Portsmouth writer Terry Farish found inspiration for her April 2016 picture book, Luis Paints the World, from the kids at the Lawrence Public Library, where she used to work as a children’s librarian.
The kids there came from a variety of different cultures, and during bilingual storytimes in the children’s room, they would sometimes sing “Naranje dulce,” which is about goodbyes. She remembers one specific boy there who was missing his brother — he was overseas performing military service — but there were many kids experiencing the pain of being separated from a sibling or parent due to deployment.
“A large percentage of the volunteer army is made up of immigrants or recent citizens. Lawrence is a city just like Manchester, with a lot of diversity and a lot of immigrants. And that’s why I was seeing this so much in the kids who came in,” said Farish, who recognized and empathized with their experiences. “I was married to a man in the Air Force for many years. We had a daughter together, and I saw how … abandoned kids feel when their fathers leave.”
Farish calls herself a “wannabe journalist;” though many of her books are fictional, they’re based on real stories and experiences. The subjects she’s most interested in are inspired by wartime and immigration — perhaps because one of her first jobs was working for the Red Cross in Vietnam.
Her most recent novel, The Beginning or the End of the World, was published in October 2015 and explores the intersections of love and war in a young Cambodian-American girl’s life. Another, The Good Braider, published in 2012, is a free-verse novel about a teen and her family’s journey from war-torn Sudan to Portland, Maine.
But for this book, she wanted explore war from another perspective: that of someone left behind.
“[Kids are] like, ‘Why did you leave me?’ Children see it in their own personal and emotional worlds. … They don’t understand the context. … That was what I was trying to explore. … How can they help themselves deal with it,” Farish said. “It had to be a picture book because I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a young child who doesn’t understand war, who doesn’t understand why his brother had to go. [The boy] is only 5 or so, and in the world of children’s literature, the genre is an illustrated book.”
Luis Paints the World, set in Lawrence and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez, is about a 5-year-old who deals with his brother’s deployment through art. He paints all the things he did with his brother on the alleyway wall behind his house, and as he awaits his brother’s return, the mural grows, with the help of his bustling Dominican neighborhood.
Farish was also inspired by the mural-making activities happening in Lawrence at the time, and the kids becoming inspired because of it.
“In one case, they were drawing the world, the globe, and they were seeing themselves as this part of the world. There was such a sense of discovery,” Farish said.
Farish visits New Hampshire libraries this fall as part of a nine-week, nine-library project, “Community Stories: Soldiers Home & Away,” and her next is Thursday, Oct. 27, at 4:30 p.m., at the Hampstead Public Library. She’s finding similar community mural stories in other Granite State towns.
“As I travel with the book, that has been a part of my journey. I didn’t realize how widespread the art form was, but in almost every town in New Hampshire I go to, I ask about the murals and [the kids] tell me where they are. They connect their town and the art with the town and the mural this small boy creates,” Farish said.