Jennifer Jackson & Miry Whitehill - Authors of Our World is a Family.
Our World is a Family is a pre-school/elementary-level picture book by Miry Whitehill and Jennifer Jackson (illustrations by Nomar Perez) that explores the experience of refugee families and those who welcome them in. With bright illustrations and thoughtful explanations, Our World is a Family discusses how refugees arrive in their new neighborhoods and how the community can help them feel welcome and further more— loved!
Not to mention one dollar from each sale of the book helps refugees in America!
Miry Whitehill is the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization ‘Miry’s List’ and co-author of Our World is a Family. Jennifer Jackson is a children’s author who has two books under her belt, including this book with Miry. You can find more info on Jennifer Jackson and her awesome work here.
We got to chat with these hard-working authors all about the new book, what it means to them, and what they hope it will do for others. Enjoy!
Our World is a Family book.
For Miry: In your TedX video you discuss how Miry’s List began because of a connection you made with a new-arrival Syrian refugee family in your neighborhood. I’m curious if you’ve kept up with each other; do they know about Miry’s List? If so, what do they think of it?
Miry: Miry’s List began when my neighbor Suzanne Smith ( I often refer to her as the ‘mayor of Eagle Rock’) called me up and told me about a resettling family from Syria in LA who she met through her church. At the time I was on maternity leave from my job to be home with my kids who were 7 months and 3.5 at the time. When we met the family in their home, the connection began in learning about what life was like for families coming to CA through the US government’s refugee admission program. I was surprised to learn that the family’s under-furnished apartment represented a systemic problem of refugees starting out in homes that are not set up to be fully functional, comfortable or safe for their families. This was the very first challenge that Miry’s List took on as a community to help resettling families. It’s been 6 years, and we have grown quite a bit since then… currently we have a staff of 18, and we’ve already helped 940 more families! Me and Suzanne remained friends with that first family for many years, and they have since moved to Northern CA. Miry’s List started friend-to-friend, one neighbor helping another, and it’s been important to us to maintain that personal, nurturing spirit of friendship in our programming all these years later.
For Miry: Our World is a Family is a great way for people and kids to learn about refugee families in their community. Certain people might seek out an organization like Miry’s List, but there are others who may not even be aware of the cause. How do you reach out to those who are not actively seeking out the organization?
Miry: Word of mouth has always been the way most people hear about Miry’s List. Approximately 90% of the families benefiting from our programs heard about us through a friend, family member, or neighbor. Once a family hears about us, they are able to apply for our program on our website, where our application is available in multiple languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Ukrainian and Russian. Our volunteers, donors, and many helpers also hear about Miry’s List though friends and family, but also we are lucky to have some great media as well, especially since August 2021 when the evacuation of allies in Afghanistan began. Social media has been our go-to mechanism for keeping our community of helpers updated on what’s happening and what we need help with. Now 6 years in, we recognize an opportunity to do more to bring even more helpers to the table, and we are exploring SEO and other web and search marketing solutions for identifying more prospective helpers, donors, and volunteers. If one of your readers is an SEO expert and wants to get involved as a volunteer, please reach out– we need your help: firstname.lastname@example.org
How did the idea for “Our World is a Family” come about?
Jennifer: I was so inspired by the families working with Miry's List– their journeys, their hearts– and began to wonder if there was a way to take the Miry's List mission of welcoming and turn it into a picture book. So I just asked her! And thank goodness she said yes.
Miry: Since the very first meeting with the very first Miry’s List family, I noticed a need for language and tools to talk about welcoming with our children, families, and others who were interested in helping. I believe deeply in the emotional intelligence of children, which includes talking with kids honestly about hard topics. I wanted to provide my kids with more context on the situation for their new resettling friends, so they could understand, for example, why their homes looked different from ours. Why their friend’s bedroom might not have a bed in it yet, but it will soon, because we are lucky to be able to help. For the sake of my own children and the kids of the families we were helping, I practiced as much as I could to find age-appropriate words to talk to my kids and their friends about welcoming refugees. For a couple years, I experimented with various kinds of language, expressions and stories, and eventually found words that really worked: It resonated with kids and promoted curiosity about the topic. Jennifer and I know each other through an online moms group, and in 2018 she reached out to ask if I’d explore with her in turning the message of Miry’s List into a children's book. That was the day we started working on Our World Is A Family together. We tested the material through an after-school club at Eagle Rock Elementary called People of the World, which today lives online as a learning space for kids ages 3-9 to accompany our book. Since the release of Our World Is A Family, tens of thousands of kids aged 3-9 have been able to learn about becoming welcomers in their classrooms and communities. We just heard the huge news that our book will have a 2nd print and will also be available in Target retail stores starting this fall. We are overjoyed to know that we will potentially reach millions more with the important message of welcoming in our book.
For Jennifer: Did you know about Miry’s work before becoming involved with the book?
Jennifer: Yes, I got to know Miry and her work through a parenting group we're both in. I was a supporter of the organization before I really knew her.
For Jennifer: We know some of Miry’s story and how ‘Miry’s List’ came to be, so I’m curious about your story. Were there any experiences or motivations in your own life that inspired you when writing the book?
Jennifer: One side of my family came here from Syria in the 1950s so I imagined all they went through to get here and what they faced when they arrived. I know there were very caring neighbors who welcomed them and are still in touch to this day. How we welcome newcomers is so important and that was one aspect I found inspirational as we wrote the book. And in the present, I see what's happening around the world and how hard families are working to find a safe place for their children. I want to be part of that, to help create a safe landing spot, so hopefully our book will inspire welcomers of all ages.
“Our World is a Family” is a great way to get word out about the needs of refugee families. Did you have any specific objectives when creating the book? What did you hope the book would accomplish?
Miry: Our goal for Our World Is A Family is to inspire kids ages 3-9 to be welcomers in their community and classroom. Our book is a tool for engaging kids in conversations about being new somewhere, build empathy for others, and inspire involvement in the community. We hope that Our World Is A Family is not just a book that will live on the shelf in our readers’ homes, school and libraries, but that it will inspire acts of welcoming. Spoiler alert… we’ve included lots of ideas in the book and downloadable companion materials for kids of all ages to get involved in welcoming
Was there anything important that you knew you wanted to include in the book?
Miry: Representation was a primary focus for this project, in the manuscript, illustrations, marketing, and other important facets of putting a new book in the world. We knew we wanted Our World Is A Family to be full of practical tools, and we also wanted it to be joyful in tone, empowering to the reader, and all about people. Our book agent, publisher, illustrator, and many more individuals who worked on this project because of their passion for the message and expertise contributed to making Our World Is A Family into this gorgeous reality that is now on shelves in bookstores, libraries, and airports nationwide! We really hope you love it.
Did you come across any roadblocks in the process of creating the book?
Jennifer: Not that I can think of! Collaborating with Miry was an inspired process and so much fun. Then, we absolutely lucked out with the best publisher we could imagine. Sourcebooks Kids understood the book immediately. They knew exactly what it needed and paired us with an incredible illustrator, Nomar Perez.
Miry: Roadblocks included life, work, kids, pandemics, grad school (Jennifer became a social worker while working on this book!) and many more things I’m processing through with my therapist. There is literally never a good time to write a book. We each faced unlimited roadblocks, however, we were able to navigate them smoothly, for the most part, because we were very happy to work together and we were able to cheer one another along as were carried out this journey of publishing a book together. If you ever want to spend time with someone, write a book together! And the reverse is also true - do not write a book with someone you don’t want to spend time with!
What was the most joyful thing about creating the book?
Jennifer: As a creator, the joy is getting to work with Miry because she is a light in this world. As an activist, it's about spreading the message of welcoming. When we do readings, we get to watch the kids' faces light up when they see themselves represented on the page as a newcomer, a welcomer, and sometimes both. That is pure joy.
Miry: I love reading our reviews. It is so validating to see that the message of the book is resonating with people, bringing them more deeply into the challenges that refugees in the United States face, and to know that the message is educating and empowering kids, without worrying them.
For families who read the book and realize they also want to support refugees in their community– where should they begin?
Miry: Miry’s List is a fantastic place to begin! If you’re in LA, get your family tickets to our July 16, 2022 show at The Ford, Our World Is A Family! The same title as the book! Keep up with Miry’s List on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and we have a bi-monthly newsletter, Hive Around Five, featuring shoppable wishlists for five families who need our help. We are mostly funded by donations from individuals, and signing up to give monthly is one of the most important ways to support the long-term sustainability of Miry’s List.
Miry's List Spice Kit.
You can also purchase the Miry’s List spice kit at Leanna Lin’s Wonderland! Four spice varieties - Shawarma, Za'atar, Aleppo Pepper and Sumac – in beautiful reusable wide-mouthed jars (1.75 oz) invite home chefs to explore these robust, aromatic culinary essentials. 100% of the proceeds support Miry’s List core programming.