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Archive for Anne Sibley O’Brien

A Path of Stars: Anne Sibley O’Brien contributes to “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland” City-wide Read

Anne Sibley O’Brien’s “A Path of Stars”

Stories build understanding.
Understanding builds neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods build a strong city.

Support the sharing of stories of Maine’s “new arrivals” and the cultural fabric of the City of Portland.

Peaks Island children’s book author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien has made an important contribution to the upcoming city-wide read of books supported by the Maine Humanities Council called “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” When she’s not crossing the globe by plane to visit fans, crossing the harbor by ferry or the island by bicycle to go home, she’s adding to her impressive list of children’s book publications.

Mostly recently, Anne has authored “A Path of Stars” (Charlesbridge Publishing), the story of a Cambodian immigrant grandmother, Lok Yeay, who tells her granddaughter about her homeland and how her family would sit in their yard and watch the stars that glowed like fireflies. To write a picture book that captured the Cambodian American experience here in Maine, Anne explains,

I started by reading every survivor memoir I could find, until the outline of life in Cambodia before 1975, the Killing Fields, the escape, and life in a new land became familiar. I talked with several scholars about trauma survival and the sociology of Cambodian Americans. Most significantly, I listened to my friends Veasna and Peng Kem, who spent hours sharing their own memories with me. Many of the details in this story come from their accounts, or were inspired by them.”

A Path of Stars has been named a Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2013 by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC); it has also been named an Honor Picture Book of the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature 2013 based upon its literary and artistic merit, as selected by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association.

Anne illustrated another one of the nine books chosen for this city-wide read: Moon Watchers, an inside view of daily life in a modern Muslim family during Ramadan. A launch event for the city-wide read of books set in Maine’s new arrival communities will occur on May 25th from 3-6 p.m. at the Portland Public Library.

Island Authors Featured at Bangor Book Festival

One of the advantages of living on an island is that we all funnel onto our sturdy ferry and cross the harbor together for a full twenty minutes (each way), a period of time sufficient to catch up on our neighbors’ lives. This counts as one of my favorite things about Peaks Island. On one such crossing Friday, I learned that two of our island authors were embarking for Bangor to present at the Fifth Annual Bangor Book Festival.

Anne Sibley O’Brien and Catherynne Valente joined 33 other authors in 25 events over two days. Annie presented “How Fascinating!: Multi-Culturalism in Children’s Literature” with Margy Burns Knight. Cat led a “Journey into Fantasy” workshop and joined Ellen Booraem and Jennifer Richard Jacobson on the “Creating Characters in Children’s Literature” panel.

Congrats to Annie and Cat for representing our island literary community!

Anne Sibley O’ Brien

Anne Sibley O'Brien writing at home

Anne Sibley O'Brien writing at home

Twenty five years ago this month, Anne Sibley O’Brien received a phone call, the phone call that writers long anticipate; an editor called who wanted to publish her book. Since then, O’Brien, or “Annie” as islanders know her, has illustrated an impressive 29 books. Of these, she’s authored thirteen. Two of them came out just this year – Jamaica is Thankful and After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance (written in partnership with her son, Perry). Book number twenty eight rolls out in January.

coverO’Brien took time out from promoting her most recent book, After Gandhi, to meet with me in her home nestled by Peaks Island’s Backshore. A hefty box on her living room table held handsome promotional materials paid for by a Maine Arts Commission Good Idea Grant. By distributing these postcards nationally, Annie  is reaching out to adults who work with youth in peace studies or religious institutions with a strong social justice component. Her book events model the book’s content, that is, the events support social activism.

I asked her if she felt she was writing against the grain by showcasing peace makers as heroes. O’Brien replied “I think people all over the world are longing for peace. Everyone wants peace, but in some circles there’s confusion between peace and capitulation, passiveness, or other practices that have no spine. Anyone who works in peace making doesn’t have that confusion. Peace is hard work; it’s not easier than going to war. Opposing violence is a powerful thing to do.”

The Legend of Hong Kil Dong

The Legend of Hong Kil Dong

It’s not easy to map the breadth of O’Brien’s talent. She’s a Mt. Holyoke College-educated studio art major who’s not only an author and illustrator, but the playwright and solo performing artist of White Lies, a theater piece informed by her experience growing up in South Korea as a missionary doctor’s daughter. White Lies explores storytelling, rather than guilt-laden and defensive discussion, as a way for white people to ally themselves with people of color in the struggle to end racism. Annie questions and illuminates cultural boundaries in her life, in her books, and on her blog, Coloring Between the Lines.

Sketches from the wall of Annie's studio

Sketches from the wall of Annie's studio

This month she was interviewed by the Korean media MBC who is filming a documentary series on the Korean superhero Hong Kil Dong, also the subject of a graphic novel Annie published three years ago. O’Brien credits consultant Kirsten Cappy of Curious City for the attention her “Korean Robin Hood” is getting this long after publication. “This is the first book I’ve actively promoted. Kirsten has helped me identify core audiences who aren’t reached by the standard publisher channels.” In the case of Hong Kil Dong, that meant Korean Americans; reaching this population took Annie to the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of Natural History where she presented a Reader’s Theater performance of her book, in conjunction with the opening of a Korean collection. The Korean media took note. The Legend of Hong Kil Dong has also launched her onto the comic book scene – in November you can find her at the Kids Read Comics Convention of the Miami Book Fair International.

Hats off to you, Annie, for trying to make the world a better place, one book and one reader at a time!

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