Ed. note: I’m excited to welcome back Lois Rubin Gross to the Staff Picks blog for this informative post on an important topic for our children. -kw
Hello, Hoboken. I’m making a guest appearance on the blog from chronically sunny Florida. I’ve missed so many of you and your children. I wish you all happy holidays, whichever ones you celebrate. This is a season of light and acceptance for all people, although your children are getting very different messages from the television and, perhaps, from classmates, this year.
The reason I asked the wonderful editor of this blog, Kerry Weinstein, for permission to visit with you is that messages that are inundating us. I’ve heard from one mother whose child is packing her bags in case the army comes to the door to take them away. Another mother told me, on Facebook, that her child is five years old and sensitive to the scorn of classmates who may not understand differences but can certainly parrot bad adult messages. One child checks the locks, each night, for safety. Another child cries because she is afraid she will be deported to a country she has never visited.
There are, literally, hundreds of titles to teach children acceptance of cultural, religious, ethnic, and differences in abilities. I’ve selected a really small group of these titles to present to you. Most are mild, focusing on being new in a class of strangers who don’t speak your language or look like you. Two graphic novels are appropriate for older children young teens with more serious content and explorations of self-identity. If these books don’t meet your needs, the Children’s Department Staff will be happy to help you find alternatives. You may also respond to this column and I will do my best to find you other books specific to your child’s needs and comprehension levels.
I’ve always thought that the old saw about the United States being a melting pot was wrong. I see our country as more of a salad bowl, where different ingredients maintain their identifiable shape and taste, but contribute to a fine dish. By the way, if you are interested in clarifying your own thoughts on the events of the day, I’d like to suggest a book that came out, post 9/11. Its title is The Faith Club, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner. In the dark days following the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, these three women–Muslim, Jewish, and Christian–formed a group to learn about each other’s religions and cultures. Through many meetings, they exchanged often diverse and angry messages, but also learned to appreciate the great similarities among the Mosaic faiths and the goals they had for their families. This is an excellent book club selection.
Remember that you can control the message in your own home, even if you can’t protect your child from every screen or every significant encounter with adults who have different opinions or classmates who have been influenced by the adults in their lives. You are also the best judge of the appropriateness of the media your child consumes and the best judge of how the news of the day is impacting your child.
The universal message of peace on earth seems to be lost, this year, and we must work to making it a clearer goal in the coming year. Meanwhile, I sincerely wish that you are all happy, fed, clothed, and surrounded by love. Please give your kids an extra hug from me. You are all in my heart.
Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki.
The author and his family were interred in a camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mochizuki’s parents lost their home and possessions because of their Japanese ancestry. Ken and his friends need a distraction and turn to the great American pastime of baseball to help them deal with racism in this important book about a dark chapter of American history. (Ages 6 to 12)
Beautiful Yetta, by Daniel Pinkwater.
This is one of my favorite multicultural books by one of my very favorite authors. Yetta, the chicken, is on her way to the butcher’s shop with all her poultry friends. The truck she is riding in has an accident and Yetta, a clever bird, manages to escape in Brooklyn. At first, she wanders the streets, meeting only threatening rats and unfriendly pigeons. Soon she stumbles on a flock of parrots who live in Prospect Park (it’s true!). When Yetta saves them from a cat, the parrots adopt her into the flock making them birds of an unusual feather. The book is written in Yiddish, transliterated English, English, and Spanish. It is the best possible example of unlikely alliances that form unusual friendships. (Ages 4 to 9)
The Composition, by Antonio Skarmeta and Alfonso Ruano.
Pedro loves to play soccer. It’s his passion. However, when his teammate’s father is imprisoned by the government, Pedro learns an important lesson about courage and standing up for one’s beliefs. Pedro writes an important school composition about living in a dictatorship called, What My Family Does at Night. A story of friendship and courage. (ages 5 to 10)
Chicken Sunday, Patricia Polacco.
Image via Amazon
An African American family befriends a young Jewish girl from Russia. She and her new “brothers” are mischievous but are wrongly accused of egging a shop owned by an observant Jewish man. The three work together to try prove their innocence in the face of the unfair accusation. (Age 5 to 10)
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson.
Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya, because she has old-fashioned toys and hand-me-down clothes. When Maya stops coming to school, Chloe and her friends learn an objective lesson in both inclusion and kindness. Chloe becomes the change she wants to see in the world. (Ages 4 to 9)
El Deafo, by Cece Bell.
This is a superhero book with a decided difference. Cece’s old school only taught children with hearing impairments. Her new school is immersive and Cece finds it hard to fit in with hearing people. Equipped with a Phonic Ear, Cece discovers that she has a “superpower” in that she can hear whatever her teacher is saying, anywhere the teacher is. This new ability helps Cece make friends but she soon figures out that she is being used to spy on the teacher. This experience teaches Cece the real meaning of friendship and how her special power can be used for good. An acclaimed graphic novel for older children and young teens. (Ages 10 to 14)
Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say.
This is a beautifully illustrated Caldecott winning book that tells the real life story of the author’s grandfather who loved his native country, Japan, but also loved his new home in California. This is a poignant story about longing for a lost land while striving for acceptance in a new place. (Ages 4 to 10)
Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier.
A French Jewish grandmother shares a hidden part of her past with her granddaughter. Grandmother reveals that, during World War II, she and her mother were hidden with the help of a Christian neighbor and a nearby farmer. The Nazis have imprisoned the child’s father, and she and her mother and child rely on the good will of strangers to keep them safe. Grandmother’s revelation or her secret leads to a confrontation with her own daughter about why she hadn’t shared her history. A moving graphic novel for older children and young teens. (Ages 10 to 14)
Looking Like Me, by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers.
This picture book done by an award-winning father and son team, teaches children about identity, self-esteem and the wonderful possibilities that exist for every child. While the child in book is African American, the book presents a strong poetic message of what qualities make every child unique.
The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi.
Unchie is a new arrival in the United States. She has come to this country from Korea. When she starts school, she discovers that no one in her class can pronounce her name. She wants to be liked and accepted and so she decides to change her problematic name. She asks for suggestions from her classmates, but a jar full of commonplace American names do not suit her as well as her own Korean name. She decides to stay Unchie and teaches her friends about her culture so they can appreciate where she comes from. (Ages 4 to 8)
The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania AlAbdullah with Kelly DiPucchio.
Two girls of different backgrounds become fast friends. They meet, each day, to share their lunches until the day Salma brings humus and Lily brings PBJ. Lily says Salma’s sandwich sounds yucky and their disagreement goes schoolwide. The solution is a picnic for everyone and a delicious lesson in cultural diversity. (Ages 4 to 8)
Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, by James Rumford.
Ali loves soccer, music, and dancing but, most of all, he loves the ancient art of calligraphy. When bombs start falling on his city, Ali begins to write and draw to give his life purpose. A story of purpose and survival in a war torn land. (Ages 6 to 10)
Snow in Jerusalem, by Deborah da Costa. Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu.
Image via Amazon
Two boys in Jerusalem’s Old City, one Jewish and one Muslim, unwittingly adopt the same stray cat that wanders the streets of their city. When the cat unexpectedly crosses the street that divide them, the boys meet and become friends on an unusual day when snow falls in their divided city. (Ages 6 to 10)
All of these books are available in the BCCLS Library System. I can also make other recommendations for your child’s specific needs if you contact me through the comments at the bottom of this post.
-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Retired Children’s Librarian