Brattleboro author/illustrator team's children's book promotes diversity, accept of 'otherness'

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BRATTLEBORO >> "Ralph Flies the Coop," an upcoming children's book aimed at teaching children about broadening their horizons through travel, intercultural experience, and foreign-language learning, was released in September by Green Writers Press.

Ralph Flies the Coop, written and illustrated by Brattleboro residents, Jaimie Scanlon and Ellen Tumavicus, uses the character of Ralph, a rooster who leaves the farm and travels the world learning to say "cock-a-doodle-doo" in different languages, to introduce children to the concept that stepping outside our comfort zone and being open to different types of people and experiences can change our lives — and ourselves — for the better.

The book's message of "openness to otherness" became particularly timely, says its creators, given the current themes of anti-immigration and xenophobia dominating the political climate around the globe. "The project took on deeper meaning as we continued to collaborate over the past year," said illustrator Tumavicus.

Scanlon and Tumavicus, both veteran educators, drew upon their own experiences living and teaching abroad to create the story and imagery. Scanlon was inspired to write the story over a decade ago while teaching English to children in Japan. "I was teaching a group of kindergartners the sounds that farm animals make in English — the cow says 'moo;' the pig says 'oink, and so on. The kids thought it was hysterical and wanted to teach me the sounds in Japanese. I wanted to write a children' book that would capture that playfulness and the fun of language-learning and international travel, especially for kids ,like many in Vermont, who may not have a lot of exposure to multiculturalism." When she and Tumavicus began working together, Scanlon says, they agreed that the final product needed to address the broader, related themes of acceptance of diversity and the meaning of global citizenship.

Tumavicus, a public school art teacher who has taught at international schools in Trinidad and Spain, cites current events, including terror attacks around the globe and Donald Trump's anti-immigration platform, that sparked a sense of urgency about including the message of acceptance and a desire to encourage parents and educators to start conversations with children about cultural diversity. "Watching the news, we realized the timeliness of Ralph's message." she said. "The future will depend on the ability of today's children to move past the fear and break down these perceived barriers. We hope this story will lay that groundwork in a fun, age-appropriate way."

Ralph Flies the Coop has been praised by educators as "an excellent resource for studying culture and community." Deb Pierotti, a veteran teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School field tested the book in her second-grade class, noting, "It stimulates discussion of how journeys can expand awareness of ourselves and others, leading us to serve as more valuable members of our own community. My hope as a teacher is to offer my students stories that lead them to view differences with curiosity and respect. This book does that with humor and a very positive message."

Jaimie Scanlon and Ellen Tumavicus will be at the Brooks Memorial Library Meeting Room on Sunday, 3 to 4 p.m. for a reading.


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