Craig Pomranz is a New York City singer and performer. Made by Raffi is his first book, in which he partnered with illustrator Margaret Chamberlin, to tell the story of Raffi. In Pomranz’s story, Raffi pursues his unique talents of knitting a scarf and cape for a school pangeant despite other students thinking those activities were “girly.”
Visit Craig’s website: http://craigpomranz.com/
Buy Made by Raffi:
OR: You stated that “Made by Raffi” was inspired by a true story. How did you come to be aware of it and what made you decide to make a children’s book about it?
CP: One day after school my godson Rafael (Raffi) began questioning his own lack of interest in sports and asked, “Is there such a thing as a tomGIRL?” He coined a term that sheds light on our society and how we look at one another. A tomboy is acceptable, even met with support and a smile. A boy interested in traditionally girls’ hobbies meets with disapproval. I quickly saw this was a story that needed to be told.
OR: There’s a Bob Dylan song called “To Ramona” with the line: “From fixtures and forces and friends your sorrow does stem. That hype you and type you, making you feel that you gotta be just like them.” It’s irrational when we think about it to expect others to be just like us. Where do you think this human urge to condescend towards individuality comes from?
CP: As a professional singer, I’m pleased to see a great lyricist referenced in your question! The song in part laments the misery of a woman who takes the opinions of others too seriously. (The problem with the song is that the narrator is also telling her how to think, but that is a discussion for another day.) The “urge to condescend to individuality,” as you put it, often comes from a place of fear and weakness – there is truth in the cliché that if you scratch the surface of a bully you will find a coward. Bullies lack confidence and are therefore threatened by someone who lives life completely differently. Co-existing with people who think and act differently from us requires practice and experience, but can bring great rewards, as your readers know. How exciting and interesting to interact with people who are artists or scientists; single, married, raised in different religious and political traditions!
OR: Issues of bullying and psychological abuse receive more awareness today than they used to. But, are we really making progress when it comes to the experiences children are having?
CPI don’t think bullying has diminished at all nor can we ever eliminate it. Instead, we must find a path to self-confidence and find a way to take the tormentor’s power away. I have received messages from parents who read the book to their child and in the ensuing conversation realized that their kid IS the bully. These parents are working on helping their child to learn empathy. If that is happening I have made a valuable contribution, but it is more likely that the bullies have the tacit approval of their parents.
When I speak with antibullying groups I remind them that raising awareness among the people who are being bullied is a small part of the problem; what they need is a strategy for coping. In my book the parents do not complain to the teacher, instead they tell their son he is perfect and loved just the way he is, so he can proceed with his activities. This kind of support is so important. I do not have any illusions that this will always work, and certainly teachers and caregivers must watch and prevent teasing from getting out of hand. My point is that we never will fully escape the forces of conformity and social control — every day we have to work on our inner strength. We may choose to conform, but at least let it be a choice! And let’s help children find a way of dealing with the situation on their own.
OR: How has social media amplified the level of bullying that we are seeing?
CP: Social media is simply a new, more effective, method of bullying – effective because the audience is huge and the bully can hide. The result should have been predictable: anonymity permits us to display our worst nature. It also affords the powerless the opportunity to be aggressive and normalizes bad behavior, seemingly without consequence. One thing I fear is the isolation aspect of social media. It’s easy to find “friends” with similar interests and only interact with them. We all have seen how political discourse has been debased into a shouting match on all sides, and it is happening on an individual level as well.
We can’t ignore the positive side to social media. For example, social media can highlight diversity and the isolated can now find a way of engaging in the world. I am also delighted to see so many supportive remarks when young people proudly post pictures of themselves, even if their body type doesn’t match the idealized swimsuit model. We must find a way to embrace these tools positively.
OR: Has the revolution in LGBT rights also had positive side-effects on the level of allowed individuality in society as well?
Revolution is the right word, and it has happened quicker than anyone predicted. The widespread acceptance of same-sex relationships and the visibility of transgender individuals has provided a roadmap for accepting people who live differently. The approval of same-sex marriage has moved faster than anyone thought possible. Of course, with this visibility comes other issues. I long for the day of acceptance for all and not just tolerance.
OR: What kind of response have you received from your book so far? Do you plan to write more children’s books in the future?
CP: Writing Made by Raffi has been one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever had. The fact that it is available in 11 countries and eight languages to date indicates that the ideas and messages in the book cross all cultures. The response has been astonishing. I hear from families in highly conservative cultures who want to change the status quo. One of the first messages I received was from a man in Istanbul. He wrote: “Today I enjoyed to preorder your beautiful and meaningful children book for my cousin. Especially here in Turkey we need to learn respect to the one who is different than us. Thanks for your effort to make the world a better place to live.” On the other hand, there was the editor of a Texas newspaper who wrote to me saying he wanted to write about Made by Raffi, but his publisher said it would not sit well in their demographic. We see change, but it moves slowly.
OR: What can we all do each day to help others be their true selves and follow their own bliss?
CP: It is a constant struggle, isn’t it? Those of us who are trying to operate on a more evolved level still are drawn to conformity all the time. I try to discipline myself to accept another perspective. I want to hear other perspectives. When kids tell a story in a different way than I understand it, I say “It could be that way…what does it mean to you?” If we can stop directing and start listening we can set an example.
OR: Thank you so much, Craig. I hope I see more childrens, or other, books from you in the future.