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NEPM brings you interviews with New England authors of books young people may enjoy.

With Harold the purple snail, a playground tale of diversity, curiosity and insects

"Harold from The Hood: A Trip to the Park" by Jim Price shows young readers the diversity of the world around them.
Courtesy
"Harold from The Hood: A Trip to the Park" by Jim Price shows young readers the diversity of the world around them.

Jim Price brought a purple snail puppet to work one day. As an adjustment counselor in the Holyoke, Massachusetts, Public Schools, his job was to help kids develop social and emotional skills.

The puppet, named Harold, worked like a charm, Price said. The kids had a great time connecting with him.

Now Price has featured Harold the purple snail in a picture book, "The Adventures of Harold from the Hood: A Trip to the Park." It's a tale for very young readers about living in a diverse community, Price said, without bias.

Jim Price, author: Because I know the climate of the country and stuff, there’s a lot of things going on. So I wanted to incorporate a way to have the characters be relatable to children, but also be able to craft social skill lessons within those stories that pertain to things like diversity and inclusion.

So in “A Trip to the Park,” for example, that book is primarily about accepting others’ differences. Harold goes to the park, he tries to find someone to play with at the park and he's turned down a fair amount of times because he's different from the other kids. But eventually he does find someone to play with and engages because they don't view him as different.

Jill Kaufman, NEPM: There's Jasper, a grasshopper who's green, who turns Harold down. There's a ladybug who has a beige face, but red dress. There’s a bumblebee. And in nature, it's all different colors. Tell me about what kids are seeing in a park and this division that you started to speak about, what's going on in the country and how this can help kids connect.

In terms of a lot of the things, the aspects, that Harold goes through in the book, kids are like that sometimes, especially the younger generation. You know, things do start at home. I have an 11-year-old daughter now — she doesn't care about going to the park now, but she used to want to go to the park. And when I would take her to the park, there was times where it seemed like parents would be kind of careful about who their kids would play with. And kids, they just have that overall curiosity of just wanting to interact and play and they don't really see the dynamics of what the other kid may look like or appear like. They're just trying to have fun and play.

Children are innocent and they learn these things over time — as far as differences and things like that in others. And if those aspects can be nurtured at an early age where, you know, parents are involved too, then that can create a culture where everyone is more inclusive and accepting of diversity and being able to get along and things of that nature.

I don't know a lot about the insect world, but I do know that ants are much more communal, at least amongst themselves. Was there a particular reason why the character Andy the Ant played with Harold?

You know, ants have their own little community. They do their own thing and stuff like that. And a lot of times, I think, ants — from my research and stuff — they seem to be more somehow symbiotic, just as well as other insects, too. You know, bumblebees have a symbiotic relationship with the environment and nature. I thought about a lot of those things.

So these are very purposeful books, not like a curriculum, but not unlike a curriculum in that there's a desire to teach kids how to connect to each other. And you and who you are. Jimmy Price, it sounds like you're a very hopeful person, also very solution minded.

Yeah. I mean, I grew up in a a very diverse high school — Central High School [in Springfield]. So I was able to connect with students that were different from me. And in a lot of aspects, if a person just takes time to open up their mind to being able to experience different things with someone else, and maybe there is a cultural difference or whatever the case may be. But when you take the time to open your eyes and open your mind to be able to connect with others, you might find that you have things in common with that person.

You're speaking about race. You're speaking about ability. Did you face any of the issues that your characters are facing, which is somebody doesn't want to play because one of them is a grasshopper and one of them is a snail?

Yeah. So, I mean, race is still a problem in the country and I think that trying to have those tough conversations with the youth — and even teaching through social skill lessons — can be helpful and help down the line in terms of everyone in the future, including the children and families too.

Jill has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing The Connection with Christopher Lydon, Morning Edition, reporting and hosting. In the months leading up to the 2000 presidential primary in New Hampshire, Jill hosted NHPR’s daily talk show The Exchange. Right before coming to NEPM, Jill was an editor at PRX's The World.
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