Tag Archives: teaching diversity

Mixed Race Book Review: The Name Jar

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

I grew up in mostly-white Edmonton, Alberta, Canada right smack in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war. Awareness of difference was low and I remember fantasizing about having a name just like everyone else.

The name calling and the teasing was too much at times.  “Arriba, Arriba, Undalé, Undalé!” was called after me every time I was around. Adults too would struggle. And although they tried, I eventually shortened my name from Fariba to Fari. It didn’t help.  “Fairy? No. Fiery? No. Ferrari?”

My chosen name? Jessica. In all of my fantasies, I was Jessica. Because Jessica was like everyone else, Jessica’s parents weren’t from somewhere else and best of all, Jessica didn’t stand out because of her name.

In Yangsook Choi’s book, “The Name Jar”, Unhei (pronounced Yoon-Hye) moves from South Korea to America. She starts her first day of school having to explain her new name to all of the other kids and, inevitably, they laugh and tease her about how it’s pronounced. “You-hye, bye bye!”, they tease her.

The story develops with Unhei wanting to choose a typical American name like Laura or Amanda. But she’s reminded soon enough about what her Grandmother taught her about her name. Unhei means grace. And her name’s meaning is far more important than fitting in.

Through a boy she becomes friendly with, he discovers her real name and it shows her she can be proud of her name- even in America.

the name jarWith beautiful illustrations throughout, The Name Jar has inspired conversations with my children about how and why we’re different as a family. How we might ‘stick out’ and why it’s important to embrace those differences because they make up who we are.

I wouldn’t change my name for the world. But I only discovered that as an adult. I wish I’d been able to stand tall and correct the teasers and conformists who desperately tried to make my name sound english.

This book is about immigrants, about fitting in, peer pressure, multiculturalism and third culture kids. Definitely one for your bookshelves if you’d like to inspire conversations about diversity.


More Book Reviews…

Diversity in the Classroom: Why We Need to Go Deeper

Diversity in Schools

It’s become popular and, indeed, a must in most primary schools and nurseries worldwide to have some sort of diversity woven into the curriculum. From black dolls to books featuring kids in wheelchairs, you shouldn’t have to look too far to find diversity in the classroom.

I remember visiting my daughter’s nursery in England when she was just 1 year old and seeing the array of greetings on the door in 17 different languages. I was impressed! Probably only 1 other non-white kid in the nursery and no teachers who spoke any other languages but… that didn’t matter did it? As long as they had the obligatory black doll and the greetings in foreign languages.

I quickly learned that diversity in the classroom is more than just a nod in the right direction. When it affects your child and how she relates to herself and other people, it means building self-worth and acceptance of difference by every means available. It means not just the dolls but the books and the magazines they cut from and the short videos they teach from… and the songs you sing and the teacher and the teaching assistant and the festivals they celebrate… everything they do should reflect diversity.

My daughter has now entered primary school in inner city London- a much more ‘diverse’ school in terms of its student population. And yet, sometimes I feel their nod to diversity is just a box-ticking exercise. When it came to a superhero theme in her first year, visiting ‘heroes’ from the community including a local policeman, a vicar and a doctor were all white and male. Really? I thought. When asked about it, my daughter said “I’m not a superhero, that’s for boys”.

I spoke to the teacher about getting some more diverse experts and images. But the answer came back that images of female superheroes were too racy online and that they can’t be too choosy about the ‘experts’ that come to visit. We have to take what we get.

Defeated, I left. But, looking a bit deeper, I found dozens of images of female superheroes online that were not too ‘racy’. As for the experts, why couldn’t they make a request? Yes, it means putting yourself out there. And yes, it means rocking the boat a little. But that is exactly what teaching diversity- really teaching it- is all about.

When it comes to teaching, perhaps the odd nod in the direction of diversity in the classroom is sufficient but if we’re talking about understanding and making a difference… we need more. Because we are a multicultural family living in a diverse society, valuing and understanding difference is not only part of our being. It is essential.

But just because we as a family wear our diversity on our sleeve, why shouldn’t other families understand it in the same way? Children should know that difference is not bad… it is interesting and it is worth learning about.

As a society, we shy away from difference because of political correctness or because we don’t want to offend. But with my daughters, I want them to be able to ask the question about the child in the wheelchair, to wonder about the boy who doesn’t speak or the girl who may be slightly more challenging. For her to know about difference and be comfortable. Well, that is when I know we are not just teaching diversity, we are living it.

This piece was first published on Multicultural Kid Blogs website. Read the full post here….

Talking to children about RacismHow to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racism

WHEN IT’S YOUR KID ASKING THE EMBARRASSING QUESTIONS: TEACHING DIVERSITY IN ALL ITS FORMS

The other day, I watched my daughter walk over to another mum and ask her why she was a different skin colour to her daughter.

Perhaps that isn’t such a big deal to other parents but to me, I am often on the receiving end of such questions and resent it every time. So how could my own daughter of mixed race parents be so unforgiving?

I live in this smug world where I assumed that because I talk to my daughter about diversity and about mixed families, because she lives this reality everyday, because of who she is and her understanding that families come in all different shapes, colours and sizes, she would know, instinctively that mothers and daughters can have different skin colour and still be family.

While all of this is true, what I failed to realise is that her understanding is limited. She knows what makes up a mixed family, sure. But I don’t go out of my way to discuss other forms of diversity. Families with two dads, two mums, one mum or adoptive families. To her, a child of mixed parentage has lighter brown skin, not black like her Dad’s. Her logic was correct. Because her understanding was limited.

To see my little girl ask the embarrassing race question. “Is she your daughter?”, to the mum who’d recently adopted interracially made me shrink into my seat.

It made me realise that even we, as mixed race parents, have work to do in educating our children about diversity. It’s not because we live in a brown/black world that our kids will instinctively understand and respect difference in all its forms. We can’t be surprised when our children grow up and are asking questions about gay marriage if we’ve failed to show them that this is another form of ‘normal’. Or if our kid shies away from their autistic schoolmate because they don’t understand disability.

Standing for tolerance and openness for one group and ignoring or preaching against another destroys the very principle we’re trying to teach. Interracial adoption is not too far a stretch for us but what about different religions, transgender, disability or same sex marriage?

How many of us can say we have actively searched for books featuring different faiths, disability or trans folk? I can admit I haven’t. I focused on what is ‘relevant’ for my child. But if I follow my own advice, discussions about adoption and children with two dads should be had at home, cuddled up to a good book so that surprise and critique don’t feature when we’re out.

Like anything, it takes more effort because it’s not our immediate reality. But just as much as I encourage my white friends to talk to their kids about race and difference, so should I practice what I preach and talk to my kids about diversity in all its forms.

If you’ve been inspired and want to find more books featuring diversity, visit the Letterbox Library. They feature a wide variety of books spanning important topics such as gender equality, fostering and adoption, LGBT, mental health and refugees. Importantly, Letterbox Library is a not-for-profit cooperative that features only inclusive and diverse books.