The Lake Nona Wave Hotel has a library of children’s books specializing in social justice.
In a destination focused on Disney characters and theme parks, and in a state where laws struggle to limit conversations surrounding diversity, a new boutique hotel in Orlando, Florida, is quietly trying to change the narrative of inclusion.
In partnership with Pranoo Kumar Skomra, owner of Reading of Rohi in West Palm Beach, Lake Nona Wave Hotel– which opened in late 2021 – has launched a rarely seen amenity: a library of children’s books. Around a hundred titles can either be consulted (and tasted in your room or at the library), or purchased. As the library is next to the reception desk, it is impossible to miss it.
“In fact, we’re also giving away books to younger guests, as a welcome,” says James Tattersall, the hotel’s sales and marketing manager.
“Every book here comes from a historically marginalized community,” Kumar Skomra says of the offshoot of his social justice-focused bookstore and learning center. “Authors and illustrators all reflect that.”
Ethnic diversity is not only highlighted. Other examples are books where the characters are same-sex parents or children in wheelchairs.
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Lake Nona Wave Hotel
For young children, his goal is to express universality through stories. “Maybe [the characters] look different from yours, but they can also experience “first day kindergarten jitters,” she says. “Our babies deserve to feel seen, valued and loved, as well as a sense of belonging. It really has a huge effect on social and emotional health. It’s really important that we have experiences and spaces like this so that children know that outside of their homes there are other spaces [to be safe and inclusive].”
Working with a boutique hotel in a destination already popular with families is one thing. But the biggest gain for Kumar Skomra is “the opportunity to be open about the passion around DEAI [Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion] without guardrails, loops or barriers on what I can and cannot say,” she says.
Kumar Skomra, who taught in Harlem and South Bronx, New York, before opening Reading of Rohi in 2021, points to three conflicting Florida resident bills that seek to restrict resident rights. This includes the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law in March and which prohibits classroom conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation; a book ban bill which comes into force on July 1; and the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act (called The Stop WOKE Act), aimed at banning Critical Race Theory teachings in schools, that DeSantis signed in April.
Partnering with non-school organizations gives Kumar Skomra even more breadth when it comes to choosing books to stock in the hotel library as well as Rohi’s Readery. “Schools ban the very books that are inside the store,” she says. As a teacher, there were books that Kumar Skomra wanted to share with students, but could not. “There are so many beautiful pieces of literature written by marginalized people,” she says.
The response from hotel guests has been inspiring. “We’ve had great feedback from our young guests who love to read books they’ve never discovered before, but we’ve had an even stronger response from parents who love to see their child empowered by characters. that represent their community, their gender or their abilities,” says Tattersall. The library’s success led to the creation of a coloring sheet – designed by Bloomingdale’s art director Jamille Cadey – depicting gay families, international languages and nods to Orlando. BIP Shuttles which provide transportation for people with disabilities and residents of the region.
For those who are not at the hotel, they can still tap into this literary initiative. Kumar Skomra recorded bedtime stories through the hotel app. One of these stories is Daddy, daddy and Riley by Seamus Kirst, about a black girl with a black father and a white father, and a selection from the 2021 ALA Rainbow Book List. Dear black boy by Martellus Bennett is written in the style of a letter to young black boys empowering them to seek strength in areas other than sports. Each story is followed by questions of engagement with the children or between family members. “Families could also approach questions about the book in a way that [feels] like a genuine conversation,” she says.
According to Tattersall, “The bedtime stories read aloud on our iPads in the bedroom have been a particular hit, as it blends storytelling, technology and inclusion in a whole new way. That’s the whole point of the hotel. Soon, he says, there will be live read-aloud events using books from the library.
This partnership with the Lake Nona Wave Hotel has already opened up another opportunity for Kumar Skomra: to host and read aloud books about illness and disability at Lake Nona Medical City. It is part of the hospital’s 650-acre campus goal to diversify the children’s literature available to guests and patients.
“As we establish the hotel with the community, we intend to partner with our neighbors here in Lake Nona – Nemours Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House – to host a number of reading events. out loud with Pranoo,” Tattersall said. “We are excited to share more details later this year.”