In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Holiday Choice: the Gift of Other Lives

Dear Annie,

Here we are this holiday season, with many of us are feeling horrified at the tone and content of political discourse in America.  How to handle this with the children we love?

You know me: I look to children's books.  One of the things we can do this year -- and any other year -- is to give children the gift of other people's lives.
We've written here (and here and here) about books as mirrors/books as windows.  The mirrors reflect back readers' own experiences; the windows let them experience worlds they haven't known.  And of course, one reader's mirror can be another's window.  Americans need more looking into the windows of those who we are not.

Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco
by Judith Robbins Rose provides a nuanced window for many of us.  Aimed at kids from 9 to 13 or so, it's the story of Jacinta, the U.S.-born child of undocumented parents in Colorado.  Most of her world is the barrio in which she lives, with little contact with the Anglo culture.  Then a white television news reporter reluctantly agrees to become her mentor through a community center.  Everything is new and threatening, including a ride with her sister to an indoor swimming pool:
Long after we should've been at the pool, we took another turn.  Then we were on a freeway.
   I gripped Rosa's hand.  Her sweaty hand.
   We'd been places in Papi's truck, but never on the freeway.  Driving on a freeway is like begging la policia to drag you back to Mexico.   
One of the things I like about this book is that it's full of flawed characters.  Jacinta gets jealous, fights with her sister, tries to manipulate situations to her advantage.  But she's a very believable 11 year-old.  Her mentor introduces Jacinta to white privilege in action: she's an assertive woman who's used to getting what she wants through manipulation of her fame and veiled threats.  The girl is impressed by what she sees as a woman being powerful, but eventually understands the arrogance.

Lots for readers to think about in this book.

Thinking about others is one of the things we can give children in books.  Here's a quick list of books we've written about over the years that speak to some of the issues roiling around right now.  They immerse their readers in other lives.  There are lots more -- readers, please add more below.  This is just a start.

A Long Walk to Water  - what leads people to become refugees
Day of Ahmed's Secret - daily life in a busy arab city.
Anna Hibiscus  - daily life in Africa, including children learning about poverty
brown girl dreaming - growing up black in America 
American Born Chinese - one teenager coming to terms with his Chinese identity
Persepolis - living under -- and eventually leaving - an increasingly repressive government
diversity in kidlit - lots of resources
Wonder - an amazing and now-classic book about a severely deformed child.
Almost Home by Joan Bauer and Hold Fast by Blue Balliett - we haven't written about these: both are middle grade novels about American families becoming homeless.
All American Boys - I haven't read this one but it sounds excellent -- link is to School Library Journal.  The story of an incident of police violence told through the voices of the black teenage victim and a white classmate who witnesses it.

Wishing good holidays to all,


1 comment:

  1. I've read Wonder and Brown Girl Dreaming and liked both of them. Wonder is one of my favorites.