Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Books Are Our Emissaries

Dinner at the Panda PalaceAs authors, we send our books out into the world and, if we’re lucky, they con­nect us to good peo­ple whose paths we wouldn’t oth­er­wise cross.

For 28 years, Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been my excel­lent emis­sary. 

Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace start­ed as a sim­ple count­ing and sort­ing book with lots of ani­mals and a par­ty atmos­phere to make the learn­ing fun.  By the time it was done, it was a book of wel­come, as a tiny mouse comes knock­ing at the door, ask­ing “Is there room for one more?” It’s this part of the sto­ry that res­onates most with read­ers and has led to so many won­der­ful con­nec­tions over the years.

The book has con­nect­ed me to fam­i­lies:

Par­ents and chil­dren write me let­ters and, much to my delight, send pho­tos and draw­ings.

The book has con­nect­ed me to teach­ers:

Maryann Wick­ett, recip­i­ent of the 1996 Pres­i­den­tial Award for Excel­lence in Math­e­mat­ics Teach­ing, wrote two arti­cles shar­ing her and her stu­dents’ expan­sive ideas on the math con­cepts in the book.  Two decades after her first arti­cle appeared, she let me know she’d be read­ing the book to chil­dren in Kenya, where she was going part­ly on a human­i­tar­i­an mis­sion, part­ly as a tourist.  “Pan­da is for the human­i­tar­i­an part,” she wrote.

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The book has con­nect­ed me to reli­gious lead­ers and edu­ca­tors:

Ser­e­na Evans Beeks, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Epis­co­pal Dio­cese of Los Ange­les wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been rec­om­mend­ed as a chapel book for Epis­co­pal schools and preschools—perhaps not what you intend­ed when you wrote it, but the min­istry of hos­pi­tal­i­ty shines through it!”

At The Brooke Jack­man Lit­er­a­cy Foundation’s Read-a-Thon at Barnes & Noble in New York. The young man help­ing me out is D’Andre Lee, a cast mem­ber of Kinky Boots on Broad­way.

Helen Singer, Ear­ly Child­hood Librar­i­an at the Rodeph Sholom School in New York City wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace…ties in beau­ti­ful­ly with the Jew­ish con­cept of “Hachnasat Orchim,” wel­com­ing guests or the stranger into your home, as well as with the val­ues of kind­ness and inclu­sion.”

As writ­ers, we nev­er know which minds a book will enrich, which hearts a book will touch, what con­nec­tions will be made.  I’m grate­ful to have a book that has con­nect­ed me to such good peo­ple. In Mr. Panda’s words,

No mat­ter how many, no mat­ter how few,
there will always be room at the Palace for you.

My thanks to Wind­ing Oak, pub­lish­ers of Bookol­o­gy, for shar­ing this essay cel­e­brat­ing the 28th anniver­sary of Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace.

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