A Favorite Children’s Book and My Criminal Past

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Ukelele and Her New Doll, by Carol Louis Grant

Sometimes, I think it’s easy to forget just how lucky I am to live on this island, to be raising my child here. Guam is truly a wonderful place to be. There are so many conversations about what we don’t have, that I occasionally forget to stop and appreciate all the things that Guam does have. Is it just me, or do people seem to complain all the time? Listening to other people complain can be toxic. People can put a lot of energy into listing all the things they think Guam does not have. But in truth, we have quite a bit. I am excited to see that many of my friends who are raising children on Guam think it’s important to expose their child to all that our island has to offer. Many of the parents I know seem determined to help their kids see Guam from a positive place: as a place of plenty, a place where creativity can grow and opportunities can present themselves.

One of the best ways to instill these important lessons in our children is through books. I love books. I especially love children’s books. I have had a small obsession with children’s books even before motherhood came and threw my life into a tailspin. I never got rid of my childhood library. The books I loved as a little girl still sit on our bookshelves today. My mother and I could never bring ourselves to let them go. There were too many memories and adventures attached to them! I loved reading so much when I was a kid that I became a criminal to fuel my overwhelming need for more books. I used to steal books from my school’s library.

I would spend hours hunting for books that people had not checked out in a while, then create a secret stack somewhere in the back of the library and slowly come back throughout the week to lift them.  I would also steal books from cousins or friends who I thought did not appreciate their books enough. If I saw that they were the type of child who might write or draw in their book, I would secretly “confiscate” it. If I saw that the child did not enjoy reading, I would remove the book and bring it to a place of gratitude: my room. It was pretty sick. Finally, my aunt intervened upon finding a huge stack of stolen library books in my closet. She told me that I could simply check them out or ask my parents to get me a copy of the book I liked. I tried to explain that it wasn’t just about wanting the book: it was about saving the book, rescuing it from children who did not like to read or from sitting unloved in the library! I was the patron saint of books! I was performing a good deed! I had become a “book shelter.” Still, she insisted that taking books without permission was wrong. She reminded me that stealing was a crime.  Whatever.

Now that I’m in my thirties, I still fight the urge not to “rescue” books from undeserving people or places. But having a child has given me a new excuse to hunt for and save beautiful children’s books. Today, I wanted to show you a book that has always been one of my favorites. I think it’s a beautiful story to share with your child, especially if your child is from the Pacific (or from any colonized group at all). Vicente’s godmother, Chrissy, sent us this “rescued” copy and I love reading it to him. I don’t think he understands what is happening in the story yet. I think he just likes flipping through the pages and naming things: baby, water, boat, flower, fish etc. But each time I read it, I absorb its message for myself. It acts as a reminder for me as well. After all, I am also a product of colonization. I need a reminder every now and then too!

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Ukelele receiving her new doll.

The book is called Ukelele and Her New Doll, by Clara Louis Grant. The book tells the story of Ukelele, a little girl from a beautiful Pacific Island, who casts aside her beloved, locally made, doll for a fancy new doll off of a European ship. At first, Ukelele is impressed with the new doll. However, she quickly finds that while the new doll is fancier and more exciting (because it is new, different, and framed as “better” because it’s from somewhere western) it does not work well for play on her island. It wasn’t made for little girls like her, who play as she does.

At the end of the story, she learns to appreciate her original doll. She’s still nice to the fancy doll. She doesn’t throw it away, but she leaves it sitting on the side because she learns that for a special little girl like her, she might need something different.  Ukelele realizes that the doll made on her island, for little girls like her, is just as good (if not better) than the fancy doll from the European ship.

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Ukelele ultimately chooses the doll made of local materials.

I love the story because when you’re a child on Guam, you are constantly bombarded with images of life in the Continental US. I sometimes hear children here talking about stateside products, or wearing stateside brands, as if, through the ownership of those items, they are somehow “cooler.” I love that the story reminds children to value what their home has to offer too.  You can admire foreign structures, products, and ideas.  You can adopt them when they truly work for you or please you, but it’s important not to disregard the systems, traditions, and ways of operating that are part of your unique heritage. Ukelele might be a hard book to find, but it’s such a beautiful addition to a Pacific child’s book collection. The illustrations are beautiful and the message is powerful.  What are some of your favorite children’s books?  Why?  I would love to write about them (or have your write about them).

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