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Local author celebrates differences with 'purple penguin'

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Author Marybeth Wishart will team up with inspirational speaker Chris Singleton for a special author event on the subject of celebrating differences from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Nov. 7 at Main Street Reads.

Weather permitting, it will take place in Hutchinson Square; if rainy, it will be at the bookstore.

Colleen Ratcliff will read both books followed by a question-and-answer session.

The central theme of her book, “Parker the Purple Penquin” is to teach children about acceptance, empathy and kindness.

Regan: How did “Parker the Purple Penguin” children’s picture book come about?

Wishart: About 30 years ago, while driving my two young children to school, they would often ask me to “tell them a story.” This was one that became near and dear to my heart.

I was a special education teacher in a diverse school district. It was a time when we began the inclusion of special needs students into general education classes and activities.

I wanted my own children to embrace the differences around them and know the importance of showing kindness.

The original title was “Peter the Purple Penguin.” While working on the book, I found others had used Peter the Penguin. My grandson mentioned the name Parker. I fell in love with it since the street I grew up on was Parker Avenue.

Regan: How did you like working with your publisher, Mascot Books?

Wishart: I spent much of this past year or so learning about the children’s book market, etc. I was introduced to Mascot Books through another local author, Jewel Sweeney, and began the project. They were very supportive and I enjoyed working with the various people, like the acquisitions and production editors, the illustrator (Marianella Aguirre who is mulit-talented and helped bring my vision of Parker to life), marketing manager, etc. Due to COVID-19, there was some turnover which was difficult. I had hoped for the book to be released earlier this year, but I think the timing now is just right.

Regan: As society has changed, many see a lack of communication skills in the younger generations.

Are you concerned about this?

Wishart: I believe all children want to succeed and be valued. It is so important to address this at an early age and keep talking about it as children mature. The schools are asked to do an incredible amount--from educating all students to the current standards, being responsible for their many psychological and social needs, caring for their health, safety, and even nutrition. I do think teachers incorporate civics and ethics into their lessons, especially through good literature. Our communities must continue to support our teachers and schools as the needs of our students are so vast. Yes, instilling the values of acceptance of differences, empathy and kindness must begin at home.

Regan: Given COVID-19, do you think kids are going to fall way behind with their education?

Wishart: I am in awe of what our schools and teachers have had to do in 2020. They have had to adjust to virtual learning at the drop of a hat and they continue to learn how to address the needs of all their students in a very new way. Schools have worked so hard over the years trying to get students to consistently attend school, have success and provide for their varied needs. I do worry about the students who don’t have the resources or aren’t able to get support at home to learn virtually. Working parents are in a very difficult position and students who have special needs, another dominant language, or parents who aren’t able to be home due to their job responsibilities may struggle and fall behind--that is why using all the resources our communities can offer is vital.

Regan: What are the core values that people should grow up with—the “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” principle?

Wishart: It is very clear that the “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” is a command and edict that we are to follow. The word “neighbor” means all people, not just our inner circles. In the bible, God speaks of our neighbors (such as in the story of the Good Samaritan) as those who are culturally and ethnically different than us. God speaks clearly when He says we are to help those in need, no matter who they are. There are wonderful people doing just those things here and around our world. Adults and children can all take part. Spending time with people different than us and truly striving to understand them is a great place to start.

Regan: Future books planned?

Wishart: I spent time during “quarantine” to write some children’s stories and take online classes to improve my writing skills and learn more about children’s book publication. I hope to be able to publish some of them in the future. Most of the stories are about young children figuring out who they are (their strengths and similarities to those who like different things), some are fun stories such as a Christmas mystery and one is about a little girl trying to use up all her words each day. Parker has become rather popular so maybe there will be another Parker adventure in the future!

Regan: Do you hope that with the raised awareness of diversity issues in the news this year that we will have a generation which emphasizes the core values of love, acceptance, empathy, and kindness, etc.?

Wishart: I sure hope so. Our society seems to always struggle with these issues. I am hopeful that people will start to do some of the hard work of looking inward. We need to learn from each other. Each of us needs to see where we fall short of embracing others who look or think differently than we do and then find our commonalities.

Mary E. Regan, Columnist, is a publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy and is seeking more clients. Story ideas? Email: Mary@ProPublicist.com.