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Small steps toward tolerance
As a child and as an adult, Linda Sue Park has witnessed many episodes of racism between Asians and blacks. In an author's note to her new novel, Project Mulberry, Park writes, "Awareness and discussion are the first steps toward healing, and my hope is that this book might be one of those small steps."
Julia Song is Korean-American. She and her friend Patrick have just joined the Work-Grow-Give-Live! Club, which they call the Wiggle Club, after its initials. Started in cities and suburbs to teach kids about farming, the club involves kids in activities and projects. The first project that Patrick and Julia come up with, at the suggestion of Julia's mother, is raising silkworms. But Julia doesn't like the idea. Too Korean. Patrick prevails, though, and they plan a major project: raising silkworms, photographing the whole process and doing an embroidery project using silk from the worms they raise.
Problem is, where can they find mulberry leaves for the silkworms to feed on? Their search leads to a Mr. Dixon, who has a mulberry tree. When they meet him, Julia is surprised he's black, and he's surprised that Julia and her mom aren't white. In fact, he thinks they are Chinese. When Mrs. Song isn't keen on the idea of Julia's visiting with Mr. Dixon, Julia wonders if her mother is racist. She remembers her mother hadn't liked Mrs. Roberts, Julia's favorite teacher ever. Mrs. Roberts was black, and Mrs. Song questioned her ability as a teacher since black people in the United States haven't always had the same opportunities as white people.
But the project is on and, through trials and tribulations, Julia and Patrick create something special, go to the state fair and do quite well. Julia realizes she can't do much about her mother's feelings toward Mrs. Roberts and Mr. Dixon, though she understands the importance of doing small things. One of these days, for example, she wants to invite Mr. Dixon for dinner, and she'll start taking little brother Kenny with her when she visits Mr. Dixona bit of early training in friendship and tolerance.
Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.