In another life, I imagine myself running a small independent children's bookstore like The Shop Around The Corner (in the Nora Ephron movie "You've Got Mail"), but instead the name of my shop is Storming The Castle (as in, "The Princess Bride").
In my fictitious bookstore, we host big parties every time a new "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" or Percy Jackson book comes out, and we have special events where we bring in writers to do readings and book signings. I can imagine organizing a really exciting book event with David LaMotte, singer-songwriter, Quaker peace activist, and author of the new children's book, "White Flour."
"White Flour" is exactly the kind of book that would set my little shop apart from the other more conservative stores that I can, well, imagine existing out there, because of its subversive social justice message. My little bookstore would be that kind of Jesus-y subversive social justice-y kind of space (without being saccharine Christian), where kids would be encouraged to think deeply and imagine wildly and color outside the lines.
LaMotte's book isn't safe. It tells a true story about real-life events -- events that we might like to imagine don't still happen, but then recent headlines snap us back to reality. This is the kind of stuff "proper" parents might try to protect their children from seeing or hearing about, but good parents will snatch up so they can intentionally start conversations with their kids to talk about the world in which we all actually live.
"White Flour" is a poem about a day in May 2007 when a group of Klu Klux Klan members rallying in Knoxville, Tenn., were counter-protested by a group of merrymakers, calling themselves the Coup Clutz Clowns. Cries of "White power!" were countered with cries of "White flour!" "White flowers!" "Tight showers!" and "Wife power!" Rather than returning hate for hate, this group drowned out hate with humor, brilliantly illustrating the non-violent actions that overpowered the voices of discrimination that day.
As LaMotte writes in the "What Really Happened" section in the back of the book (you know, for parents who want to know this stuff),
"There are more than two ways to respond to aggression. 'Fight or flight' is deep in our programming. It is natural to think they are the only two options. The best option, though, is often a 'third way.' If we can be creative enough to find ways to disarm hatred without either retreating or yielding to hatred ourselves, we often find that more constructive outcomes become possible."
In a world that's becoming more and more polarized, and where bullying of all kinds seems to be more and more visible if not more rampant than when I was young, isn't that a beautiful story and message to teach our kids in order to help them navigate difficult and painful situations?
It probably goes without saying, because the message is so doggone beautiful, but "White Flour" is an exquisitely crafted book, as well. Illustrations by Jenn Hales are bright and colorful and anything but boring, and the overall production of the self-published hardcover work is remarkable. The whole thing is the product of a community- and fan-driven Kickstarter project that went above and beyond LaMotte's (and everyone's) expectations, resulting in an initial print run of 10,000.
I'd be proud to carry such a book in my imaginary children's bookstore, and until that dream becomes a reality, I'll just have to settle for throwing my book party for "White Flour" here in the blogosphere.
This is an important book from an important voice for our times who is teaching us -- and through us, our children -- how to be peacemakers. And there are few things more important in life than that.
Watch a video of David LaMotte reading the poem "White Flour":