I know it when I see it...
A downpour may have dampened the coiffes and chic ensembles dashing toward the residence of the Pakistani Ambassador near Dupont Circle to launch Fashion for Pakistan Flood Relief. But it was barely noticeable compared to the deluge the Pakistanis have been through.
Organized by Georgetown resident Shannon Grewer after she witnessed devastation firsthand after floods swallowed up entire cities last summer, the event was designed to help victims, raise awareness, and bring people together.
The red carpet, which had only hours before been mislaid at Dulles airport and rescued by Shannon's resourceful husband Jether Grewer moments before it was rolled out, then became the scene of the beautiful, flowing and fantastically colored and bejeweled dresses and tunics that the designer had brought from Pakistan for the occasion and soon to be available in this country. As one model after another strolled the carpet, the audience was captivated by the stunning beauty and unique nature of the designs.
After the fashion show concluded the men retired to the cigar lounge and the women stormed the table where the tunics designed expressly for the event were for sale. What started as an organized table with neatly stacked piles of brightly colored tunics soon resembled the bargain bin at Filene's Basement as the corner of the room became an impromptu Loehman's dressing room and women tried the well-priced tunics on over their party dresses. The designer's staff dug valiantly through the piles for specific sizes and hurried back and forth replenishing the supply, which went quickly.
Monday night I attended a reception for the children's author Robie Harris, held at the home of friends in Georgetown. The invitation listed the titles of three of Harris' "best-selling and award-winning" books and promised comments from Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America about how to talk to young children about sex. Most people associate NARAL with abortion rights so the connection to children's health was not immediately obvious. I was intrigued and curious.
Since I didn't know much about Ms. Harris, I looked up her books online before the party and found that she also has recently become something of a talking head on the subject of banned books, particularly children's titles, a subject that as a writer is close to my heart.
The reception, which was mostly women, began after pleasant mingling and discussion of Thanksgiving plans. Nancy Keenan briefly discussed the mission of NARAL and their position that sex education should be offered in schools, both public and private. Relating a poignant example of a young teen who didn't understand the lifelong consequences of the sexually transmitted disease she had contracted, Ms. Keenan had my attention. Stressing the importance of pertinent information for children and teens to ensure their ongoing physical and emotional well-being she then introduced Robie Harris. The author, a grandmother from Cambridge, Massachusetts, explained how she "fell into" writing books that explain in words and pictures the cycle of life (including babies) to small children and the changes of puberty and sexuality to older ones.
As an already established children's writer in the 1980s, Ms. Harris was approached with the idea of writing a book for teens about the emerging problem of HIV/AIDS. At that time she decided she couldn't write a book about AIDS without covering the other obvious health and sexual topics related to it and proceeded to research her book with some of the top-rated scientists, physicians and psychologists in the country.
Harris then went on to recount how several publishers enthusiastically received her book initially, but later asked her to remove or tone down certain sections, which she refused to do. Eventually she came to Candlewick Press, a children's book publisher in the Boston area, that agreed to publish her book in its entirety. After "It's Perfectly Normal" was published, Harris and her publisher found themselves defending the book from challenges in public libraries and the threatened removal of the book from school libraries. There were protests and media attention and the book was frequently stolen from public libraries only to be replaced time and again by library supporters and private donors. Harris professed much admiration for librarians in general including one who told her she wouldn't keep the book in her own home, but felt it was her job to keep it available at the library. In the meantime, along with her other children's story books, Harris worked on the two follow up volumes to "It's Perfectly Normal" (which is designed for teens and pre-teens 10 and older) titled "It's so amazing" (aimed at ages 7 and up) and "It's not the Stork" (for 4- to 6-year-olds).
Ms. Harris fielded a few questions and also talked with parents as she signed copies of her books to their children and recommended which book might be more appropriate depending on the age of the child in question. She suggested reading parts of the book to your child until you see her "glaze over" or "dipping in" to a section to address a specific question.
While Ms. Harris skillfully skirted any political comments, she made her position on sex education for kids and teens very plain. As her website will tell you, she and her illustrator Michael Emberley "believe that our kids, preteens, and teens need and have a right to have the most up-to-date and accurate science facts about reproduction, puberty, and sexual health." She also noted that although you may not agree that all parts of her books are appropriate for your child, you can always "skip" the parts you aren't comfortable with or ask another family member, clergy or pediatrician, etc. to explain something to your child. The main message she seems to be delivering is: explain the facts and don't hope that your child is getting them somewhere else (such as school), because they may not be or they may be wrong.
Recently Robie Harris' books on sexual health were given a big thumbs up over similar books in the field by New Yorker writer Jill Lepore in an article titled "Too Much Information" (Oct. 18, 2010). Lepore called Harris' books the "best of the batch" and noted that they "have an endearing and companionable matter-of-factness," are "genuinely sweet," and the illustrations are "honest and tender."
So far, my two boys have only asked me the most general of questions about the beginnings of life and the differences between boys and girls, but since I won't have the reassuring and practical advice of Robie Harris in person, I plan to keep a few of her books close at hand for when I need a review of the facts.
For more information: visit Robie Harris' website and that of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Parents, faculty and supporters of Hyde-Addison Elementary School in Georgetown held their annual auction and dance party amidst a dazzling array of donated items and class projects created by the students decorating the room, raising over $70,000 to expand the school's edible garden, support excellence in teaching, and nurture healthy minds and bodies.
Some of the attractive and well dressed group at the Four Seasons hotel Friday night were having a hard time recognizing each other without their usual chargés in tow and out of their daily playground attire. But the event, called Step Up + Get Down, quickly brought everyone together for a night of relaxed fun and huge support for the school.
Friends and supporters of Hyde included Washington Fine Properties' Nancy Taylor Bubes and Jamie Peva, and TD Bank as well as the Four Seasons. The silent auction included jewelry, artwork and home items donated by the likes of Proper Topper, The Phoenix, Keith Lipert Gallery and many others. Signed copies of books by local authors and radio and television personalities went like hotcakes. Also on the block were the ever popular "date with a teacher" items that included kayaking, zoo trips and book store lunch outings with your favorite teacher as well as "Principal for a Day" and "School Nurse for a Day." The "Buy it Now" option was exercised by the lucky winner of "Peter and his Swedish Pancakes," an international treat accompanied by strumming of Swedish guitar songs.
The live auction is a high point in the evening, in part due to the fabulous vacation homes in Brazil, the Outer Banks and horse country (to name a few) donated by the Hyde community and largely due to Curtis Alexander (otherwise known to one and all as "Mr. C" ). Games Coordinator by day, Mr. C has a not-so-hidden talent by night as Auctioneer Extraordinaire - cajoling, joking and even singing the money from the pockets of the crowd as he extols the virtues of the various class projects, behind the scenes tours and the aforementioned vacation destinations.
Bidding was fierce by parents coveting their child's class projects which included incredibly creative and one of a kind books, videos and hand-painted home goods. The stated value for each of these was, of course, "priceless."
Like last year's event at the Swedish Embassy, the auction will provide much needed funds for enriching Hyde's edible garden and math programs as well as other initiatives for healthy minds and bodies. As the auction ended and the music started, couples took to the dance floor. The mood was ebullient as parents relaxed and laughed, knowing that it was as Mr. C had already proclaimed, "all for the children."
Hyde-Addison is one of the most diverse schools in the District, serving 250 students from many racial, economic, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds in the heart of Georgetown.