Children of all ages — and their parents — filled the Lake Oswego Public Library on Saturday to celebrate both Multicultural Book Day and the culmination of a unique project by the grassroots group LO Stronger Together.
In partnership with LO for Love, LO Stronger Together raised enough money through a bake sale to purchase multicultural books for every elementary school library in Lake Oswego. Those books were presented to their respective schools last week.
LO Stronger Together is a group of parents who say they are dedicated to raising cultural awareness and inclusion in the community.
"We got together at the end of 2016, when the rate of hate crimes spiked. We were very concerned about the climate nationally, and became even more concerned and disturbed when hate speech began to show up in our high schools," says Kimvi To, a member of LO Stronger Together. "We got started doing potluck dinners and brunches around the theme of embracing multiculturalism. We were just a group of five or six moms in the beginning. Now we have about 20 members."
Late last year, the group brainstormed ways to involve their children in their work and came up with the idea of holding a bake sale to raise money for multicultural books. They were inspired by the work LO for Love was doing in the community and decided to work together on the project.
"We care deeply about our kids and our community, and want it to be a place where people of all backgrounds and cultures are welcome," says To. "We feel very strongly that multicultural books are powerful tools to help get us to that place."
Miranda Doyle, the district librarian, says students have been anticipating the books for weeks.
"Our library is really excited about the new books. The students are looking forward to checking them out, and they've already been asking about them," says Doyle. "We have been making an effort to have a more diverse library collection, and this really helps. The books should be on the shelves this week, which is exciting."
Once LO Stronger Together found out that a national celebration of Multicultural Book Day was on the horizon, the group reached out to the staff at the Lake Oswego Public Library to put together the event that was held on Saturday. "It was perfect timing," says To.
The Multicultural Book Day read-in was a joyous event, featuring not only the books but also multicultural snacks (tortilla chips, palmiers, licorice and sesame treats). Local author Carmen Bernier-Grand, a recent Oregon Book Award nominee, read stories to the crowd in Spanish; she was joined by School Board member Rob Wagner, who served as an animated interpreter.
Other guest readers included state Rep. Andrea Salinas; Christine Moses, the Lake Oswego School District's executive director of communications; and LOHS student Margo Sidline, who recently organized an event to combat intolerance at her school.
"All of the special guests were truly local movers and shakers committed to diversity and inclusion," says LO Stronger Together member Tam Hixson. "I was especially entertained by Rob Wagner's reading of 'I Just Want to Say Goodnight,' as well as Carmen Bernier-Grand and Andrea Salinas' special bilingual presentation to kick off the program."
Hixson says she was filled with pure joy during the event.
"Everything about the program is what I love about LO," she says. "We were neighbors of all ages and different backgrounds who gathered because we care about the many stories that live within our community and beyond. It was only a couple of hours, but we reminded our children that every voice and story matters."
No need to worry if you missed the event, LO Stronger Together members say, because new multicultural books are now available at all six elementary schools.
"We hope you read them and enjoy them," says To. "But most importantly, our hope is that you'll talk about the books with your families and friends, and begin to start a conversation."