Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Children's book brings homeless issues to light


Rent, abandonment, eviction, homelessness, hope.
They’re heavy words often used by adults during complex times. Some of them are broadly referred to as social ills, or problems. But they’re all felt and experienced by children, no matter how young.

While not directly mentioned, they’re the common themes that run through a new children’s book called “One Big Tree,” by James Buckley, Jr., a local author of more than 50 books who has been involved with Transition House since 1993 and has been a board member since 2005.
Since Transition House provides a place for families to transition out of homeless and into affordable housing, Buckley embarked on a children’s book that dealt with the above mentioned issues, but through the lens of birds.
“The goal was to create a story that would be fun to read, entertaining for young and old alike, but that would also perhaps make people think a little bit more about helping our neighbors and how easy it can be to become homeless and how much our services are needed in the community.”
The book tells the tale of the Finch, Wren and Sparrow families, all of whom live normal, quiet lives until being forced from their nests for various reasons.
“One day,” the book says. “The Wren family came back from a family outing to find that their tree was very sick. In fact, it was dying, and a few days later, all the leaves fell off. The Wrens had to leave their nest.”
For the Sparrow family, it was a man with an ax chopping down the tree they lived atop of, and for the Finch family, Mr. Finch flew away and didn’t come back.
“The Finches waited and waited, but he didn’t return,” the book says of Mr. Finch. “It was very hard for Mrs. Finch to keep the nest in good shape and soon she couldn’t find the time to make it stay together. Their lovely nest fell apart … and they had to leave it.”
With knowledge of the metaphor at work, many at Transition House found their eyes well up with tears while reading the book.
“All of us who read it just kind of came to tears,” said Carly Harrod, a volunteer coordinator at Transition House. “It’s a great way to relate to kids and adults just what actually happens.”
As the three families flee their homes and begin looking for alternative housing, the Sparrow family visits a tree with a family of squirrel’s but the book says, “the squirrel family living in the trunk wanted too many nuts in return for space on a branch.”
The three families all end up finding a home in a large tree, which jubilantly says, “C’mon up! There’s plenty of room.”
Without publishing the entirety of the book in this story, the three families welcome the chance to live in the tree and eventually move on to other trees, or homes, of their own.
While the issue of homelessness might seem a steep one for a children’s book, Buckley said it’s not abnormal for such a book to take on a complex social issue.
“Putting a life lesson in a children’s book is not that unusual,” he said. “The trick is to put that into an entertaining context that kids can understand.”
Buckley said he wrote the book, and then gave direction to about a dozen children about the scenes he would like to have painted.
The pictures predominately consist of ink and watercolors, which portray bright scenes.
While none of the children who contributed were available for comment due to confidentiality concerns, Kathleen Baushke, executive director of Transition House, said those who participated enjoyed the experience.
“They loved being a part of a process that had a tangible result for them, especially since they’re kids who don’t have things. They’ve got nothing,” Baushke said. “To have something to keep that they not only have, but helped create, is an enormous thing for them.”
Buckley said the books were originally published and distributed as gifts for locals who purchased tickets to Transition House’s “No-Ball,” a fundraiser that technically doesn’t exist. Baushke said all of the proceeds raised from the No-Ball go to Transition House and not to purchasing cocktails and dinners for donors.
Buckley said the books were so well received at this event that Transition House decided to print up 1,000 copies – the cost of which was donated by an anonymous donor – and could be sold to benefit the organization.
“We hope this raises a lot of interest in Transition House and we hope it spreads awareness of the problem of homelessness in our community,” Buckley said. “And we hope people like the artwork.”
More information about Transition House is available at www.transitionhouse.com. The book, which costs $20, can also be purchased at the web site. The books are also for sale at Barnes & Noble on State Street, the 805 Deli on Santa Barbara and Carrillo streets and Underground Hair Artists at 1021 Chapala St. All proceeds from the sale of “One Big Tree” go to Transition House.

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