Monday, July 13, 2009
Children, adults enjoy reading of book tackling Alzheimer's.
By WILLIAM SMITH
When Linda Gerdner wrote a bilingual storybook last year about a Hmong grandfather struggling with Alzheimer's, her intent was to educate children about a disease that touches every culture.
But when she read her book "Grandfather's Story Cloth" during a children's story time at the Burlington Public Library Saturday morning, it was Burlington grandfather Ed Whitham who was most moved by the reading.
"My wife's mother right now is in the Alzheimer's unit, so we understand what's going on there," he said. "It's tough. It's surprising. She'll remember things back from the '30s and '40s, and two minutes later, she won't remember she was there."
Ed and his wife Marsha Whitham brought along their 4-year-old grandson Jace Whitham and 2-year-old grandson Brock Whitham, who did an admirable job of staying in the their seats during the reading.
Before the reading began, Gerdner of Burlington gave the children a brief summary of the Hmong people and where they came from.
"A long time ago, they lived in China," Gerdner said. "There was a lot of fighting in China, and they didn't like it. So they moved to a country called Laos, and it's a lot smaller than China. They lived in very different homes than we live in. They had dirt floors and thatched roofs."
A number of the Hmong people fought against the communist Pathet Lao during the Secret War in Laos, where they were trained by the CIA as a special guerrilla unit. The Hmong people were singled out for retribution when the Pathet Lao took over the government, forcing them to flee to Thailand in the late 1970s.
Many of the refugees resettled in the United States. Most moved to California (where Gerdner is a consulting professor at Standford), but the largest single community of Hmong in the nation is in the Twin Cities.
It was there Gerdner got to know the Hmong people and discovered the dearth of research on dementia concerning them. That's why she it took it upon herself to write "Grandfather's Story Cloth."
"I taught at the University of Minnesota," she said. "Often times, if they (the Hmong) had an elder with Alzheimer's, they thought it was a normal part of the aging process. Or they thought it had a spiritual origin."
The book is about a child, Chersheng, coming to understand his ailing grandfather medically and culturally and learning to relate in new ways.
One of those ways is through a story cloth, which is a kind of thin quilt that tells the story of a Hmong's life through illustration. During the reading, Gerdner showed off a few story cloths of her own, which can easily be purchased in the Twin Cities.
"I've got over 50 of them. I'm addicted to story cloth," Gerdner said with a laugh.
No one was more fascinated than 5-year-old Talia Goody, who continually leaned forward out of her chair to look at the book's illustrations.
"Grandfather was a simple farmer, and every day, he woke up to the second crow of the rooster. He didn't have an alarm clock. Roosters crow when the sun rises, and what does a crow sound like?" Gerdner asked the children.
"Ka-ka-ka-ka," Goody promptly answered.
Gerdner has spent the past year promoting and reading the book around the country and is planning another children's book about Alzheimer's in the near future.
"Grandfather's Story Cloth," which wad co-written by Sarah Langford and illustrated by Stuart Loughridge, has won numerous children's book awards, the most recent being a gold medal in the 2008 ForeWord Magazine Children's Picture Book category.