"OURS!" little Stella cries in A Bus Called Heaven. That's the defining moment in Bob Graham's new book and the word stands alone in a big double-page spread, echoing through his urban landscape.
There are thousands of children's books that celebrate creativity, compassion and fanciful good fun. In fact, as a Baby Boomer who loved reading books to my own kids, I often regret that we didn't have more of these colorful picture books back when I was a kid in the `50s and `60s. We've come a long way in throwing open the windows to childhood imagination. But, to this day--there aren't that many picture books for kids that specifically tackle the challenges of building a diverse community.
Over the years, as a journalist covering cultural diversity, I have highlighted gems about hospitality and diversity for all ages. For example, I've been a strong supporter of the delightful mouse-and-bear books by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton. I especially recommend A Visitor for Bear (Bear and Mouse) and A Bedtime for Bear (Bear and Mouse). And, as much as I like the tales from this creative team, even they haven't reached the kind of vivid, clear-eyed vision of diversity that Bob Graham summons in A Bus Called Heaven.
In Graham's world, we see Muslim women in hijab, Orthodox Jews in broad-brimmed fedoras, street kids in hoodies, bikers with tattoos, Hindus in neatly folded caps and Catholic priests in the full regalia of black suit and collar. We meet grandparents, parents and kids.
The main character is little Stella, who sees only the best possibilities in her neighborhood. One day, she spots a beat-up old bus that could be a dangerous eyesore for her neighbors. Instead, Stella sees a sacred space. Well, she doesn't call it "sacred," but it's obvious in Graham's tale that this derelict bus is a slice of heaven for everyone. Of course, only Stella can see this truth, at first. Only Stella calls it: "OURS!"
Go on! Get a copy of A Bus Called Heaven now from Amazon, while it's still available. Such books may sell forever, or may vanish after a season. This will become a family classic and, if you're involved in education or volunteer in your community--there's not a better book to share with kids. (And, of course, adults of all ages, too!)