By Michael Genhart, illustrated by Priscilla Burris. Magination Press, 2020. 32 pages. $14.99/hardcover or eBook. Recommended for ages 4–8.
What a variety of ethnic and cultural streams converge and mix in the United States! The more we learn of our family histories, through genealogy, and now through genetics and the very DNA we carry, the more we discover what a rich mix we are. In an era when some political circles are calling for ethnic and cultural “purity” (most often meaning of northern European origin), can we teach our children to honor and celebrate the multiculturalism the United States is truly made of? Such is the purpose of this small, tender book.
In his story, the author draws from his own bicultural family, Swiss on his father’s side and Mexican on his mother’s side. He tells the story of a little boy (much like himself) and the first meeting of the boy’s two grandfathers at a family gathering. His Swiss “Opa” speaks only German, and his Mexican “Abuelo” speaks only Spanish. Polite silence between them fills the first part of what looks to be a long and awkward family day. Suddenly, the little boy remembers that both grandpas love to play the accordion: Opa in a polka band and Abuelo in a mariachi band. He gets them to bring out their instruments, and, shyly at first, the magic begins to happen. Before long Opa and Abuelo are making music together, blending their accordions, Opa yodeling to mariachi, and Abuelo hooting to polka. All of this adventure in togetherness is endearingly pictured by the illustrator (a Mexican American who raised biracial children with her partner of European descent).
In their book, Michael Genhart and Priscilla Burris present a beautiful image of an ethnically interwoven family, and how children can open the door to this interweaving process, in this case through the healing language of music. I trust that parents reading this story to their own children will help plant seeds of harmony between our many U.S. cultures, seeds that will help their children along in later years, when they are ready to make their own families, in this ever-diversifying cultural wonder of the world that is the United States of America.
Ken Jacobsen and his late wife, Katharine, served as teachers and co-directors in various Quaker communities over the years, including Olney Friends School and Pendle Hill. In recent years, Ken has taught courses at Chicago Theological Seminary. He keeps his home on Lake Delavan in Wisconsin as a poustinia, a prayer house for travelers.