Photo: Margaret Densley / Contributed Photo
Thirty years after she first envisioned the idea, a former Middletown teacher has published a book about a penguin struggling to find acceptance because of the color of his coat.
Marybeth Wishart said her first book, “Parker the Purple Penguin,” chronicles the lead character’s struggle with being ostracized and bullied while trying to make his peers understand a simple truth: the color of his coat does not dictate who he is or his capabilities.
To launch the picture book, Wishart partnered with Chris Singleton, son of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, who was killed along with eight other victims in the 2015 Emanuel AME church shooting in Charleston, S.C. The launch happened at an event in South Carolina last week that addressed the theme of love being greater than hate.
She said she had tucked her story draft away in a drawer for nearly 30 years before taking it out last year and deciding to get it published.
Wishart didn’t decide to bring Parker to life until after retiring to Charleston. There, she met Jewel Sweeney, a children’s author in her neighborhood who introduced her to editors at Mascot Books, helping her get the story published.
Wishart thought she had missed the mark for the best time to publish the story, but found that as tumultuous as 2020 has been politically and socially, it turned out to be the perfect year.
During her time at Macdonough Elementary and Middletown High schools, Wishart worked with other teachers to help include special education students in the general classroom setting. She said students with diverse cultural backgrounds and learning capacities inspired the storyline of “Parker the Purple Penguin.”
She remembers reading her story off a handwritten page to her own children and wanting them to “embrace the diversity of the school system.” She believes that children, and even adults, can use the book to learn about diversity and what acceptance of others looks like and means.
“It’s teaching all of those things that we need to work on: empathy and kindness and accepting differences and loving your neighbor,” Wishart said.
Difficult conversations surrounding topics such as diversity and inclusion should be sparked at a young age Wishart said.
“We’ve all got some work to do in that capacity and so I think having those conversations with kids can be hard, but using a children’s book or story, you can start having those conversations and really that’s where it has to start,” she said. “As we’re reading it, adults will be reminded of things through that. So I’m hopeful … that it will make a difference.”
“Parker the Purple Penguin” will be available on Amazon starting Dec. 8 and can be found at Mascot Books.