Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm Your Neighbor

I spent a sunny afternoon playing tourist in Portland, Maine yesterday.  I poked into Miccuci's to load up on Italian ingredients and wines, then walked the length of Commercial Street all the way to the Bam Bam Bakery (gluten-free!)  This is the route you take for glimpses of Casco Bay and cruise ships unloading day trippers, a taste of chowdah or lobstah, and Maine-ish gifts ranging from blueberry jam to deep sea diving helmets.

This is the Person From Away view of Portland, but as the folks who actually live there know, there's way more going on in the "port city." Stroll a few blocks off Commercial Street, and check out the halal store.  Stand outside the public schools and listen to kids converse in languages you can't easily identify.  Visit the Catholic cathedral and watch women and girls in body-masking hijab stroll by. Immigrants and refugees from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East have been making Portland their home during the last three decades, and influencing the culture of the city.

This shift is the impetus and focus behind a year-long, city-wide "read" of books focusing on the new arrivals community.  I'm Your Neighbor is primarily composed of children's books, but  also includes non-fiction collections of essays as well as novels for older readers.  Saturday, May 25th, marked the official kickoff to the community read, which includes Out of Nowhere.

The University of Southern Maine bookstore carries the entire collection, and was on hand with plenty of books.  The Portland Public Library also has multiple copies, as well as other area bookstores.

Dr. Krista Aronson, Professor of Psychology at Bates College, is the I'm Your Neighbor Project Scholar and spoke to students who attended the kickoff event.

Students from Casco and Deering High Schools with copies of Out of Nowhere.

Kirsten Cappy (left) of The Curious City, along with author/illustrator Anne Sibley O'Brien is the driving force behind I'm Your Neighbor. Here's Kirsten with author Frederick Lipp, whose book, Bread Story, is part of the community read.

Here I am with author Terry Farish (left) whose book The Good Braider, about a Sudanese refugee girl, is part of the community read.
For a complete schedule of I'm Your Neighbor events, visit their website.  Next up is on July 11th at Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library, when Terry Farish will be joined by hip hop artist O.D. Bonny and A Company of Girls.

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