Children, even very young ones, are aware of what is happening around them. They understand when the adults in their lives are upset or worried, even if they don't fully see why. And they hear what is being said around them whether it is on the news, us talking to our spouses or friends, or what they hear from their buddies. This awareness of adults being scared, worried, or angry causes the children in our lives to feel afraid and worried.
Since children are already aware that something is going on, it is best to address these issues head on in a manner that is age-appropriate. And lately, the news has been full of protests, shootings, and anger. Even parents, such as myself, who are educators struggle with how to talk about these issues in a way that is honest, open, and comforting while respecting our children's development and interest. To help you get those discussions started, here are a few suggestions of books and conversation starters to help your child make sense of what is happening around them, empower them to speak up, and to help relieve some of the fear they may be feeling.
Since most of the protests lately are about civil rights, start with talking about the founding of our nation and how we believe all people to be equal and deserving of the same rights. We the People: The Constitution of the United States by Peter Spier explores the words and meaning of the constitution. Using the preamble illustrated with images from all parts of American life and history, this book brings the power and meaning of those words to life in the pictures. Brilliantly done, I cannot recommend this one highly enough. It includes the full text of the Constitution at the end of the book for older children to read or have read to them.
Read My Country 'Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights by Claire Rudolf Murphy next. Drawing from the history of verses added or sung to the song's tune over the years; this book explores the struggle for many groups to gain recognition and participate fully in democracy. The end of the book empowers the reader to contribute to making their own voice and helping freedom ring. This is one of my favorite parts of the books as it lets children know that their voice is important. After you read the book, sing the song, and make up your verse with your child. Talk about how the protests today are the result of people not feeling heard and working together to demand they be treated like everyone else.
Follow up on the introduction these first two books gave children to the ideas of freedom, liberty, and civil rights with these books about specific events in the United States.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1910 by Michelle Market and Melissa Sweet brought tears to my eyes as I read about the indomitable young women, Clara Lemlich, who helped lead female garment workers on strike in 1909. A great book to show the history of worker's rights in this country. Not one to be told no and full of ambition, Clara brought together thousands of garment district workers in New York City and after weeks on the picket lines finally won the right to fair wages and hours. One of the final lines of the book spoke most powerfully to me- "Proving that in American wrongs can be righted." A great line to spark a discussion about what people ultimately want when they protest.
Sometimes people work for their rights, while other times they work for the rights and respect of
others. We call America a land of immigrants and honor that legacy in many of our stories, but in day to day life immigrants have (and continue to be) often been denigrated. Such is true in the late 1880s when Emma Lazarus lived. Emma grew up having plenty and never actually realized that others did not until she was an adult and saw immigrants waiting at the New York Harbor. After she realized their suffering, Emma became a tireless advocate for them and their rights. As part of that work, she wrote the poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. A statue and poem that are both strong symbols and reminders for what this country stands for. Learn more about this story in Emma's Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glasser and Claire A. Nivola. Share with your child how everyone, regardless of race, religion, disabilities, sexual orientation, and gender, wants to be included in that dream and have the right to demand it if others forget that the dream and constitution aren't for just a few, but for us all.
When the Constitution was written, only white, male, landowners had the right to vote. Tell your child that slowly; we realized that everyone deserved that right, and finally, everyone was able to have it because of individual likes, Esther Morris, who fought for it. Learn about the life and struggles of her in I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White and Nancy Carpenter. Sometimes, people tell us we can't do or be something, but with hard work and determination we can all achieve our dreams. Esther is an excellent example of that!
At the founding of our nation, until well into the 20th century, education was not a right, and many, many children did not every receive an education because they had to work or because they were the wrong color and denied entry into schools. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Dincon Tonatiu tells of the Mendez's fight to enroll their children in the white school. Help your child imagine not being able to attend a school and having to go to one that didn't have supplies, because of the color of their skin, eyes, or hair color.
Another story of the fight for equal schooling is told in The School is Not White! A True Story of The Civil Rights Movement by Doreen Rappaport and Curtis James. Despite segregation being illegal, many schools still had de facto segregation, so when the Carter family enrolled their children in the all-white school, they faced many reprisals. The father lost his job, the family lost their home, the children endured names and sometimes violence, but through it all, they stood fast and kept going. Their fight and determination to remain inspired many other African Americans to enroll in the all-white school. Ask your child if there is a child who is being picked on or excluded in their school, and brainstorm ways they can befriend or be an ally for that child so no one has to fight their battle alone.
The final book for this week is We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy and Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Learn the history of the song, 'We Shall Overcome.' and explore the history of African-Americans fight for equality and justice. Sing the song with your child and use it as your anthem as you both work to make the world a fairer, more just place.
As you read these books, point out the commonalities. Many stood up against bullies who used fear, isolation, and even violence to try to control others, but in every case, these individual stood up for rights without resorting to similar tactics and never used violence. Talk about the courage and patience it takes to stand up for your rights, but how the good guys always won in the end. Help your child come up with ways they can ask for what they need respectfully and how they can cope with the frustration that often comes when you are trying to get others to listen to you.
Finally, talk about the fact that mean people have always existed and likely will always exist, but that there are always more good ones who want to do the right thing. Brainstorm ways they, and you, can stand up to these bullies and help make our country a better place where everyone can realize the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As always, I hope you enjoy these books! You are welcome to use this blog, in whole or part, with credit to Kim Bogren Owen and Words Reflected. Please add your recommendations for additional books about thunderstorms in the comments.
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