My Great Auntie

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If we’re lucky there is an elder in our lives—a grandpa, a next-door neighbor, a teacher, a shopkeeper, an auntie. If we’re really lucky that elder will dispel every preconception we have about aging and being old.

My elder was my Great Aunt Kenie (born Kathleen Gallagher). She was a kind of mum to my father growing up and she was the first person to really welcome my mother when my parents moved from Tokyo to London back in 1963. After we moved to Canada, she continued a regular correspondence and eventually came to visit on several occasions. Though she traveled by airplane, the journey across the pond seemed great enough that her stays were always long and leisurely. In the absence of grandparents, she became my go-to person: my comforting songstress, my cozy lap.

Looking back, I remember her as a cinematic melange. She had the politics and beauty of Vanessa Redgrave. The style of Catherine Deneuve. The sass of Katherine Hepburn. The fierce intelligence of Lauren Bacall.

She slaughtered me at Scrabble, taught me about Nelson Mandela, bought me my first Judy Blume book (Are you There God? It’s me Margaret), showed me how to eat shrimp (“scampi”) like I really meant it.

She was my shepherd, ally, friend. When she died in Sussex, I was given a small suitcase containing a few of her possessions. Inside it was a beautiful pop-up book containing a collection of children’s stories and poems, some of which she had written.

I still think of Auntie Kenie often. She inspired me to follow my heart and dreams, including the dream of becoming a writer.

So Close, So Far

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I have been hard at work on my (adult) novel. It’s set in the early 1960s and the main character is a multiracial boy so I’ve been thinking a lot about what is was like to grow up ‘mixed’ in less hybrid times.

To me, the trailblazer has always been the writer Sui Sin Far (born Edith Maude Eaton; 15 March 1865 – 7 April 1914). Far was the daughter of Englishman Edward Eaton, a merchant who met her Chinese mother while on a business trip to Shanghai. Far was born in England but grew up in Montreal, Quebec.

I was recently re-reading a short memoir piece she wrote back in 1890. (It’s called “Leaves from the mental portfolio of an Eurasian.”) 120 years later, it still feels strangely contemporary. There was one paragraph that reminded me of the scene in Spork, where spork is trying to fit in (or “pass”) by making himself look more “spoonish” or “forkish”.

Here’s the passage: “I also meet some funny people who advise me to ‘trade’ upon my nationality. They tell me that if I wish to succeed in literature in America I should dress in Chinese costume, carry a fan in my hand, wear a pair of scarlet beaded slippers, live in New York, and come of high birth. Instead of making myself familiar with the Chinese Americans around me, I should discourse on my spirit acquaintance with Chinese ancestors.”

Loving Sporkful

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This morning my dear friend Avi introduced me to a nifty website called The Sporkful. It was started by two former NPR dudes (and I do mean dudes) as a podcast and blog about food. As they put it, it’s “not so much about cooking or recipes or restaurants” but rather a place to “discuss, debate, and obsess over the most ridiculous food-related minutiae.” And all this in a quest to “eat more awesomely”.

The latest episode features Rachel Maddow discussing “Cocktail Philosophy”.

Check it out:

In other news, Spork is on Kirkus Reviews’ list of 2010 Best Children’s Books. It’s in the category of “Picture Books to Make You Think”. The list includes 13 Words, Mimi’s Dada Catifesto and the beautiful Art & Max. Gotta love that heady kids lit.

Spork Goes Down Under

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Spork will soon be available in Australia and New Zealand (Hardie Grant Publishing). Thank you to Karen, Kelvin and Carly of Kids Can for their part in bringing Spork to the Southern Hemisphere.

Odd Couple Stories

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One of my favorite books as a child was The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. I still have my original copy. It’s loosely illustrated with nice areas of blank space (which “child-me” filled in with crayon scribbles). I love how much personality there is in every stroke of Herbert Danska’s pen. I love his use of blue!

Reading it again today I was struck by the underlying Christian symbolism, but I was also reminded that what I’ve always loved about the book is the elegant visual play on the boy’s smallness and the giant’s largeness. It’s a true odd couple book and I’ve always loved stories that make friends of unlikely companions.

On the topic of utensils, kitchens, food…

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One of the best courses I took during my undergraduate degree (in Fine Art) was a course called The Anthropology of Food. I still remember reading books on: table manners, commensality (a fancy word for the practice of eating from the same plate), famine, housewives, whaling, the green revolution….and the list goes on. Basically, I learned that EVERY issue can somehow be traced back to food or water. What an eye opener!

Well, my friend Andrea Curtis is doing an amazing job of discussing food culture and politics on her blog What’s for Lunch? Unlike some people I know (me), she is actually very good at keeping her blog updated. It’s worth having a look. As she puts is: “This blog travels the globe peering into the lunch boxes, bowls, mugs and trays of kids around the world.”

A Toast to a Dear Friend!

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A lovely announcement today: Hiromi Goto (true friend and constant writing inspiration) has been awarded the Sunburst Award for her YA novel HALF WORLD. Kanpai Hiromi!

If you haven’t already done so, please pick up a copy immediately! HALF WORLD is a stunner. I guarantee you’ll be completely immersed, savoring each and every delectable page. Hiromi is one of the most tingle-inducing, sensory-aware writers out there.