Teaching Cultural Compassion
Teaching Cultural Compassion
in an Era of Righteous Anger
You might notice that much of my work is about raising awareness of picture books featuring children of color. The main purpose of my work is to raise children who see the humanity of all of their neighbors--and so eventually we have adults who see all people that way, too. If the police officers involved in the latest killing of an African-American man would have seen him as truly human, the kind of force they used would not have been excusable in their minds. Humans just don't treat other humans that way.
I am not a psychologist and I am not a parenting expert. But what I can offer in this time are thoughts from the people who are and thoughts from community leaders of color. Here are some suggestions about how to talk to your children in this time:
EmbraceRace : Embrace Race was started by parents truly trying to answer this question. Since they began, they have offered dozens of webinars (all now accessible on their website) of experts from all parenting-related professions - as well as good conversation among parents of children of color. Please visit their site and look at their resources. They are authentic in everything they do and truly want to help other parents.
Teaching Tolerance : A subgroup of the Southern Poverty Law Center has produced this booklet which includes various suggested techniques for different age groups. They also have various other resources for parents and for teachers.
Raising White Kids author Dr. Jennifer Harvey was recently interviewed on NPR. If you are a white parent trying to figure out how to talk to YOUR kids about what's going on, she has a lot to offer about this discussion. Full interview available here.
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely were interviewed by the TODAY show and had some wonderful things to say. You can see that video here.
Again, if your children are at home and just need to see kind faces and see smart, funny, adult people of color who care about them and write books for them, I'll remind you that you can find a lot of those authors reading their own books here. I hope that you share these videos with your children and that just a little more screen time is ok.
An Episcopal Christian Educator, Wendy Claire Barrie has these tips for talking to your kids about racism.
I commend all parents who are even attempting to have this conversation with your children. It truly needs to be had. I will continue to be here for any support or book finding you might need. Together, we can teach our children to love their neighbors--no matter what they look like--and we can stop the cycle of racism.
PS, Keep coming back, I'm adding more resources as I hear about them!!
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,
Children’s books as presents: Don’t buy just any book
Now that Thanksgiving is past, we have hit the time of year we are often inundated with thoughts of buying presents for the children in our lives. This year, I encourage you to buy children’s books, but not just any children’s books — books that teach cultural compassion. For a few winters, I worked at a major book retailer. Though not assigned to the children’s department, I often covered breaks for co-workers. There, I was often asked for opinions and suggestions for books to buy as gifts. The shelves were filled with books to suggest, but sadly we lacked books with girls and children of color as protagonists. I realized how important it is for every kid to see themselves in the books they read, to identify with the characters. I worked hard to keep books with diverse characters in stock and available.
YOUR favorite books
If we aren’t buying gifts for the kids in our lives, we often volunteer to buy things for an Angel Tree or are asked to provide books for holiday baskets or book drives. At the bookstore, we had a sponsored book drive. Many people didn’t care what book they bought for the drive and allowed us to pick within a price range. As the booksellers, we knew the audience for whom the books were being purchased, so we would pick accordingly.
Many people, however, wanted to buy their favorite book for the drive. This is great in spirit, but in reality may not be as helpful as intended.
Many people are unaware of the bias currently shown in children’s books. Most books with human characters feature a white boy as the protagonist. How does that help children who are girls and/or children of color see their innate worth?
Keep in mind
Please keep some of these things in mind when buying books for children you know and children you don’t know this holiday season:
Know your audience. If you want the child for whom you are buying books to believe that all people are of sacred worth, buy books that challenge stereotypes by having girls and people of color in positive, leading roles. Keep in mind that finding a book that reflects this may be harder and more time consuming.
If you don’t know your audience. If you don’t know the child for whom you are buying the book, buy a book that shows several children of multiple genders and multiple races or ethnicities.
Look for the message. Read the book before you buy it. If the lesson learned isn’t positive or if the book engenders stereotyping, look for a different book.
If you just aren’t sure, check out the “Book Search” feature at the top of this page to help you narrow things down.
If you’re looking to buy books about Christmas or other winter holidays, here are some of my favorites:
I hope your winter holidays create more joy than stress and that you enjoy these books as much as I do!
Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving
It’s the time of year when we remember to give thanks for what we have. But this holiday comes with a lot of historical context and baggage that we don’t always unpack for our kids. On the positive, did you know that Thanksgiving became a national holiday because of a WOMAN who wouldn’t give up? There are several great books about her out there, but my favorite is definitely Thank You, Sarah! By Laurie Halse Anderson.
There are also books about more modern Thanksgivings and new people coming to this country. If you haven’t read Eve Bunting’s How Many Days to America? I would highly recommend it as well. It’s a beautifully written story about children from an unidentified Caribbean country who escape persecution by getting on a boat. A little like the Pilgrims, these children are looking for a new, better life in America. Amazingly, they arrive at Thanksgiving and their first impression is one of unity, gratitude, and giving. We certainly need more of that in this country today.
If you want to teach your children a little more about the early origins of this country and the origin of some of our unique foods (like pumpkins and corn, often on our Thanksgiving tables), I highly recommend Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico! America’s Sproutings by Pat Mora. Pat gives us wonderful short haikus she has written along with a small box of facts about each native plant!
Unfortunately often, especially in gen x, Thanksgiving brings memories of being dressed as "Pilgrims" or “Indians” for school plays, or even at home for Thanksgiving. We now know a LOT more about what that initial encounter may have been like, and we know that our cultural appropriation and bolstering of stereotypes was at the very least in poor taste, if not downright offensive. You may or may not know that November is also “Native American Heritage Month.” If you want to talk to your kids about American Indians, I highly suggest going to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. It’s a beautiful, Smithsonian, FREE museum with an AMAZING food court. (Definitely my favorite lunch stop if I’m on the National Mall.) Short of traveling, though, you may be able to turn to books to offer your kids a broader idea of American Indian life.
So, if your kid comes home from school with a construction paper feather headdress, these might be your key to opening their eyes to some of the greater historical context--and the fact that American Indians are STILL HERE. American Indians/Native Americans are not only the smallest demographic population in the United States, but also the least represented in picture books. It is important to find the right representation, and finding books by Native authors is the best way to do that. All of these books are #OwnVoices books, meaning they are written by American Indian writers and/or illustrators. For more on why reading Own Voices books are important, click here. For your further information, the tribal nation of each author is offered after their name.
Some of my favorites are:
And if you really want to chat with your kids about different tribes and their distinctions and the history of these tribes in this land, you can educate yourself at https://americanindian.si.edu.
If you encounter something in a picture book and aren’t sure if it’s a stereotype, you can also make use of Debbie Reese’s (Nambé Pueblo) American Indians in Children’s Literature, where she covers many books for children. (She has some Thanksgiving recommendations as well!)
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and I’m so glad you’re here to make the holiday a deeper, richer tradition for your kids!