Teaching Cultural Compassion
History Made Yet Again
This weekend made a special kind of history for the United States, for the first time, a woman of color has been elected Vice President. Author Nikki Grimes and illustrator Laura Freeman want your kids to know a little more about our new VP in Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice, their new book that was published before the groundbreaking news was confirmed.
Though Kamala is the first to make it to this point she’s not the first woman to make a difference in politics. From Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride to Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells to She was the first!: the trailblazing life of Shirley Chisholm, black women have influenced voting and political offices in this country. (You can also learn more from Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders and Little Dreamers .)
In Vice President-Elect Harris’s speech on Saturday, she also made sure to say that though she’s the first, she certainly won’t be the last. How do we raise kids to know that anyone can be president? Well, Kamala Harris herself wrote a book about just that, Superheroes are Everywhere. Other books to keep kids interested in making a difference in politics include Sofia Valdez, Future Prez and Grace for President.
Who inspired you? Tell your kids!
Beyond Indigenous Peoples' Day and Latinx Heritage Month
We just finished Latinx Heritage Month and passed through Indigenous People’s Day. That doesn’t mean we can stop focusing our reading time on these two groups. To keep up your reading list, I have a few of my favorites to suggest!
I’ll start with books for our littlest ones, I highly recommend (in board book or other forms) Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett who also illustrated My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith. Both give a lovely sense of self-worth and the dignity of all with beautiful illustrations of American Indian families.
For some historical, #ownvoices books, When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger, Susan Katz, and David Kanietakeron Fadden tells the story of a young Lenni Lenape girl’s experience now in comparison to what her great-great-grandmother may have experienced. Tim Tingle brings all of his Chocktaw storytelling tradition to Crossing Bok-Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges. He beautifully weaves a tale of a Choktaw girl helping an enslaved family to freedom across the river’s border. (If you have Middle Grade readers, he has also expanded this story in Stone River Crossing.)
Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard is a new favorite of mine. It was even featured on NPR this past December. Not only does it honor the many traditions around fry bread, it gently tackles the horrible history that began the tradition. It is beautifully illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal who segues me into Latinx Heritage Month with her wonderful title Alma and How She Got Her Name, taking a young girl through her heritage to be proud of her many names (Available in both English and Spanish).
To take a step beyond just finding bilingual stories into true and based on true stories, I recommend Dear Primo by Duncan Tonatiuh, in which we see the struggle to assimilate while honoring heritage and roots in another country through letters between cousins in two different countries. Monica Brown takes us for a history lesson in Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez and their struggle to help farmworkers and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement (this link includes a curriculum guide) beautifully illustrated by Joe Cepeda.
And to transition your reading into other books that can become fall favorites, I highly recommend Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico! America’s Sproutings by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael López, a poetic wander through traditional fall foods from the Americas that will certainly leave you hungry!! And to move all the way into Dia de los Muertos, Yuyi Morales has written and illustrated a beautiful introduction to Mexican culture and counting in Spanish while Abuela Beetle tricks the Trickster in Just a Minute.
I hope you enjoy all of these titles as you share them with your little people. And remember, if you want more suggestions, sorted by age group or topic, or ethnic background, or more titles by these authors, you can always use the Book Search feature to find more!
In Memory of a "Notorious" Woman
On Friday, we lost a small of stature woman who was a giant of justice. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not only a Supreme Court Justice, but became a pop icon and inspiration to many people, especially women in the United States. Growing up in Brooklyn, being asked to work so that her younger brother could pay to go to college, fighting her own way through school, trying to work while raising a family, and eventually rising to the top of her field (just like she rose to the occasion for everything in her life), RBG's story is truly inspiring. There have been many books written about her (and even two recent movies). I would love to suggest my favorite two. I Dissent by Debbie Levy with awesome pictures by Elizabeth Baddely tells her whole story while Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of RBG vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter with fun pictures by Stacy Innerst focuses on her legal legacy. Both are excellent additions to your bookshelf and I highly recommend reading them over and over in her memory.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
If you are a football fan, you'll notice something different this week as football restarts. Instead of just the National Anthem before each game, if you tune in early enough, you'll also hear Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson commonly referred to as the Black National Anthem. If you have not heard this song or don't know its history, or even if you do, but want to discuss it better with your kids, I highly recommend Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations by Kelly Starling Lyons and gorgeous illustrations by Keith Mallett. This 2019 book tells the story of the song from its origin in a small school to its use over multiple movements. I also have pictures above of three books that are simply the lyrics of the song with lovely pictures illustrated by Bryan Collier, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, and Elizabeth Catlett. For a little more about the song and more books, click here!
Ending Racism Suggestions
If you were able to join us for the National Council of Churches ACT to End Racism webinar last evening, you heard me recommend two specific books. (And if you were unable to attend but would like to catch up, click here to view on youtube.) The two books I suggested are books we've highlighted here before, one, just below, March by John Lewis et al and The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson. Usually I do not tell you where to buy books, but today, I've linked you directly to a black-woman-owned bookstore in Virginia. Books and Crannies in Martinsville, VA happens to have both in stock at the moment that I'm writing this (though volumes 2-3 of March are backordered almost everywhere, including there). I don't care if you don't buy from Books and Crannies, I'm getting no advertising credit from them, but please consider small businesses and especially black-owned bookstores when you are buying books.
In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to have more curated suggestion lists as well as curriculum and guides to connect secular books to a family's faith. If you'd like to hear more about all of that you can join my mailing list at the bottom of this page.
Please stay healthy and take care of yourselves in this troubling time,
Remembering Rep. John Lewis
This week, we lost the last of the Big Six of the Civil Rights movement. John Lewis was a man who always sought to speak out for others, even as a young child. In Jabari Asim's book Preaching to the Chickens (with lovely illustrations by EB Lewis), your kids can learn how even they can take a stand. They might not grow up to speak in front of lots of important people or see the kind of resistance Rep. Lewis saw, but they can speak up. If you also work with older kids and youth, I would highly recommend March, a series of graphic novels by the man himself. It will give them an inside look on what it was like to be there, in the middle of the movement when it was new.
The more you talk to me about kids books, the more you will hear me reiterate again and again that educational books aren’t nearly as moving as the stories of experience. Books that normalize “non-traditional” experiences of children are the best way to help all kids understand that there is no one way to be in the world. So, in that spirit, I want to offer these books, sharing stories of kids with LGBTQ+ experiences, either themselves or their households. This in no way is a full list, just some of my current favorites:
Kaylani Juanita gave her beautiful illustrations to When Aidan Became a Brother, a story by Kyle Lukoff about gender and the stress and pressure that societal norms put on our kids. By focusing on the birth of a new child, Lukoff is able to point out just how much our society emphasizes binary gender and its stereotypes.
You may know Karamo Brown's name from his TV fame, but he has recently blessed us with I am Perfectly Designed. He joined his gender non-conforming child to write this reminder that we are all wonderful just the way they are!
An instant classic, Harriet gets Carried Away is the story of a girl who loses herself in a fantasy world of costumes--worrying her dads. Luckily, you can find out what happens by watching the author read the story herself!
May is Asian-Pacific Island Heritage Month
For this special month, I thought I would offer up some of my favorite #OwnVoices books!
First, if you haven't read Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, you're missing out. Luckily, she has read it for all of us via youtube!! When Amy wants to participate in one of her favorite traditions, she, in a Goldilocks kind of way, can't figure out how to make the tradition fit her. (Click the link above to see how she solves her problem! ) I also recommend Jama Kim Rattigan's Dumpling Soup. A similar story to Amy Wu, a little girl in Hawaii learns of her Asian-Hawaiian heritage through generational food traditions. The author also has a lot of wonderful suggestions for foods you can make and activities you can do to augment the experience of this book!!
If you like hearing from authors, Meera Sriram, author of The Yellow Suitcase (and some books on the way) discusses The Yellow Suitcase and her creative process on Youtube here! The Yellow Suitcase is the story of a girl, living in two worlds, and a new experience of grief. A beautiful but not overly sad book about losing someone you love.
Recently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama published his first picture book!! It begins with his own story and leads into some of the teaching that has been the most important to him. Seeds of Compassion (see picture at right) is a great story full of personal experience and life lessons--as well as great illustrations by Bao Luu!
I hope these books help you get through this unprecedented time,
New Upside-Down World
In this new time of uncertainty and a definite change in how we live our lives and how we interact with our kids, I want to put forth some great resources. Hopefully in the upcoming weeks, I will have some videos of books to read to you all and some other activities to do at home. In the meantime, here is a link to what some authors and illustrators are doing. Authors reading their books, illustrators giving behind the scenes lessons, all right to you as a private audience!
If you need a resource for getting your kids up and moving, I would also recommend Dancing Alone Together. Free lessons and performances to get your kids inspired to move!
More later as this situation changes, remember, we’re all in this together,
Will You Be My Valentine?
Though Valentine’s Day commercializes itself as a holiday celebrating romantic love, I want to suggest some books that remind us of other kinds of love!
I have to plug ONE romantic love book. Though it seems silly, Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian is a poignant story about loving someone for who they are and not letting anyone else change that love. Love is love.
After romantic love, the first love one might think of is the love of family. While there are a lot of amazing Mom books out there; Dad books are harder to find. Dad by My Side by Soosh is one of the most beautiful books that fits that bill. Written and illustrated by a father daughter team, it exemplifies the best moments of love between a father and daughter.
The love of a grandparent is a special thing. Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love shares this love in a tentative way at first, not knowing if it can stand the test of Grandma knowing the truth. But (SPOILER) Grandma comes through! Another lovely Grandma book is Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. (This link even has a read-out-loud link right there on the author’s site!) A granddaughter sharing Grandma’s history and life through the items in the purse show this unique bond in a fun, colorful way!
Kids also certainly understand the love of animals, as beautifully illustrated by Claire Keane in Love is by Diane Adams. Knowing that love can be caring for something you know isn’t yours and will someday have to leave is an integral part of growing up. This book says it perfectly.
Kids also love other people without asking too many questions-- My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano & Jillian Tamaki shares a story of exactly that. These two kids ARE best friends, aren’t they? (SPOILER) Even if they just met today and don’t know each other’s names? A story about love in perhaps its purest form, My Best Friend is a new joy to add to any bookshelf!
Lastly, even if there is no specific contact, a kid can still show love through a wave or a smile. Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein is a great story about how one simple gesture can change the world. In the world today, we need more smiles!
So, I hope you’ll be my valentine and read some of these books with your kids!
Kids and King
Every Year around Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the same books are on hold at the local library. The same ones are on display at the bookstores. This year, rather than defaulting to the same title, I urge you to look at the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of children. Kids certainly grasp the stories of history better when they are from another kid’s experience.
My first recommendation this year is Love Will See You Through. The most traditional MLK book on this list, it is written by Dr. King’s own niece, Angela Farris Watkins, Phd, including some of her memories of him from her childhood. Its easy reading and powerful illustrations (by Sally Wern Comport) walk your kids through the six guiding beliefs of Dr. King and his legacy.
The next two are true or based on true stories of kids marching with Dr. King. One of the most moving moments of the Civil Rights Movement was when the children marched. The biographical book The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist is told masterfully by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated beautifully by Vanessa Brantley Newton. Audrey Faye Hendricks was only nine years old when she was arrested for marching—far younger than the rest of those with whom she was held. But she stuck to her beliefs. Our kids can learn a lot from her story.
Inspired by people like Audrey Faye Hendricks, Angela Johnson captures the possible experience of two sisters at the Million Man March in a sweet smell of roses. Eric Velasquez’s dynamic illustrations give us an up front seat in the audience with the girls and give your kids a feeling of what it might have been like to be with Dr. King that day.
This year, I also encourage you to take a step into the six guiding beliefs of Dr. King and explore nonviolence with your children. Nonviolence is not simply a lack of physical violence. Be the Change is an accessible story of what nonviolence actually looks like in practice. Told by Arun Gandhi, it is the story of learning that lesson the hard way from his loving grandfather. Dr. King was greatly influenced by Gandhi, and this book will help you and your kids take the next step to be the change.
For a new book on how to help your kids live King’s legacy of protest, Martha Freeman wrote a lovely book called If You’re Going to a March. A mostly non-partisan book about what a protest is like, this book gives tips like wearing comfortable shoes and taking snacks or bottled water. (The only slight political bent is shown with what topics are or are not represented by the marchers in the inside cover illustrations.) Living just outside our nation’s capital, this book seems like a must have for activist families on any side of a platform!
Enjoy the holiday and sharing the memory of a great man,