"Grandma Book" series teaches kids culture, compassion
Milwaukee's Raejean Kanter has six grandchildren, all of whom refer to her as "Grandma Book."
"I've always read to them a lot," says Kanter. "My oldest granddaughter first gave me the name when she'd see me pull up in front of her house, always with a bag of books."
Eight years ago, Kanter's daughter was transferred to India for work and her niece, one of Kanter's grandchildren, couldn't understand where Aunt Jill was going. Kanter attempted to find books about India for kids, but found very few that were acceptable and decided she would someday write her own.
However, due to work, community involvement and family illnesses, Kanter put off the project for almost a decade. Earlier this summer she released, "Grandma Book Travels: Vietnam," the first in a series of travel books for kids.
In the story, Grandma Book celebrates Tet, which is the Vietnamese New Year. The book also introduces traditional Vietnamese foods, rituals and celebrations. Phonetic spelling is offered throughout the book to help with pronunciation.
Kanter isn't sure how many books she will include in the series, but currently two more are underway.
"The mission of the Grandma Book's series is to help young children learn about other cultures to foster a greater understanding of inclusion at a young age," she says. "As an elementary school student, I remember reading a book about a boy who lived in the Caribbean. I became fascinated by this area of the world and subsequently, traveled to most Caribbean islands, gaining great appreciation for the people and cultures. I'm hoping to spark the same passion in young kids."
In the second book, due out this October, Grandma Book travels with Santa Claus to nine different countries where she learns more about the children who live there and their special name for Santa. (Fun fact: Kanter has played the role of Mrs. Claus at malls and for many non-profit holiday gatherings.)
"Holidays are a good way to interest kids in other cultures because they enjoy them so much," she says.
In 2018, Kanter will release a third book – this time about India and the holiday of Diwali.
Kanter, who has traveled to more than 40 countries, often knows about the culture first hand. She also researches and makes contact with people from various countries to get a deeper perspective.
Now 70, Kanter spent many years working and volunteering in a variety of fund-raising and executive director roles for non-profit organizations. Most recently she was the V.P. of Community Relations for The Falk Group Public Relations. She has served as executive director for the Forest County Potawatomi Community Foundation, Community Health Charities of Wisconsin and March of Dimes of Southeastern Wisconsin. She has chaired events for the American Heart Association, United Negro College Fund and YMCA of Greater Milwaukee.
Kanter, who holds degrees from St. Norbert College and a Master's from Cardinal Stretch, is the BizTimes' 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award winner in Philanthropy.
A lifelong Milwaukeean who currently lives in Bay View, Kanter still describes herself as a "Polish South Side girl." At 37 she was diagnosed with cancer and thus she is particularly pleased to be embarking on a brand new passion at the age of 70.
"You can still do many things later in life," she says. "The only way we will learn to have a more peaceful society is to take the time to know each other better."
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