Back in November, Ashfaq Taufique from the Birmingham Islamic Society (BIS), told me about BIS’s Story Time at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School and how they’d like Bham Now to do a piece about the event. I’ve written several pieces about the importance of Jewish and Muslim solidarity in Birmingham. This was the story I was born to cover.
But sometimes, you have to wait.
Sometimes you’re just not ready to do something. You might think you are, but something puts you on hold. You get a surprise, like, the only substitute available on the day of an event calls in with a family emergency and there’s no way sticking your students in another class for the day is gonna fly. You’ll let the guilt pile up, but you’ll also watch the world change, you’ll change. And when you are ready to do that something, it’s more meaningful.
This isn’t about politics. This is about simply teaching us how to get along. And about the importance of experience.
Story Time is a monthly event. December’s Story Time was held at BIS on a Wednesday night. When I walked into the room, the storyteller, Kirin Nabi, stood by a table covered in picture books and stickers. Her background as a librarian was evident in her display prowess and her ability to control a crowd of children without raising her voice. She greeted me with a hug and told me to sit anywhere. The propped up books, the fluffy red carpet, the kids sitting cross-legged in a cluster, trying to determine the best angle to turn in to see the pictures, and I was back in 2nd grade, waiting for the elementary school librarian to introduce the new Caldecott winner. It’s a warm memory, I’m sure I’m not alone in my nostalgia.
Story Time is a thematic event, each month focuses on a particular issue or life skill. This month was about problem solving. Each book was read with an appropriately dramatic flair. The kids laughed as they leaned in to get a closer look at the illustrations. After each story, Ms. Nabi lead a short discussion about the book. What was the problem to book presented? How did the protagonist handle the problem? Did it solve the problem, or just hide it? What types of problems are there? Ms. Nabi was asking the kids these questions, but the adults nodded their heads in contemplation as well. She is warm, she is funny, she is incredibly gifted at what she does.
I had seen pictures from Friendship Story Walk, the event at the Day School. There was a very good turn out. The story, “Do Unto Otters,” was interactive, being told via crafts and activities. Laurie Keller’s Otter series deals with the importance of communicating with those who are different from us, understanding and celebrating those differences, and the ways we can show each other respect.
The event also had snacks, and parents were encouraged to bring along non-perishable foods to donate at the door.
Mr. Taufique’s goal for future events is to pair with “churches, parochial schools, homeschooling administrators, etc, would like to follow suit and have joint storytelling with the Islamic Center. This will go a long way in promoting understanding.” BIS often partners with local religious groups and charities to do service projects and community building, like their recent coat drive with Holy Family Cristo Rey High School in Ensley.
I’ve written before about being a fan of Mr. Taufique. I know that leaves me with a major bias, but I say, only because it’s true, Mr. Taufique and the community he represents are unsung heroes of the city of Birmingham, doing so much good with very little publicity or recognition outside of a few Facebook posts.
When I contacted Mr. Taufique about proceeding with an article about an event that, in journalism time, had happened in the ancient past, he simply responded that he knew things would work out, that he hoped everything was okay, and that there was a spot for me on that fluffy red carpet for the next Story Time.
Children’s books have always played a central role in the way we interact with the world. Whether you are the one being read to, the one reading with a child on your lap, or a group of kids on the floor, trying to absorb as much of the book’s art as possible, these are the stories that put our problems, our beliefs, our prejudices, into the simplest terms and makes us exam them in ways that are sometimes difficult for us to produce on our own.
Ms. Nabi is currently working on bringing a Little Free Library to BIS. She also keeps a Pinterest board updated as her own virtual library. Her book choices range from Islamic to secular, serious to silly, and focus on diversity, identity, courage to do what’s right, and critical thinking.
Here is a list of the books from December’s Problem Solving Story Time: