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Witness to a Year: Diverse Book Challenge-March


“Cast a spell on me, Daddy." Before he lifted his hand, I was already wilting in the grass.

"Tell me a story, Daddy," I bent around raspberry bushes to locate him between rows.


"Imagination wasn’t worth much. When you grew up, you needed to be serious,” Dad mentions in passing. The expression of his desire to be an artist causes me to wonder if now my key tapping is a wand flicking to retell stories, and in some ways, life as it could have been.

“It is not enough to repeat the stories of the past; we must also write new ones,” Professor Wiesel explained. “We must step off the page into our own situation, which is unmapped and unknown. . . Without the old tales, we lose faith in our ability to find good responses to today’s challenges. The past is there to remind us that we are storytellers too.” (44)

"I published a story," I announced to my Dad on a Saturday morning.

“What about?”

"It was after you said that I should write about if the universe fell in love with nature." I wrote it so long ago that I had trouble recalling exactly its events.

He squints his eyes. "I said that?"

In fact he says many things that I write on any scrap of paper available. If he were ever to be a writer, his would be some of the most engaging dialogue in print.

"I'll print it out for you."

All the faith he has in imagination is magic sprinkled, his spell forever cast over me. I would be lying if I didn't say that most of my stories are retold stories, from a life lived with him.

He reads the story. He tells me I have a gift for the thousandth time. He is generous, because he was always generous with telling and retelling me stories.

Retold Tales

I'm packing and unpacking, but only in my head so far. A different kind of baggage, full and ready to repack. It has been over three years since I traveled anywhere. It used to be a science, a routine, something automatic that drew from understanding. The black carry on bag lies open, canvas around empty space. A seemingly blank page that in fact relies on each fiber that caused the flap to be unzipped, the page to be turned. So far the only items I know for sure that are coming with me are two unicorn books for my niece and matching Captain America t-shirts. It is my usual fare for Ofir, clothes and books. At first glance, the bags make no sense, perhaps the first retelling for a very specific audience. In other ways, in the retelling, the arrangement of items could not be more expertly done. That is, as long as the weight is not too heavy, that despite no limit I have to carry the bag. And the trip itself, like the opening of book’s cover, make me feel so much a child and an adult all at once.

Jewish people have a history of storytelling, but even the stories of Ester and Judith I retold in my own writing are not traditional for me. Is it still a retelling? Yes. Even barely remembered tales, even never heard tales, are a frame. With Ofir, I await her retellings, not traditional, but personal about unicorns and cats with white shoes. Perched on a child’s bed frame, I will suspend disbelief, put my arms around the silliest parts and be comforted. She will teach me not only to read but to wait to listen to the parts she knows are hers. She will remind me that there is always time for another retelling even if it doesn’t start in the same place as the last. She will fill the frames with her voice, with her words. The diverse reads for this post stem from key identities that frame my own: Woman. Literature. Jewish. Parts that I don’t always notice, but that I’ll miss when they’re gone.

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter is my never was to be. This picture book narrates the famed architect’s life and her triumph over obstacles stemming from her life in Baghdad, Iraq as a Muslim woman. Hadid dreamed of designing her own cities and so she studied architecture in London. Now her buildings exist around the world. When I was in high school, I believed that girls were being pushed too forcefully into STEM professions, in fact made to feel guilty if they preferred a more 'traditional' choice. As a story retold, I see my own complacency in others who choose 'tradition' as a means of revolution against all the movements who seek to open opportunity. It is a shared responsibility in the storytelling, my own unwillingness to explore and the system's lack of attempt at connecting with me as I was. If I had another book, my own hand might seek to use science or technology, to create my world as I dreamed it. I don't have new books, but I have new chapters and it is literature that I came back to in order to write that world.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi is my example of those kinds of worlds of dreams. It is, in the author's words, "a Pride and Prejudice remix." The original novel was always rebellious, something that I lay unnamed in myself for some time. Zoboi shows that frames, old ones, canonized ones, ones deemed not for 'you', can in fact be for 'you' and be anything you make them. The novel is narrated by Zuri Benitez, who has pride in her neighborhood, family and Afro-Latino roots. She is faced with rapid change that she senses threatens exactly what she is most proud. The wealthy, arrogant Darcy family that moves in exemplifies that. The novel is one with a resolution that must strive for common ground. As a reader, writer and educator, common ground is what I dream of designing for my family and my community. This dream for Zuri is allowed to exist, as a result of the author's skill, alongside, not instead, of romance and love.

Womanhood, sisterhood, tradition, do not divorce themselves from the final selection. Instead, The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner is an expression of a long denied appreciation of a complimentary identity piece, Judaism. In short, the novel is a tale inspired by Jewish mythology set in a woodland village on the border of Moldova and Ukraine and follows the experiences of two sheltered sisters who uncover a secret magical heritage. As each sister in the novel struggles to discover which piece of her heritage may be her place of belonging in a magical sense, swan or bear worlds, their characters provide clarity to my own experience. Even the alternating points of view, one told in verse, the other prose, is undeniably my own struggle.

Diverse book reads blog posts applied to my own life

To Remind Us of Days Long Ago

(Steps) Spring Forward, (Steps) Fall Back


What’s in my Pocket?


Spiced Honey Cake

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