Children’s literature can be a dicey game. There’s a fine line between engaging and entertaining young kids and making something so simple and pandering that it comes off as corny.
“All Are Welcome” has struck such a balance, though, clear by the local interest it has drawn. The book, which is a collaboration between Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, was named a New York Times Bestseller upon its 2018 release. Recently, local musician John Simon, inspired by another area resident, decided to write music to accompany the book.
The book’s theme, made obvious by its title, is “All are welcome here.” It’s a book dedicated to embracing and promoting diversity, with depictions of scenes at school, like a science fair, gym class and a fold-out last page encapsulating the full school year experience. There are white kids, black kids, Latino kids, disabled kids, Muslim kids; there’s an obvious effort to show as many different portrayals of children as possible.
But Millie Clarke-Maynard, who inspired Simon’s composition of a song for the book, decided the book should have an easier path to get to the kids it was made for. Clarke-Maynard, a former ICSD elementary school teacher, sits on the campaign committee for the new Arthur Kuckes Child Care Center at Tompkins Cortland Community College, which was discussing ways of honoring families who would be leaving their children at the center for the first time. When the topic turned to gifting families a copy of “All Are Welcome,” and Clarke-Maynard volunteered from there.
“I like action,” Clarke-Maynard said. “I believe in leading by example. A lot of people talk about issues like equity and access, but that is all they do is talk. I like to support the beautiful people in our community who make things happen. I hope others will step up to the plate so that more schools and child cares and children can experience ‘All Are Welcome’ together.”
The book’s aforementioned theme rang true with Clarke-Maynard, especially in 2019, and she decided it was a message everyone should at least have a chance to consume.
“I have always believed in creating access, and I wanted all of the children and their families to have this book in their lives, and as part of their experience in childcare at Tompkins Cortland Community College,” Clarke-Maynard said. “I like that the book is part of welcoming all families with open arms. [...] Right now there are families who don’t feel welcome, and who are afraid, so to say those words with open arms, in a way that is non judgmental really resonated with me.”