Processing the dark events taking place from Charlottesville to Barcelona is a struggle for adults, let alone kids. As an educator for the better part of the past 2 decades, I’ve had many opportunities to support students through very challenging times.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
The most important thing adults can do when times are very, very tough, is to create an environment of trust, kindness, and acceptance.
That’s as simple and as complicated as it sounds. Doing this work is an everyday, every minute kind of thing. It’s in the way we speak to children and to other adults. It’s making the choice not to skip over the discomfort we feel when a white child asks, “Why do black people all sound the same?” or “This game is only for girls.”
We as parents, the most important teachers in our kids’ lives, must practice responding with love, and acceptance. We must ask, “What do you mean?” and “Why do you think so?” instead of “Don’t say that!”
In my classroom, and in my own home, I turn to stories to help kids (and to help me) process the most challenging topics. Stories give us some distance from the eye of a storm we’re living through, and they provide a container for the raw feelings that we are experiencing.
As we grapple with ways to support our kids and one another in these exceptional and difficult times, I want to share some of the stories we’re reading at our house and some that are on my TBR list for middle grade readers.
Have you found any books especially helpful when it comes to working through tough topics with your kids? Let’s get a big list going – picture books, middle grade books, YA books, classics, graphic novels…
My Name Is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada and K. Dyble Thompson
Imagine that a teacher mispronounces your name. This could be irritating, even embarrassing, but it’s something that can be quickly sorted out. Now imagine a teacher telling you that she will not call you by your name, a name that you love. Instead, she decides to call you a different name, simply because she wants to. María Isabel Salazar López finds herself in this situation in My Name is Maria Isabel. Through Maria’s story, readers are invited to consider the connection between one’s name and one’s identity.
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All Mixed Up! (Amy Hodgepodge, No. 1) by Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts
This first book in a series by Kim Wayans, introduces young readers to Amy Hodgepodge. Amy is African American, white, and Asian. Having been homeschooled through 3rd grade, Amy is anxious about starting 4th grade in public school. She’s excited about the new experience and also worried about fitting in.
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Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
This story is told through letters between two narrators—the son of a rural farmer and a young immigrant living with her family in New York City—brought together by a school pen pal program. From the very first line of the book, readers encounter notions of respect, gender equity and fluidity, empathy, and kindness:
I cannot tell from your name if you are a boy or a girl, so I will just write to you like you are a human being.”
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Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
The chapters in this book tell stories from diverse voices and perspectives. While each one is different, they are all bound together by a connection to their neighborhood garden. Winner of the Newbery Medal.
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Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy #2) by Deborah Wiles
This is the second book in a series of three in which the two main characters are both from Greenwood, Mississippi. Despite being from the same town, their backgrounds, genders, and races make it seem as if they could be from different worlds. This meaningful story transports readers to the Freedom Summer of 1964.
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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Grades 5 +
This award winning book of poems paints a picture of what it was like to grow up African American at the edge of the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras. Packed with emotion and strength, these poems pull readers in to encounter language and feelings through the author’s voice and experience as someone who struggled with reading and also someone who found her voice in the world.