Wow, Hell hath no fury like multitudes of Americans immediately after Inauguration Day this year (and on through the presidential appointments)! I am so proud of and inspired by all of the BIG things Americans have done to express their voices and protect their fellow citizens: the marches, the speeches, the petitions, the phone calls, the letters…the list goes on and on. I felt privileged to march with 50,000 other women, men, and children (yes, children! It was awesome!) in the Women’s March on Austin and I was awed by the photos of the numerous sister marches all around the country, nay the world! But perhaps equally significant are all of the SMALL things that Americans are doing to express their beliefs in humanity and social justice and, well, just plain goodness. I wrote an earlier post about my dismay after the election, but I did see a silver lining and I saw it pretty quickly. I saw it burn again even more fiercely after the inauguration and I still catch sight of the flame every day. That silver lining is the conscious effort being made by so many residents of America to simply be kinder, fairer, more compassionate, and more open-minded than they’ve ever been. Mahatma Gandhi famously said “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and I have seen so many of my fellow citizens striving to do just that, to live the values that they hope to see embraced and embodied by their political leaders and government.
And right now I’m not referring to the public demonstrations and the continuous correspondence to our senators and representatives. I’m referring to the harried mother-of-three who allows two cars to cut in front of her in the school carpool lane because those mothers look just as harried as she feels. And all of the coffee drinkers who pay for the car behind theirs in the Starbucks drive-thru line because they’ve decided to commit random acts of kindness whenever possible. And all of the food shoppers standing in long lines at HEB who help the elderly, disabled, and overwhelmed-with-children to load their groceries onto the conveyor belt. And every one of us who offers a smile, a nod, a wink, and maybe a hand to everyone else with whom we make eye contact, just because it feels good to make a connection, to recognize and respect each other regardless of race, religion, political affiliation and all other sheaths that rest atop our core of humanity. Since November, and then again in January, I have noticed so many of us working to be better and do better by ourselves, by our family and friends, by our neighbors, and by our children.
Especially our children. As I mentioned, I am amazed and impressed by all of the parents who brought their kids to the Women’s March on Austin because they wanted to teach them about standing up for their beliefs. Often it’s difficult to teach our kids about our values without preaching to them (and not every parent, myself included, feels comfortable bringing young kids to public demonstrations). Well, if you’ve read my other posts, then you know my go-to is always children’s literature. :) I am an ardent proponent of using literature to teach children about people, life, and the world, so below I share some of my favorite picks for children’s books about social justice. In my opinion, reading and discussing these (and any, really) books with your children is yet another SMALL thing we can do to “be the change.”
I love, love, love the Grandfather Gandhi books! The writing is so simple and clear yet absolutely lovely and musical. The illustrations are big and colorful and reminiscent of patchwork and collage, but they also do an excellent job of depicting Arun’s conflicted feelings in both books. Every family should own and read these two books regardless of the children’s ages!
Grandfather Gandhi by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi
In Grandfather Gandhi Arun describes the daunting pressure he felt as a child at being the great Mahatma’s grandson. He saw himself as a regular kid, quick to anger, unable to connect with peace and stillness during daily prayers, and jealous of all of the people who vied for his grandfather’s attention. Arun had always perceived his grandfather as infallible and never angry, always working towards peace and understanding. But his time living with Gandhiji on the Sevagram Ashram taught him a life-changing lesson about anger and how everyone feels anger, even the great Mahatma himself, but it’s what you do with that anger that dictates whether you can do great things in your life, even if you’re just “a regular kid.” This is a wonderful book for ALL kids who are learning how to deal with their feelings of frustration and anger and a wonderful an inspiring reminder for all of parents!
Be The Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi
This one goes into a little more detail about Arun’s two years with Gandhiji in the Sevagram service village and focuses on Gandhiji’s teachings on nonviolence. Arun feels constricted by the eleven vows of ashram living but especially struggles with the vow to not waste (i.e., he has to use his pencil all the way own to the nub, causing his fingers to cramp and hurt). He doesn’t understand how wasting little things can ultimately cause violence in the world. Ganhiji teaches Arun the difference between physical violence and passive violence and how acts of passive violence, which we all commit daily, lead to the physical violence in the world that we all fear and abhor. Arun learns the meaning and relevance of “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and it teaches him how to live up to his grandfather’s legacy after all.
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
Warning: I cried at the end of this book, which is to be expected from a children’s book about refugee children, but my children are taken aback when I start crying while reading to them. :) This book is about friendship blossoming from the mud and mire of a refugee camp in Pakistan. Two Afghani girls each secure a brand new sandal from a relief pile of used clothing and the sandals, while useless on their own, serve the larger purpose of bringing together two heartbroken girls from war-torn families. The story doesn’t go into gruesome detail but does effectively relay the pain of refugee life which makes it a good book to begin discussing refugees and refugee camps with young children. And of course this book happens to be very timely right now.
The Other Side by Jaqueline Woodson
This is a very simple yet effective story about a black girl and a white girl living on opposite sides of a long fence that runs through their town. The girls spend the long, hot, idle days of summer on their own sides of the fence, following their mothers’ advice, but remain curious about each other. While our digital-age children may not be able to relate to summer days spent entirely outdoors :), they can relate, at some point during their childhoods, to curiosity about kids that look different from them. In this lovely story childlike curiosity breeds a boundary-breaking friendship. I love the girls’ innocent perspective on race relations and this book is a great one to begin talking about race relations and race history with your own children.
My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine King Farris
Aaaannd, more crying. :) Good crying, though, because this account of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, narrated by his elder sister, is so positive and hopeful and uplifting. Christine King Farris describes her childhood with Dr. King and their younger brother Alfred Daniel King. Kids of all ages will enjoy their sibling shenanigans and mischievous pranks played on unsuspecting neighbors. Kids will appreciate the comical illustrations as well, and parents will appreciate the balance between a lighthearted recollection of a happy and sheltered childhood with the harsh reality of the racism endured by the King family.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Menendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
This story is fairly straightforward and focuses largely on relating history while also depicting the Mendez family’s personal struggles with racism in California. I think it’s an important book because we generally think of segregation in regard to black Americans when actually many ethnic American cultures have also experienced periods of segregation. This book recounts the Mendez family’s three-year fight (1944-1947) to end the school segregation of Mexican Americans in California. I am both awed and inspired by this courageous family and the book’s message that any one small person who is fighting on the side of justice will generate support and assistance and can ultimately make big, important changes.