When I first started working with kids, I was under the naive assumption that parents and teachers had complete power over the opinions of the children that they work with. “My students will always be kind and patient and tolerant,” I thought, “because that is what I will teach them.” Cute, right? Enter: Reality. Children can’t be forced to think or act a certain way any more than their parental counterparts. They have their own thoughts, ideas, and moral compasses. They are most certainly shaped by their communities and experiences, but even that revelation came to me with a surprise: What we say has nothing to do with it. It is all about what we do.
If we preach patience but snap at each other in front of a class, they will hear it. If we tell them that reading is important but then use our books as an elbow-rest for better texting speed, they will take note. If we teach that people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and backgrounds are important, but only share stories with characters that look and behave a certain way, we are sending a clear message. And if we refuse to bring up or answer questions about issues like immigration and diversity at all, if we block them from our dinner tables and our classrooms, we are speaking volumes.
It can be hard to talk to a young person about dark and difficult topics. I’ve had the
thought myself – why would I want to weigh this buoyant little heart down with pain and unfairness? But I have learned that if you don’t talk to the young people in your lives about struggles and conflict and pain, it does not mean that that they will live in blissful ignorance of it. It means that you are giving up your right to that teachable moment. You are abdicating that connection, that chance to shape your loved one into the person that you aspire for them to be. And you are leaving it in the hands of the older kid on the playground, the man on talk radio, the anchor on the news, to tell them what is right and wrong. That opportunity is no longer yours.
If you don’t know how to broach with a five year old a topic that confounds our nation’s most educated and experienced leaders, don’t worry – neither do I. Neither do any of us, really. So we turn to the most powerful tool available to allow little ones to see outside of themselves, to try on different shoes and walk a mile: stories. Using stories to teach, inspire, and change – it’s a revolutionary new thought here on Fitz Between the Shelves, I know. But I repeat it because it’s worth repeating. Phenomenal authors and illustrators from all around the world have done all of the hard work for you. All you have to do is ready your lap, open a book, and read.
- 30 Multicultural Picture Books about Immigration: I love this list from Colours of Us because it is well-rounded and has examples of stories focused on many different cultures. These stories will build empathy and help your little one to think about life in other places around the world.
- 15 Books for Kids about the Immigrant Experience in America: This list from readbrightly.com is helpfully broken into age groups, with books for children in pre-k ranging all the way through young adult. Hopefully, the first time you have this conversation with your child or student won’t be the only time – and you can use these suggestsions to keep the dialogue going over the years.
- 14 Children’s Books about Refugees: The Institute for Humane Education provides a list centered around refugees, to help young readers to better understand the complex issue. These stories are powerful because they help to explain the refugee experience from the other, human side. Great for kids and adults to counteract many of the less personal and more numbers-driven reports we hear about refugees in the news.
- The Refugee Experience: Books for Children: ColorinColorado.com, a site geared toward English Language Learners and their families, provides a diverse list of story possibilities including appropriate age ranges. They also have a page of tips from experienced educators about supporting refugee children in the classroom.
- 12 Books about Refugees: Another great list from What Do We Do All Day, a website based on making kids want to put down their screens and read.
- How Do You Explain the Refugee Crisis to Children? New Picture Books Can Help: A more detailed look at four new picture books highlighting the refugee crisis, featured in The New York Times and written by acclaimed author Deborah Ellis (The Breadwinner).
- Books about Refugees and Asylum Seekers: BookTrust’s list expands on some of the others by not only including stories of refugees, but expanding to include asylum seekers. These two terms have become difficult to untangle, but each comes with their own unique circumstances and stories.
If you’re interested in learning more about these books or having a conversation about using literature to start a dialogue on difficult topics, feel free to reach out to me via my contact page. I’d love to hear from you.
Looking for more resource lists? Try these: Resources for Talking to your Child about 13 Reasons Why, Resources for Talking to your Child about the Presidential Election, Resources for Talking to your Child about Death, Loss, and Grief, and Resources for Talking to your Child about Diversity, Race, and Racism. See more here.
If you liked these stories, you might enjoy volunteering with local families in need. Get involved in our community by reaching out the International Rescue Committee.