I Love My (insert) Shoes: An Educator (and Aunt's) Thank You to Pete the Cat

My niece speaks Hebrew. I don’t. The words we have in common make up a vocabulary list for the family dog. The words I learned in Hebrew when I attended my brother’s wedding were primarily commands for that same dog, Bagel. This time my role was played by three year old Ofir who mostly repeated during their trip my own doting phrases to my dog. Sit. Crazy baby. I love you. What are you doing? Move. Mine. No. Almost any task her parents wanted Ofir to complete could be rewarded by walking those two dogs. Perhaps even reading aloud to her, which I longed to do, but my brother had informed me that Ofir was not all that interested in books.

My brother had bought his daughter white, converse sneakers so that Ofir wouldn’t get her feet dirty walking around the never pristine barnyard. The first day she wore the shoes, she ran right through a mud puddle and wrecked the idea all together, pretty much like the books I had already attempted to read to her by connecting in other ways, favorite TV characters like Elmo or favorite things like dogs. I hadn’t intended to ever like the Pete the Cat book. It was ANOTHER animal book. It was only SILLY. “What worth did that have?” my multicultural literature brain demanded. I brought “I Love my White Shoes,” home from the library because of those clean, then dirty, then clean shoes.

The first time I tried to read Pete the Cat’s story to Ofir, my family talked over me, sometimes making bathroom humor jokes about all the things Pete could step in at our house. Ofir stared off and on at the pages. This wasn’t working.

At the same time as my family’s visit, I worked on one my final displays, “Renew Peace”, for the nine weeks of bookmobile. All summer I attempted to integrate the book displays with library programming, including themes of “Redefine Community”, “Reconnect with Family”, “Reimagine Learning”, and “Transform your Library”. I selected children’s books because that was the most common bookmobile visitor, but I avoided the Pete the Cat’s of the world and looked for other, less noticed books. However, for “Renew Peace”, I wanted to use not only my professional experience with juvenile literature and nonfiction, but also to work with adult selectors so that the display would be an inclusive combination of adult and children’s materials.

“It’s not out there. There are few best sellers, a Toni Morrison maybe,” said an adult selector for the bookmobile collection. I tried to bite back my disappointment in the lack of interest I perceived in opening up to other kinds of “diverse” texts.

That night I saw my sister in law place Pete the Cat by Ofir’s pillow. “Do you want to read?” Ofir nodded, “Ken.”

Back at work, I went upstairs to the reference desk. “Peace? What do you mean?” A librarian listed several meditation sections and a biography on the Dali Lama.

“I’ll keep checking back,” I said. “It can be on a personal or world level, feelings or action.” Later I showed her a small stack. As I flipped through them, she pointed to a mystery a woman with dementia solved regarding her sister’s death.

“Not that one.” She thought I had made a mistake.

“Sure. She comes to terms with the disappearance and she is fighting to accept her disease with the resources she has.”

“Peace? You’re really going broad.”

“Well, yes,” I thought. In their text, “Educating for Action: Strategies to Ignite Social Justice,” Jason Del Gandio and Anthony J. Nocella II write that “It is a misnomer to think that peace education is mainly or only about ending military conflict. . . Peace education is rightfully directed at social, political, economic, and educational injustices found throughout society.”

A week later, I peeked in from across the room at Ofir in her pajamas. The book was propped in front of her.

“Did Pete cry?” read her mother.

“Goodness no,” said Ofir, removing her pacifier from her mouth.

Her mother noticed me. “Do you want Doda Erin to finish reading?”

“Ken,” lilted Ofir’s voice.

I was rewarded at work too. As I began to compile my book list, long e-mails came from the reference desk that included topics from motorcycle maintenance to dragons. So along with “Eat Pray Love”, biographies on Mother Teresa, and everything in the Dewey Decimal system about meditation, mindfulness and faith, I used all the suggested books to search for a few others.

Such as:

“Kids Talk About Bullying” by Carrie Finn

“Crouching Tiger” by Ying Chang Compestine

“The Navajo Nation: A Visitor’s Guide” by Patrick and Joan Lavin

“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henríquez

“Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

“Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar” by George Shannon

“Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan” by Tony O’Brien and Mike Sullivan

“Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” by Barack Obama

“75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and

Make a Difference” by Glenn Croston, Ph. D.

“Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox

“The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

“Hiawatha and the Peacemaker” by Robbie Roberston and David Shannon

“The Wall” by Eve Bunting

“Mama Miti” by Donna Jo Napoli

“What does Peace feel like?” by V. Radunsky

“I love my white shoes,” Pete the cat sings. First the shoes are white, then red, then blue, then brown, and then finally, a characteristic everyone can relate to. “I love my wet shoes,” Pete the cat sings as gladly as he sang white at the beginning of the story. And Ofir sang too. I would never have put “I Love my White Shoes” on any of the lists I had compiled for Ofir or colleagues, but it taught me my own lesson again. At the end of the trip, her mother purchased the book before returning home. I hadn’t expected it, had feared the worst, but my niece had been listening all along. In turn, I was able to listen to her, singing Pete’s song, repeating his phrases, loving books and her white shoes. I loved that we had a few more words than the dogs did to talk to each other about.

My worst fears were not realized about Ofir, books nor librarians. If I worried that in the end we just keep telling of the same stories to ourselves, but not paying attention, falling asleep, or at best, what my niece first attempted, repeating, but not really reading, I simply needed to be patient instead of frustrated. I needed to listen to others and provide an opportunity to connect through the multiplicity of intersections stories offer instead of judgment about the ones they picked.

Somehow when we look for the “right” story, we don’t realize how many shared stories are out there that find us at the right time. I am grateful to Pete the Cat. And I invite you to create your own based upon your experiences and the types of peace you enjoy and for which you are grateful, for the types of peace you fought to have or the peace you still wish for yourself and others to find. Chances are someone out there is tying on their shoes to start that journey too.

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