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This book started very small, about three feet tall -- the height of my niece Dionne when she asked me to read her a bedtime story -- more than twenty-five years ago. It amazed me that most of the books I found for her back then were just that, books designed to put Dionne and her mind to sleep. They told stories of the good girl she ought to be -- stories of the impossible girl that no girl ever was -- but seldom stories of who she could really be if she felt free enough to imagine...everything.
I wanted a different kind of book for Dionne, one that would wake her up to her possibilities, a party of a book to celebrate who she was and all she could become. Many of my writer, poet, and composer friends wanted the same for the children they loved -- and these wonderfully talented and generous people donated their work to the project we called FREE TO BE...YOU AND ME -- a special new collection of stories, poems and songs that would help girls and boys feel free to be who they are and who they want to be.
As Dionne grew up and learned how BIG her life could be, I realized what children like her needed now was a really GIGANTIC book, roomy enough to contain all the things they had to know about the huge variety of people who cluster together and call themselves "family." The idea was that if you studied up on the folks in your family, chances are you would soon be an expert on how to get along in the big wide world when you grew up. FREE TO BE...A FAMILY looked like a regular-sized book, but deep down inside, it was enormous. There was room in it for all the kinds of families that shelter and nurture children, all the kinds of friends and relations we are to each other, all the different kinds of households we live in and love in.
FREE TO BE...YOU AND ME and FREE TO BE...A FAMILY are like balloons. The more you read them and use them, the more they stretch, the bigger they become, and the more of the world you can see inside them. A lot of kids who are now grown-ups looked back on how their world stretched and grew while they read FREE TO BE...YOU AND ME and FREE TO BE...A FAMILY and they wanted the same big balloon experience for the children they love. So now we've taken stories, songs, and poems from both books and created a SUPER GIGANTIC fun-filled FREE TO BE collection especially for you.
Each story changes with the voice that tells it; each picture is transformed by the eyes that see it. So go ahead, put your own personal stamp on this book. Write your name in big letters in the front. Read it aloud. Act it out. Sing it for all to hear.
Remember, this is a new party of a book. It's being thrown not just by those of us who wrote it, but by those who once read it, the children the grown-ups who love you used to be.
The party is being held in the country called "Us," in the town called "Possibilities," on the street called "Freedom" -- to be, to become, to imagine...everything! The time is now. And you are all invited.
On Wednesday, March 4, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Marlo Thomas, author of FREE TO BE...YOU AND ME AND FREE TO BE...A FAMILY.
Marlo Thomas: Yes, I am!
Marlo Thomas: From the inception of the idea of FREE TO BE...YOU AND ME, our intention was always that whatever profits we made would go into a foundation that would help children. The address is Free to Be Foundation, Inc., 120 Wall Street, New York, NY 10005. It's to fund nonsexist, nonracist child-care centers, to provide information for nonsexist educational materials, and to help children through health and safety projects.
Marlo Thomas: The movie is not airing in the spring, I'm shooting it in the spring, and it's called "Forget Me Never." I'm glad you like the book!
Marlo Thomas: I'm so glad your heart has room for these books. I love them too. No, there is no new material. It is a complete collection of both of the Free to Be books in one gigantic book.
Marlo Thomas: I think the scariest things going on in the schools today is that the programs for the arts are being cut. Some of my fondest memories of school was in music appreciation classes, in art classes and drama classes. That's where children's imaginations are sparked. To eliminate that from children's education seems terribly destructive. It was John Kennedy who said, "Our society will not be remembered for our politics, but for our arts." I'm sure that's a bad paraphrase, but you get the gist of it.
Marlo Thomas: I really thought about being an actress when I was a child. My father used to call me Sarah Heartburn, and I used to give little shows in my closet -- it had sliding doors, and I would use the sliding doors as a curtain. I would make my poor mother watch the shows.
Marlo Thomas: Yes, very much so. In the story of Atalanta, which is an old fairy tale that we rewrote. In the original fairy tale, there is a princess, and her father, the king, wants her to get married, so he asks all the young men in the town to run a race, and the one who wins will win the hand of the princess. We rewrote the fairy tale, and in our story, Atalanta runs in the race, too, and she says if she wins, she will decide whether she will marry or whether she will not. She ties in the race, and she and the young man who win go off about their lives. Atalanta travels and sees the world by land, and the young man John goes off on a ship, and the last line of the story is, "Maybe they will marry and maybe they will not, but we know that whatever happens, they will live happily ever after."
Marlo Thomas: Well, first of all, it feels great -- it's like being in constant contact with my dad. The St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is the embodiment of his spirit. Whenever I go there, I can feel it -- his kindness, and his concern for sick children. I grew up with this dream he had of building this hospital, so it's always been a very big part of my life and my sister and brother's lives. My father founded it in 1962, and he worked to maintain it until his death, in 1991, and since then, my sister and brother and I have taken up where he left off, and we're very proud that the research continues stronger than ever. Last year we won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Dr. Peter Doherty, chief of our immunology department won it with his partner for his work on T-cells, which is the unlocking of the secrets of the immune system. So this exciting work goes on, and it's thrilling to be a part of saving children's lives.
Marlo Thomas: My father did raise us with a sense of purpose, that there was a reason that we were born. He used to always say, "Blessed are they who know why they are born." So I think I always imagined that I would be very committed and passionate about what I did with my life. Year by year I discovered what those passions were, and I have dedicated my time and my energies to them.
Marlo Thomas: Well, she's very proud that she has a book that was created just for her. In fact, her brother and her cousins are always teasing me about when they are going to get their book, so she often says, "Yes, I'm the Dionne that Auntie Marlo created FREE TO BE for," and I'm very proud of her. She's leading a life that I had hoped she would find. She's a television producer, and she has made a wonderful marriage with a young man who I think is very much her mate.
Marlo Thomas: Well, I've talked to many friends of mine through the years, and we've always wondered about the things we weren't taught as children; how long it's taken us to learn certain lessons in our lives; and how we wished that, in many cases, there could have been some shortcuts, not only save time but to save a lot of pain. And when I began to ponder what this book would be, all it would contain, I invited friends of mine to sit around with me and talk about how we would like to have rewritten our own childhoods. And what we wished somebody had told us. One young man said, "I wish somebody had told me it was all right to cry." And from that came Carol Hall's wonderful song "It's Alright to Cry." All of the pieces came from somebody's wish.
Marlo Thomas: The adults were always the ones who bought it, because this is a children's book, not a teenager's book. The foreword and the afterword, as someone remarked earlier, are targeted to an adult. So it was always bought by parents and adults and teachers. Many teachers have written me over the years to tell me that they are using it in their classrooms. In fact, I was on the radio today, and I woman called in to tell me that when she was in the third grade, every Friday her teacher would play a selection from FREE TO BE...YOU AND ME, and the children so looked forward to those Friday sessions when they would be entertained and talk about what was the substance of that piece, whether it be a song or a poem or a story. So, to answer your question, adults' reaction has always been very key to the success of the FREE TO BE books.
Marlo Thomas: I don't know if we can make it in time, but someday I would like to do something that gives children a sense of heroes and a sense of ethics. I think those are things that are very hard to find today.
Marlo Thomas: I think I came up with the idea of calling it a party because it feels like a celebration of yourself and a celebration of all the selves you can be, and also because I think it's a book that one can enjoy with other people with your friends and teacher in a classroom, with your mom and dad, with your grandma or grandpa, or anybody who you like to be with.
Marlo Thomas: I think we will, just not right now. We're rereleasing both the book, which is a gigantic collection of the two books, and both of the CDs, so it didn't seem that we could also put out the video at the same time -- it would be too many things. But so many people have been asking for it that we may put it out sooner than we expected.
Marlo Thomas: No, Kurt Vonnegut had written that for something else, I don't remember what, but when we asked him to write something for our book, he though that this would be appropriate as an afterword. I was thrilled when I saw it, because FREE TO BE is, indeed, what he described, a guide for children when they arrive on the planet.
Marlo Thomas: I love "Ladies First" -- it always makes me laugh. Shel Silverstein is such a brilliant satirist, and it's a wonderful way to show little girls that the whole idea of ladies first is an outmoded one and a dangerous one. "Atalanta," because it is the only fairy tale that tells young girls that they don't have to marry in order to live happily ever after; and "William Wants a Doll," because it says to little boys that it's perfectly normal to want to love and cuddle something. I have so many favorites -- I guess they're all my favorites, but those are three that strike me.
Marlo Thomas: Thank you so much for chatting with me -- I've never done this before, and it was really a lot of fun and very moving for me to hear from so many people that grew up with FREE TO BE and that find it a treasure from their childhood. I know how much my childhood treasures mean to me, and I'm honored to be a part of your treasures.
Posted April 14, 2000
This book does a great job of entertaining while avoiding general stereotypes portrayed in other children's stories. As a child care worker I've read this book to children as young as 2 and as old as 14 and all of them have loved it. And I enjoy to sit down and read the stories and poems myself. If you have kids, know kids, work with kids, this is a must have!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.