The first Wednesday of February is known as World Read Aloud Day. I learned of this day at one of the SCBWI Israel events and signed Shoham’s Bangle up. (This is why it’s so great to attend writer/author events.) I was surprised and delighted to receive an email from a lovely librarian from an international school in Sweden. She asked if I would participate in their book week which was on the theme of food. She had seen that Shoham’s Bangle contained food. I checked if she also knew Shoham’s Bangle was an immigration story. She said yes, and I agreed to read aloud to her class.
As I diarized the event my stomach lined itself with curious and colorful butterflies. How would school children in Sweden receive an Iraqi Jewish picture book about refugees? (With my research which has required honesty, I have had to face the fact that the word immigration in the context of Iraqi Jews is a euphemism.)
This morning I woke up and the butterflies had become moths. I had to tell myself, people are people, and this is a story about a little girl. It is a true family story, it is a story with food. Children have so far enjoyed it. It’s a story for everyone.
With this in mind I joined the Google meeting on time with the one hour time difference between Jerusalem and Sweden accounted for. The lovely librarian, who was from the US was there, smiling in her meeting box. And a class appeared in another box…and then another class…and another…and I think there were at least four classes of varying lower primary school ages there, all on my computer screen.
The wonderful thing about children is that there’s no pretense. I had to just be myself. I told them that I was an author from far away Australia, videoing in from far away Israel, and this book was about a girl who was also from far away Baghdad Iraq, where my family comes from. I showed them my gold Iraqi bangle, and I told them it’s brilliant for baking cookies.
I read them Shoham’s Bangle, and I presented my slide show so they could see old Jewish Baghdad. I spoke about how they cooked in a kitchen on low wooden stools (takht), and how they used to sleep on the roof in summer. I shared with them how I baked a bangle into a pita bread to check that you could.
The teachers opened the classes up for questions, and I was amazed how the children related Shoham’s story to their own lives. I was asked how old I was. I was told that suitcases like Shoham’s, without wheels are carried by porters (a man in a red shirt) in India to the awaiting car home. I was asked if I spoke Arabic by a boy who was from Iraq.
The session was booked for only twenty minutes. We stretched it to twenty five. But it was meaningful and I have to say I love being an author. I love speaking about Shoham’s Bangle and my Iraqi Jewish family story. It is a privilege to research and share this lost Jewish Babylonian world. The once upon a time Iraq that Shoham comes from.
The highlight of course, was receiving the librarian’s email afterwards:
Thank you Sarah! Your visit not only inspired the kids but lifted the level of our book week; students and teachers will remember your story. 😊
I couldn’t have asked for more.