Author Samara Cole Doyon, with a copy of her book “Magnificent Homespun Brown” that she presented during an author event at Eight Corners School on May 4. Doyon visited each of the primary schools in Scarborough as part of a grant-funded activity program from the Scarborough Education Foundation. Courtesy photo

 

“Magnificent Homespun Brown,” written by Samara Cole Doyon and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. A copy of the book was distributed to every student in the Scarborough primary schools, grades kindergarten through two. Courtesy photo

SCARBOROUGH — Primary students in Scarborough have been celebrating identity and learning more about the craft of writing thanks to a grant from the Scarborough Education Foundation earlier this year.

Students in grades kindergarten through second grade have received a copy of the award-winning book “Magnificent Homespun Brown” by Maine author Samara Cole Doyon, said Michelle Shupp, the civil rights club adviser at Scarborough High School, who wrote the grant request last fall.

The story celebrates the color brown, she said. Doyon, a former elementary school teacher in Portland, using similes and poetic language to portray the story’s message of loving one’s own skin.

An author event has been taking place at each of the primary schools through May, with Doyon visiting the three schools through Zoom to chat with students and answer questions, but the activities and learning did not end there, said Shupp.

“Since December, Ms. Doyon, instructional coaches from the elementary schools, the principals and some of our elementary educators have been working together to develop a lesson plan on social justice standards that celebrate identity and validating students’ identities and each other’s identities,” she said. “So it’s not about comparison. It’s about seeing the beauty in each other.”

Students from the civil rights club have also been involved in the planning process for various activities, Shupp said.

“One of the things that for our civil rights club students over the years that has really been a point of emotion for them over the years is that they wish that they had been validated and told that they have value and worth in our town as young children,” she said. “Of course, racism and questioning your value, which all children do, not just children of color, that starts very young.”

The story, instead of diminishing traits of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color)  individuals, which often happens in other media, uplifts black and brown students, said Isabelle Liu, a junior at Scarborough High School and president of the civil rights club.

“Alongside my fellow civil rights club members, I helped with planning and organizing the event and other events related to it,” she said. “I have enjoyed interacting with the people involved in the project, especially the author, Ms. Doyon. It was truly beautiful witnessing her love and dedication to her young daughter.”

Seeing the high school’s civil rights club students returning to their former primary schools has been a nice experience, too, Eight Corners Principal Anne Lovejoy said.

“We were just really excited to have the collaboration with the high school students,” she said. “To see those kids that were here so many years ago grown up and so sophisticated and so well-spoken, just doing amazing things, you know? They leave here as 8 year olds and to see them come back as 16, 17 year olds is just amazing, so it was great to close that circle and have them come back and touch base with us again.”

“Magnificent Homespun Brown” and the grant allowed for teachers to educate students on both the celebration of identities and the writing process, Lovejoy said.

“It has helped to celebrate the diversity in our school system and in our classes,” she said. “I think it just was an opportunity to really enrich everybody’s perspectives of themselves and what’s special about them. The book is so rich and so beautifully done. It’s not a typical child’s picture book that you read in 10 minutes and are done. You can spend days reading a couple of pages and talking about the language.”

During Doyon’s event at Eight Corners on May 4 — she visited each of the three primary schools on different dates — she explained the process of putting a book together.

“I’m going to be talking about how I became an author, why I became an author, and what you can do if that’s something you want to do as you continue to grow and write,” Doyon said. “You can choose to do that for a job if you want to. You can absolutely choose to do that.”

“Magnificent Homespun Brown” was released in July 2020, and has won four awards, Shupp said. The book received the Coretta Scott King Award for the illustrations, the Lupine Award for the writing, the New York Public Libraries Best of 2020 award and the International Literacy Association 2021 Primary Fiction Award Winner.

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