners at heart, did you know? Before they are mujahideen or insurgents or Taliban-bloody-criminals, they love to garden.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

4. A Military Base in Afghanistan

Military camp at Bagram, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia
Military camp at Bagram, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia

During the two years plus it took me to research and write “Silent Heroes” I researched in depth the living conditions of the US Marines deployed in Afghanistan and of all the military fighting there.

2012 army photo competition.Amateur Portrait category runner-up Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West.Picture Captain Richard Willing MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images
Army Photographic Competition 2012. In this handout image supplied by the Ministry of Defence Crown Copyright, photo entitled ‘LIGHTNING AND HIS HANDLER’, depicting Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West. (Army Amateur Portrait category runner up; Photo by Captain Richard Willing/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images)

What is outstanding is the level of organization and, at the same time, the little comfort these amazing soldiers put up with every day in order to do their duty towards their own countries and to keep peace for us all.

And anything reminding them of home is treasured. Like the small American flag in the image below.

A U.S. Marine looks out from his post in September at Bost airfield in Helmand province. Andrew Renneisen-Getty Images
A U.S. Marine looks out from his post in September at Bost airfield in Helmand province. Andrew Renneisen-Getty Images

“Between the building and the sheet of the tent was a corridor-wide enough for a human to pass through, two would have to negotiate. From a drain pipe facing the main door hung a small size American flag, the one civilians wave on the 4th of July, its sole purpose of connecting them with home.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

5. A field of poppies

In Afghanistan, poppies – opium poppies – mean death and poverty. I, “Silent Heroes” I tried to explain the vicious cycle that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan means. It was fascinating to learn how it started, why, and what its consequences meant for the Afghan population as well as internationally.

A soldier walking past a poppy field in Afghanistan
A soldier walking past a poppy field in Afghanistan

“The hamlet’s reputation of frightfulness came from the complete lack of vegetation. As if the poppy field that once flourished nearby sucked away any drop of water that might have concentrated in the adjacent earth, like some type of incongruous alien.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

International affairs and their local implications are never as simple as they appear at the beginning.

“So ‘The Golden Triangle’ (Burma, Thailand, Laos) was soon replaced by ‘The Golden Crescent’ (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran).”

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
World Map Opium Heroin. Golden Triangle. Golden Crescent. Source Wikipedia
World Map Opium Heroin. Golden Triangle. Golden Crescent. Source Wikipedia

Still, there is something magical about a field of poppies. I think that poppies seeds, with their ability to remain dormant throughout the years, are a fantastic representation of what hope and resilience is all about. Never give up.

Maybe because poppy has a long association with Remembrance Day. Why? Scarlet poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed, arid earth throughout the world. Poppies grew naturally after the Napoleonic wars of the 19th Century and again on battlefields of WW1.

An old, happy short-haired pointer dog in a poppy field at sunset
An old, happy short-haired pointer dog in a poppy field at sunset

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

I hope you enjoyed reading about the five locations that inspired and amazed me while writing “Silent Heroes“.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg

Do you have a favorite place you read about in a book?

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Symbolism in Silent Heroes, the Story behind it via @PatFurstenberg #symbolism #fiction #history #writerslife

I still remember attending my first lecture on symbolism . My own studies were as far from literature and art as the moon is from the man who occupies it.

I was studying medical dentistry when a friend and I went to the University of History and Art to attend a lecture on symbolism in art. It was late one evening when we opened the massive door leading to a cosmic-size amphitheater packed with excited faces.

Happiness can be found anywhere. Sometimes you just need to search harder or ask for someone to help you discover it. A US Marine, his MWD, military working dog and Afghan boys.
Happiness can be found anywhere. Sometimes you just need to search harder or ask for someone to help you discover it. A US Marine, his MWD, military working dog and Afghan boys.

Used to look at dead bodies laying on an autopsy table, to squint inside them while trying to discern the shriveled femoral nerve from the already gray artery, I was struck by the excitement short-circuiting everyone attending the lecture and the amount of information hidden in plain view, underneath layers of colorful paint.

I was hooked and, although I may not have earned a degree in art, the keen interest in symbolism has sipped into my pores for good.

Symbology - 'In God we Trust'.  (Army Photographic Competition 2012 - Pro Portfolio winner; Photo by SSgt Nesbit RLC/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images)
‘In God we Trust’. (Army Photographic Competition 2012 – Pro Portfolio winner; Photo by SSgt Nesbit RLC/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images) These include a simple disk with a cross cut out which he wore with his identity (Dog) tags, and an American coin dated 1988, the year of his birth. The soldier who wanted to remain unidentified carried these with him all the time whilst he served in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 15 for luck.

Was symbolism introduced in “Silent Heroes” intentionally?

On writing “Silent Heroes” I did not plan to include symbolism. It wasn’t a voluntary act, like research had been, or plotting the outline of the story, building my characters. Including symbolical elements was a work of my sly subconscious mind. It’s been the work of my cerebellum, you can say. Anatomy having its own play over art.

I do not expect readers to pick up on the symbolism used or to interpret it in the same way. I think this is very much connected to how our minds are wired. Some of us see things that others don’t, because they are not important to them. I does not mean that the first group hallucinates, or that the second group is inattentive.

The Purple Sunbird, (Cinnyris asiaticus) is found in the dry zone from the Arabian Peninsula into Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan until the dry zone of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The Purple Sunbird, (Cinnyris asiaticus) is found in the dry zone from the Arabian Peninsula into Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan until the dry zone of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Has symbolism in “Silent Heroes” been consciously manipulated at any stage during the writing process?

Now, this would imply that, at some stage during the writing of “Silent Heroes“, I picked up on some symbols introduced in the story-line. Which I did. Once I became conscious of the implications these symbolism will have on the narrative, I kept developing that thread. I did not removed it, since it was introduced organically and not voluntarily.

I felt that if I will remove the symbols, the story will be less rich, the characters, at least some of them, will lose their credibility. And myself, as a writer, will lose the passion for the telling of the story of these “Silent Heroes“, passion that had fueled me for over two years.

A book thrown in the dust.
A book thrown in the dust.

Can other symbols be discovered in “Silent Heroes”?

Other symbols, besides the ones my subconscious mind placed and my conscious mind picked up? I believe so, as I trust the reader’s creative minds as well as the connection I hope they will establish this book.

Lady Tulip - Tulipa clusiana From Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the western Himalayas
Lady Tulip – Tulipa clusiana From Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the western Himalayas

Is symbolism for real?

Is air real? Is the language we speak real? Is the sky blue? Humans have a innate ability and desire for creating things out of nothing. Buildings out of dust, worlds out of words, art out of dreams.

And humans also need to communicate. Writers communicate through their books. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication. Symbols used by artists, and therefore by writers, are placed – subconsciously or not – to help channel the results of their work. The end product. Much like a painter creating a portrait, an architect, a building that lasts, writers stir their stories using symbols, where appropriate.

The journey a writer takes when creating a book is anchored in his dreams and imagination, but it is stirred by the hidden symbolism which is also a product of his own mind.

A gardener and his garden in Afghanistan. Afghans are avid garners.
A gardener and his garden in Afghanistan. Afghans are avid garners.

Images of symbolism in “Silent Heroes” *****SPOILER ALERT*****

Without spoiling the plot, I will list a few of the symbols I unconsciously introduced in my latest work of fiction “Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for”.

An Afghan butterfly on a soldier's sleeve.
An Afghan butterfly on a soldier’s sleeve.

You do not have to read past this point if you have not read “Silent Heroes” yet. You can have a sneak peek here.

You could skip the very short, last paragraph, and return to it after reading “Silent Heroes”.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Faith Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes, When Love and Faith Are Worth Fighting for

Some of the symbols found in “Silent Heroes” are:

Qala-e-Bost Fortress, Afghanistan
Qala-e-Bost, Afghansitan

The blue bird.

The book in the dust.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress.

Poppy flowers.

The Afghan garden.

What do they symbolize?

I suggest you don’t go past this point if you haven’t read “Silent Heroes” yet. First read the book, then return and see if your thoughts and mine converge.

Symbolism in Silent Heroes
Symbolism in Silent Heroes

To me, the blue bird symbolizes the spirit of Emma’s mother, as well as hope in another chance for happiness. A reminder that hope exists, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

The book in the dust symbolizes the disrespect for human life and human wrights. Books are a well of wisdom and the product of hard, assiduous work. They don’t belong in the dirt, just like human life does not.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress symbolizes the upright spirit of the Afghan people, still standing after centuries of wars and oppression. And just like the people of Afghanistan, through its architecture, it is deeply rooted in its land, drawing strength from it.

Poppy flowers are both a symbol of the blood spilled in Afghanistan and of the never-ending struggle for survival of the Afghan people. Poppies are extremely resilient, they can grow under harsh weather conditions, although they look so fragile. But poppies are also deadly plants in the sense that farming them caught so many innocent souls in the loop of poverty and addiction.

The Afghan Garden symbolizes Heaven and hope in a land devastated by wars. Just as Heaven transcends all spirits and gods, being present in all religions, all people, no matter of their religion, sex or skin color, are equal in the eyes of God.

Have you discovered other symbols after reading “Silent Heroes“? Tell me about them, I’d love to hear from you.

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

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We Need A Multicultural Children’s Book Day In South Africa

We Need A Multicultural Children’s Book Day In South Africa – Reading expands children’s levels of empathy and broadens their minds.

U.S. readers of all ages will celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day on Saturday, January 27.

In 2014, teachers and educators from Jump Into A Book and PragmaticMom presented their very first January 27 Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a way of celebrating diversity in children’s books.

The result was overwhelming, as authors, publishers, parents, teachers, bloggers and librarians joined forces to present an online event designed to shine the spotlight on diversity in children’s literature.

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Thanks to their sponsors, book review bloggers and thousands of readers, Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2014 achieved its goal of highlighting all of the amazing multicultural children’s books available to young readers, teachers, librarians and parents worldwide.

What is a multicultural book?

Multicultural children’s books are:

  • Books that contain characters of colour, as well as characters that represent a minority point of view;
  • Books that share ideas, stories, and information about cultures, race, religion, language, and traditions;
  • Books that embrace our world and offer children new ways to connect to a diverse and richer world.

Our total social media shares for three days of our 2017 event (on the day before, day of and day after Multicultural Children’s Book Day) were an astounding 3.6-billion!

Watch for the #ReadYourWorld hashtag on social media.

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Maya Angelou.

Reading puts us in touch with our humanity

Reading and access to diverse books offer children a safe door towards real life; towards what life is or how it could be; towards the lives of people from different nations and cultures. Towards different kinds of struggles, emotions and ideals; how and why are they like or unlike our own.

Reading expands children’s levels of empathy and broadens their minds.

Diversity and its meaning today in the book industry

The fact that different kinds of people – poor or rich, men and women, white and black – can write books is often a revelation for many young readers. “If they can do it, so can I!”

The book monopoly is a thing of the past. Today access to books and their creative journeys belongs to the young as well, and to women equally. The knowledge of this variety is undoubtedly empowering for many young minds.

Why diversity in children’s books is a win-win situation

The more children are exposed to different cultures and emotions through books, the more empowered they feel, as these books reflect their own race or inter-race, religion, sex or physical health, and home upbringing (including divorced families, immigrants, and single-parent families). Children feel good about themselves when they read about characters like them.

You can find free diversity book lists and activities here for teachers and parents.

The more we are exposed to different cultures, the more we gain in variety and humanity. By telling the same story in different languages, each time it becomes a new narration with a new lesson to pass on.

We live in a world that’s confronted, more than ever, with a wide variety of issues that impact directly on our lives and those of our children: global warming and social migration, terrorism and out-of-control political spectacles.

Access to diverse books offer our children the best tools to comprehend and deal with the worldwide chaos they have to live in. A diversity of books will hopefully empower our children and grant them the wisdom to understand themselves and their world . It will help them discover the power needed to stand on their own two feet and lead a life of humanity and empathy.

10 diverse books to enjoy (or find your own at your local library):

Who Was Nelson Mandela – As a child, he dreamed of changing South Africa; as a man, he changed the world.

Malala’s Magic Pencil – As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil that she could use to redraw reality.

The Cheetah And The Dog – Inspired by the true story of Kasi, the orphaned male cheetah, and Mtani, the female labrador, who struck up a remarkable friendship and remained lifelong friends.

They All Saw A Cat – The many lives of one cat – and how perspective shapes what we see. When you see a cat, what do you see?

A Long Walk To Water, Based On A True Story – The New York Times bestsellerbegins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two 11-year-olds in Sudan: a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985.

Home Of The Brave – Kek comes from Africa, where he lived with his mother, father and brother.

Little Suns – “There are many suns,” he said. “Each day has its own. Some are small, some are big. I’m named after the small ones.”

Giant Steps – Elephants have long been targeted by humans: not only are they killed for their ivory, but their extraordinary strength, intelligence and charisma have seen some of them captured, chained and effectively jailed for life.

We’re All Wonders – The unforgettable story of August Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face.

Wishtree – Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories…

Until South Africa hosts its first Multicultural Book Day, you can join the Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Partyon Saturday, January 27, from 9:00pm to 10pm; U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

This article was initially published on the Huffington Post SA on 26 January 2018, here.

Huffington Post SA
HuffPostSA

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Two Authors. Worlds Apart. The Jennieration – Pat Furstenberg

Two Authors. Worlds Apart. Serendipity on their Side.

What is better for an author than to do a book signing event? Maybe a book signing half way across the world?

Better than a book blog tour?

When my new book publisher asked me to do a book signing at an historic book shop in some quaint little town within the state of Ohio, I didn’t hesitate for a second to agree. First, because I’d never set foot in the New World and I was so curious to find out if everything in North America is really ‘bigger than life’ as they say! But more importantly, because the bookshop where I’d been asked to do my signing could only have been a plan of pure serendipity or fate.

*** 

Of all the bookshops all over the world I was about to walk into hers! Jen, with her uncurbed enthusiasm. Talented author Jennifer Lopez!

*** 

So now, here I am at this very moment, nervous with excitement for the experience. I’m holding a red rose, searching among the myriad of busy Americans around me, for Jen and her red rose.

I know people do look a tad different when you meet them in person as apposed to their website or Twitter, so I’m hoping she’ll recognize me. We’re to meet for coffee first, here at this small and chic (I am impressed) coffee place right next to the bookshop. It feels like I’ve stepped into a world of times past. The coffee shop is one that’s been there for a very long time and has that old vintage feel. I see large windows at the back of the cafe- there are people looking down. I remember then, Jen saying the bookshop and café sat right atop a waterfall. I could hear it now—despite the bustle. Wow. This was definitely not what I imagined the U.S.A. to be like. Maybe because we aren’t in a large city.

And yes, I’ll answer your question before you even speak; we decided to meet like this for the fun of it! Is there a more exciting way for two writers to meet, I’m asking you?

*** 

There she is. We walk toward each other unable to contain our smiles and laughter.

Jen hugs me tight and says,

 “Finally a real hug instead of a virtual hug! You are so precious Pat.”

We tap our roses together and chuckle.

“Come on Pat, I’ve gotten us a table. The café will be clearing out soon- as the afternoon rush is over.”

The waiter sets down our two cups of expresso.

PAT: Ahhhh… It’s chilly here so this is perfect Jen. We’ve wanted to chat about so many things, but with our kids, family and writing, well—we just never have the time. I love your humanitarian efforts and you know it’s something we both feel passionate about. I’ll never forget when your Middle School ESL students read my book HAPPY FRIENDS and how they responded. It felt so great to hear that my little book had been appreciated in such a way.

JEN: Pat, it was so awesome to experience. Then, when your book JOYFUL TROUBLE came out, it spoke on such a deep level to both kids and adults alike. Ella and I were thrilled to write our endorsement for the cover. Are you so excited to be signing today for all your special animal stories?

My coffee’s gone cold, or is this the second cup already? We’re too engrossed in discussion to notice.

PAT: I can’t even begin to express my happiness Jen. Talking about JOYFUL TROUBLE (now in Large Print) is so fun—maybe because it is based on a true family story. Also it really seems to appeal to young and adults alike. I think it’s his human nature that makes the dog such a huge success. Through his sheer size, he commands respect. He reveres his sailor friends and has a loyalty towards them that is unsurpassed. The things he does…well, dogs do have this rare quality about them, to sense when they are needed. But Joyful Trouble is also a peaceful dog (almost As Good as Gold), a contrasting quality with his size.

Perhaps the fact that there is no self-interest in Joyful Trouble’s actions—yet they leave the reader astounded. I am grateful for its positive impact.

JEN: It sure does have a positive impact, Pat. Animal stories reach into the hearts of readers because of the unconditional love and tenderness their actions express. They themselves are lessons we humans can learn a lot from.

PAT: How did you develop such a tremendous love of Culture, Jen? I’ve always seen & admired it—so I have to ask.

JEN: I think we both feel it within us, Pat—you know? I’ve known culture is strongly rooted in you as well. Even your efforts to convey acceptance and the love of differences in HAPPY FRIENDS was tremendous. Maybe it’s something so deep, it’s a challenge to explain. I can’t say mine came from upbringing, because I didn’t grow up in a family completely immersed in this appreciation. So, I guess I’m inclined to feel as if my love if culture and the ‘uniquenesses’ of the world were just innately present and then grew. Every time I would interact with someone from another country, see a beautifully unique face from the rest of those around me, hear a new language, or be invited by a friend to take part in a cultural family celebration—it touched me deeply—all of it…

As I grew older, I read more and more about the cultures of our world, the rich traditions and the beauty in differences. I was magnetized by the sheer simplicity of cultures different from my own and how this very simplicity took nothing away from the people—in fact—it contributed tremendously to people’s happiness. It was as if there was no drive compelling me more so, than this deep reverence for culture. I believe my writing is an extension of this reverence for a simpler life and that kind of genuine happiness. That’s why I love HAPPY FRIENDS. Anyway, eventually I had to go, to live, to be a part of it for myself. Once I’d experienced the deeply endearing qualities of life and people in Italy, Spain and Mexico—I was forever changed. I felt myself connected, rooted forever-more in these distinct and beautiful cultures. What about you sweet Pat?

PAT: Well, I am so excited to visit America! I find it interesting and stimulating to see new places and be among people of a different culture. It’s quite diverse here, which is exciting to see. The way individuals think and their attitude towards the simplest facts in life is of great interest to me. When I grew up in Romania we didn’t have much access to the world outside its physical borders due to political restrictions and regulations. So other cultures were like a forbidden fruit. You would get what you could from movies, from books, by reading foreign author’s works and learning about their respective countries. I was lucky enough to be able to travel after the fall of the Berlin wall and the fall of the Communist regime. I felt like a sponge, ready to assimilate everything I saw. From art and music to the way people live and spend their free time; their national imprint and the way climate influences their lives. Everything was fascinating…

South Africa is the rainbow country. People from many nationalities live in harmony, or so we try. We have 11 official languages. What people share is their humor, the fantastic foods, the blue sky and the love for music.

It is a country that has inspired many artists and writers and it definitely influences my writing. Although my roots remain Romanian as does my heartbeat, I say.

JEN: I love that! Oh my gosh- it must be incredible living in Africa and still having that depth of appreciation for your own culture. Not only that, but you explain it so beautifully—something that affects so many: the desire to truly know the world—but be restricted from this possibility in its purest form. Media and the movies can actually taint one’s perspective regarding the truths of a culture. Thank goodness for good cultural literature.

PAT: Yes, you know, when I grew up I would study about famous Romanian people of culture who left to further their educations in ‘The City of Light,’ Paris. This was the beginning of the 20th century. And they all missed the blue sky from back home, the way the birds sing, the way the air smells. I could not understand that longing – until now. That is culture to me, being rooted in your own. I guess it is the way our hearts have been wired.

JEN: So interesting…all of it. And really, I feel we could talk forever. Are we still okay on time Pat? I don’t want you to arrive late to your signing?

PAT: We are just fine, it’s not until 7:30pm and I set aside this time to be with you. Let’s share a pastry. How does the Raspberry Custard Tart sound?

JEN: You picked my favorite!

I raise my hand and motion to the lad behind the counter. He smiles and points. He heads over with two forks and the tart.

JEN: So, children inspire your writing as does making a difference. How did you get to be such a dear one? Huh?

PAT: I think when we have our feet firmly grounded in our roots, in what drives us—as you say—(the moral compass), then all we want is to make a difference. Having roots is very import for our children. And books can help a great deal in discovering one’s roots. Because books tell stories and stories do have a source. Before ‘the story’ was printed, it was told—at the beginning of its time—and it went from mouth to mouth. Each story was sparked by one previous to it. Each is rooted in an old folk tale, somewhere in a forgotten corner of the world…

Just as Joyful Trouble and Happy Friends, my stories- depict unusual friendships between animals. Friendship regardless of differences…

Animals and children have this special gift of seeing beyond boundaries; to them there are no boundaries. Nothing stands and nothing should stand between a child and their hopes and dreams and life learning…

With Animals, when they look at each other, they see the possibility of friendship, especially baby animals.

Children, when they look at each other, they see beauty and they see the possibility of a friendship or the excitement of learning.

JEN: YES!! So then the nature of an animals’ emotional intelligence is essentially what draws you to write about them? There is such a clear undeniable connection between the purity and selflessness of children and animals.

PAT: Right and since we now live in a hyper-technologically-driven world, what was important yesterday might not have the same value tomorrow. The world is most definitely changing.

IQ- Intellectual Quotient, was of high value… yesterday.

Today, Emotional intelligence- EQ is what our children need to excel in life. Being aware of your feelings and of the feelings of those near you, knowing how to express them and how to put your feelings into words.

Animals can sense things long before we do. They can read our emotional cues; this is why writing about animals is so exciting and attractive to me. Animals have no boundaries when given the opportunity to thrive in an environment, they do not shield their emotions, they do not misunderstand them.

Giving animals human qualities in a story can have an amusing effect but in the end it isn’t the real life. Because animals are so much more emotionally intelligent than we know…

Children can easily relate to animal stories because children have an innate desire to care for and look after those smaller than themselves. Care, as they are being cared for. And who out there, is smaller than a child, but a baby animal or, at least, a furry character from a book? It’s why so many generations of children loved Winnie-The-Pooh, or Paddington Bear.

JEN: You yourself have proof of this beautiful truth in the story of Joyful Trouble. I love this because there are some who don’t acknowledge the keen emotional intelligence of animals. Their potential to contribute to each human’s life is unfathomably beautiful. My sister would love you as well. She has a highly intuitive sense related to animals and for this I admire her. Another fellow humanitarian- she cares for animals and advocates for them as you do. Pat, we just connect on these ideals and it makes me overjoyed…

Do you enjoy the Raspberry Custard Tart? It feels such a privilege to share with you and I still can’t believe we are sitting here together!

PAT: It’s yummy and I could sit here all day. It’s like the café cleared out for us to have this time.

JEN: That’s because they’re all getting ready for your book signing—is what’s happening! You know what- We also have this funny Elephant connection-you and I do. I just remembered this. The little elephant, Pete- in your Happy Friends book. My sweet daughter, Ella and I loved Pete and the cute story behind his becoming part of the book. —Ella herself has the Elephant’s namesake because of the deep emotional intelligence these stunning animals exhibit throughout their lifetimes with loved ones and the matriarchal strength that guides their family.

PAT: I know. I love the cover of your Fearless Thinkers book with the two Elephants. That book is a help to many families, aspiring to take a different path with parenting. It is evident that you wrote the book with the intention of helping others too. Elephants sure are an inspiration for both of us Jen. And yes, my idea to write about an elephant came not only from the plastic, old, yellow toy elephant (Pete) we have at home, but also from my mother’s interest in elephants and what they symbolize: courage, wisdom, strength, family. Perhaps the fact that elephants have a matriarchal family also influenced my decision!

But Pete, our yellow toy elephant with a twinkle in his eyes, was just sitting quietly on his shelf… until one day when he couldn’t keep quiet anymore and told me that he had a story to tell. Could I help him?

Turns out, my children’s book- Happy Friends was just that.

JEN: I know. So super sweet. The simplicity of that inspiration!! Well, let’s take a quick walk down to the waterfall so we can take in the sounds of nature and you can prepare for this evening’s events. The time has flown. I did mean to ask what your future plans are though Pat. We can’t leave without knowing what’s next—besides time with our kids—of course.

PAT: Well, I have lots of children’s books in my plans for the future, most of them about dogs! Fun stories, some sad ones as well—they are based on true events. One needs to raise awareness about animals’ feelings and their status and import in our busy lives.

JEN: Yes, I agree. Your FOUR latest books (that you’ll be releasing in the next few weeks) after your well loved-Happy Friends and Joyful Trouble, remind me of the tremendous stories you hear of around the world about Unlikely Animal Friends. They are utterly heart-warming. There’s been so many beautiful reviews and guest posts for your books. We loved your cover reveals for: Puppy, The Lion and the Dog, The Elephant and the Sheep, The Cheetah and the Dog. OHHH! What treasures!

PAT: Thanks Jen. I hope they will be cherished in many homes for years to come. You know, I wanted to ask you the same thing—what’s next for you in your writing and in your career? You keep so busy with your Spanish Interpreting, your writing and your Homeschooling of Ella to boot! Do you plan to continue all of this?

JEN: You know how we are. Where there’s a passion- there’s always a way. So my passion to support the Spanish-speaking Cultures is ongoing. It’s as if it were embedded in my DNA. My hope is to continue my involvement in bridging the language and cultural gaps with TheJennieration.com through Interpreting and Translating. It is always incredible for me to witness others embracing the rich family traditions, ideals and work ethic of Latin Americans. They are some of the most tremendous people—and precious neighbors in Central and South America. Here in the U.S., we SHARE the very same continent—all of us in ‘The Americas’…and our American Continent’s farthest points reach both the North and the South Poles. I do plan to continue my writing, editing and proofreading. How can we not? It is our fuel, right?! Words, language and communication equate to passion and connection with culture. My own upcoming books… well one has been in the works for quite some time. The program has existed for 15+ years and I am finally putting it into book form. A writer’s work is never done though- so I keep making the tweaks.  When I am fully satisfied, you’ll be one of the first to know.  It’s a rapid Spanish Language Instruction book—an intrinsically Easy-to-Learn Spanish Program—different than any out there I’ve seen in my own research over the years… The other is a series of short stories called: Empathy Power. Much like your true animal stories, these are powerful due to their truth—each carrying a unique message. As an educator, my hope is for them to captivate while they educate. Time will tell my friend…

Well Pat, now it’s time we take that walk. I can’t wait for your book signing!

PAT: I can’t either Jen. Thanks for sharing this time with me, this has been incredible. I love conversations like these- where each of us can share a bit of ourselves, our deeper thoughts, our aspirations—and I just can’t believe fate allowed us this chance. The universe works in mysterious ways and far be it for me to question them. I’d rather embrace them and live to tell about them.

As they are about to leave the cafe, Pat looks back and smiles at the two spoons, two espresso cups, one plate with a bit of raspberry drizzle and the two red roses that were left on the table. She smiles and thinks….

HAPPY FRIENDS!

*****

Thank you for joining us today.

Read Jen’s Reviews of Pat’s books- Joyful Trouble & Happy Friends:

CLICK FOR REVIEW OF JOYFUL TROUBLE on AMAZON: 

CLICK FOR REVIEW OF HAPPY FRIENDS on AMAZON:

Initially published on Jen’s website. This is a collaboration between two authors.

 

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Why We Need A (New) Generation Of Readers in South Africa

Reading is linked to empathy, self-esteem and academic success, by Patricia Furstenberg
Reading is linked to empathy, self-esteem and academic success, by Patricia Furstenberg

Why We Need A (New) Generation Of Readers in South Africa

“Readers are leaders”, said one great teacher; leaders of their own lives. Being able to understand what is expected of us beyond our job description or mastering those psychometric tests in a job interview could be life changing situations. Turning that first date into a success or having the ability to understand (and survive) our partner’s emotional needs are, definitely, lifesaving situations. What all of these occasions call for are our wits and… empathy. So relax; you’re not the odd one out if, at times, you feel for your boss. You should be celebrating instead.

Here’s when and why reading comes into our lives.

You know that special feeling when enjoying a good book? At first the world around us seems to be fading away as we’ve happily secluded ourselves. Then, after closing that volume, we feel like we’ve just roused from a daydream. “Oh, this place is still here… Look, my family!” Not surprisingly to discover that we can connect with them on a deeper level because we can now read (surprise!) their emotions so much better: like under a spotlight!

Empathising with those around us is the epitome of human evolution. The scientific world refers to it as the Theory of Mind (ToM) and research shows that, apparently, improving one’s ability to “read” people’s emotions is as easy as picking up a work of literary fiction. Psychologists Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd proved in their scientific study Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind published in Science just that.

“Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires.”

By assigning different reading material to a number of participants and afterwards testing them Castano and Kidd have been able to measure how well the subjects identified emotions in others. The readers of literary fiction scored, by far, the highest.

TheoryOfMind-PatriciaFurstenberg1 – No reading or non-fiction reading will NOT improve the subject’s ability to detect and identify emotions in others (Theory of Mind, Castano & Kidd)

TheoryOfMind-PatriciaFurstenberg2 – Reading Popular Fiction insignificantly enhances the subject’s ability to detect and identify emotions in others (Theory of mind, Castano & Kidd)

TheoryOfMind-PatriciaFurstenberg3 – Reading Literary Fiction temporarily enhances the subject’s performance and his ability to detect and identify emotions in others (Roland Barthes)

Can You Read People’s Emotions? Take The Times quiz.

Why we need empathy – and books – in South Africa

From a parent’s point of view I certainly want my children to be successful in life.

Reading impacts greatly on a child’s evolving mind and, apart from its neurological, educational and psychological benefits, by improving their empathy reading helps children socialise at school and thrive in life.

Besides knowledge, sharpening a child’s empathic skills is just as important. If a clever brain is measured through its IQ (Intelligence Quotient), an empathic mind is measured through its EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). A person with a high EQ will be able to better understand his own emotions as well as be able to better relate to the emotional status of those around him – thus improving his social skills and, eventually, the general social welfare of his generation.

Empathy is also proved to be crucial to a child in peer-pressure situations. Empathic children are less violent and develop into adults with a lower risk of emotional or behavioural problems later in life, violence and substance abuse included. (Did you feel as if you hated people?)

Reading is linked to empathy, self-esteem and academic success

Reading is linked to empathy, self-esteem and academic success

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a world where technology is omnipresent and social issues are on the rise; during a time when the rift between communities widens and the politics, not the civility, governs; when social indifference, not social compassion seem to be ruling our lives; when today’s major subject couldn’t be further away from tomorrow’s job and when employment policies, not work equity seem to rule, a new generation of readers, of emphatic human beings, is more in demand than ever before. “Fiction may change how, not just what, people think about others.” (Kidd, Castano)

5 Ways to foster empathy in our children

5 Ways to foster empathy in our children

5 Reasons why we need more good books in our lives

  1. Reading promotes empathy, helping us better understand other’s emotional state, a stepping stone to build meaningful relationships and more human societies.
  2. Reading promotes social welfare by bringing people together through enjoyable means.
  3. Reading develops consciousness; when one reads information is being absorbed on a conscious as well as unconscious way.
  4. Reading enriches our lives.
  5. Reading stimulates the intellect and the soul.

Surely reading literary fiction couldn’t be the only way to improve one’s ToM. Art, movies and musical performances also come into light.

I may not have read all the volumes of Hugo’s Les Miserables, but I remember watching the movie. The character of Jean Valjean still gives me goose bumps. Perhaps a 21st century musical production would be just as effective?

It would be interesting to find out if and how coming in contact with other works of art influences one’s empathic levels.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Proposed literary fiction for your child

“I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; but they have all helped to make me.” (Emerson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read further on the Huffington Post South Africa, a post by Patricia Furstenberg.

Huffington Post SA

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