Lisa's column

JAN 18

January 18, 2002

Stories are a great way to learn

Teaching your child - By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

"Each buffalo child is quite perfect at birth.

It needs no permission to live.

Some nod of approval or threat of removal

Is something that's not yours to give."

- from "The Calico Buffalo" by EJ Stapleton

If you want to teach a child a principle, tell him a story. Give him the freedom to view things as they unfold for the characters. Let him slip into the underdog's shoes. Allow him to see what happens to those who make wrong choices, and that's one lesson he won't soon forget.


The message moves from a do-this, don't-do-that mode to one of wonder, stimulation and growth.

Sharing stories is a wonderful way to build relationships, and it's a great way to learn.

"It's my favorite way to get a message across," says artist and author EJ Stapleton. "We all go in as equals."


Stapleton, who fondly remembers the stories his grandmother told, has written his first children's book, "The Calico Buffalo."

It's a tale of diversity and division.

The buffalo nation's chief and his mate have a baby who is different from the other woolly brown buffaloes. They wonder what to do about this little calico one. This question takes them on a quest to seek guidance from the origin of their species, a figure of mythical proportions. The truth they discover was in their hearts all along.

Stapleton, who wrote the book over an 11-year period, says he hopes it will prompt discussion.

When a person is different from those around him, that is his gift to the group, Stapleton says. If we embrace differences and realize that all people can contribute to society, we will start to see pieces of ourselves in others. That's where unity and peace can reign.

Many times our shared experiences with literature fall short because adults underestimate what children understand, says the New Bedford, Mass., resident. "Sometimes they're not using the right words for what they mean."

After reading a book to a child, adults should probe a bit, asking a child, "What do you think about such and such?"

Here are other suggestions from Stapleton:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Help your child become familiar with a variety of cultures, what people look like, how they dress, their customs, their talents. Show them picture books, take them to museums, libraries, cultural events.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Avoid putting people in categories. That highlights differences.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Talk about your family's heritage and ethnicity.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Talk about the talents possessed by each member of your family, and how those gifts can be used to benefit others.

"Life, to be as rich as it can be, needs everything you bring to it," Stapleton says.

The author's royalties are being donated to The Home for Little Wanderers and The Jessie-Bullens Crewe Foundation. Both are nonprofit organizations that provide services to children. For information, go to on the Web.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> n n

Looking for books about diversity to read to your children this weekend as we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday? Here are two titles, both available at Washington County Free Library, that my children enjoyed:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> "Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King" by Jean Marzollo; illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney. An introduction to the civil rights leader.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> "Freedom School, Yes!" by Amy Littlesugar; illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

When her house is attacked because her mother volunteered to take in a young, white woman who came to teach African-American children at the Freedom School, Jolie is afraid, but she overcomes her fear after learning the value of education.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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