The African American Children’s Book Project’s “I Read to See Me” program recently invited me to do a virtual author visit with Folk Arts – Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia. It’s a school dedicated to “equity and justice for Asian American students and immigrant and refugee students of all races.” The principal, Pheng Lim, shared that the kids learn about community organizing and how to be upstanders instead of bystanders. They have a Black Heritage Day each year and sing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice & Sing. They teach kids the importance of having cultural pride, compassion and commitment to creating a loving world. What is an essential component of this learning? Children’s literature.
That wonderful school is not alone in teaching kids to stand against hate and celebrate diversity through reading. Around our state and nation, there are amazing educators, librarians and parents doing the same. Northside Elementary in Chapel Hill. Conn Magnet Elementary in Raleigh. Pearsontown Elementary in Durham. Those are just a few of the outstanding schools making sure the books kids read look like the world around them. Through children’s literature, kids can see themselves and their families, explore each other’s cultures and experiences, find connections and gain new understanding, strength and hope.
There’s so much going on in the world right now that’s heavy and heartbreaking. More children than you realize know about the hate-fueled massacres, domestic terrorism, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs poisoning our country. They talk about it online and in texts. They bring it up during playdates. Some are survivors of verbal or physical attacks themselves. Or have family members who have suffered or even been killed.
In response to the violence against the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community, Newbery Honor-winning children’s book author Alicia D. Williams posted that we can offer support by reading their stories: “Reading creates understanding,” wrote Williams whose novel Genesis Begins Again explores colorism. “Breaks down barriers. Erases fear of different. Focuses on the similar. Writers write stories from the heart to open doors of our hearts and minds.” I was nodding before I even finished reading her powerful words.
Acclaimed author Kathleen Burkinshaw, who lives in Charlotte like Williams, donated a hardcover copy of her moving novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, for the Kidlit Against Anti-AAPI Racism Auction. The book is based on her mother’s story of being a young Hiroshima survivor and is a United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Resource for Teachers and Students. The auction is closed, but we can keep making a difference.
Stack your home, school and library shelves with books by creators who represent the rich tapestry of our nation. Read these books to young children. Read them with older ones. Gift them to kids you know. Talk about the stories. Explore the experiences, the joys and the struggles. Discuss how your child(ren) and the characters are alike and different. Advocate for equity. Make sure classroom reading lists are inclusive and that everyone can see themselves and each other.
Where do you find the stories? They’re all around.
Here are some resources to get you started:
KiBooka – A website created by Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park that celebrates children’s books by creators from the Korean Diapora.
The Brown Bookshelf – A website that centers and raises awareness of books by Black children’s book creators.
We Need Diverse Books – A nonprofit organization that “that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
The African American Children’s Book Project – An organization “created in 1992 to promote and preserve children’s literature written by or about African Americans.”
Cynsations – “Blog of award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith.” Smith, is the author-curator of Heartdrum, a new imprint at HarperCollins highlighting the voices of Native creators. Cynsations features resources, articles and insights in the kidlit world and is committed to diversity, inclusion and social justice.
American Indians in Children’s Literature – A website “established in 2006 by Dr. Debbie Reese of Nambé Pueblo, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books.”
Latinxs in Kid Lit – A website that promotes books by Latinx creators and offers important perspectives and resources about Latinx children’s and YA literature.
Asian Author Alliance – “A group to celebrate Asian Kidlit and the diversity of stories that originate from the Asian Continent.”
Las Musas – “A collective of women and non-binary (identifying on the female spectrum) Latinx authors whose mission is to “spotlight the new contributions of Las Musas in the evolving canon of children’s literature and celebrate the diversity of voice, experience, and power in our communities.”
Social Justice Books – “a project of Teaching for Change, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world.”
The Conscious Kid – “an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth.”
Principal Pheng said:
Dear Ms. Lyons, It was truly a special day for students to hear you speak, share and read Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations. Your message and your words will have a lasting impact. I know it will on me. Wishing you continued success. Your work inspires! So grateful for you. Thank you!