An invitation: Still navigating what it means to be human…

I wrote the post below on Sunday. Today, Monday, my six year old got in the car after school and this is what she said:

In gym, Shelly let people touch her new sparkly sneakers. But not me. I looked at who she let touch them. I think she didn’t let me because I have brown skin.

Now, Wren can be sensitive and dramatic at times, so I consider all perspectives when hearing this story. But any way you slice it, I’m sad that she even thinks this way. That these are thoughts running through her sweet six year old head.

This is what I wrote on Sunday:

Last week our principal shared NPR’s piece titled, Dr. Suess Books Can Be Racist, But We Keep Reading Them. I was proud of her for sharing this piece with our staff. I teach in an affluent community where there isn’t a whole lot of diversity. When I first became a coach in our building, we did a lot of work to build classroom libraries. This was around the time that I heard about the organization, We Need Diverse Books. I made an effort to do a better job about choosing books that represented different people in a variety of settings.

This past week, reading through Slices, I read SVALTER’s pieces, on her blog Read. Reflect. Teach, entitled, “All Books for All Kids.” Here she talked about a day of learning with Alfred Tatum, who I had never heard of. She described her big take aways, about putting quality literature into kids’ hand. “The books that matter to students are the ones that shift their thinking and touch their hearts. This shouldn’t be limited by a parallel between the life of the reader and the content of the book.”

I was left thinking…

Then, today, reading Sherri’s post/invitation “A Challenge To Fellow Slicers To Share a Story About Race,” I felt compelled to take the challenge on-to push out of my comfort zone.

For me, I found all three of these pieces intersecting. In August, I curated a list of books that helped me talk to my own children about race and celebrating differences. I called the list “Picture Books that Help Us Navigate What it Means to be Human.” I feel so fortunate to live in a time, to be raising my children, in a world where we can find literature to help us talk about big issues.

Last year, I found myself recommending books like Jason Reynold’s Track Series and Kwame Alexander’s books, over and over again, during our book club units in fifth grade. I didn’t try to push these books on kids who looked like the main characters. I encouraged all kinds of kids to read these books, so they could read about places and issues facing kids that were different than their own lives. Perhaps they’d find similarities. Perhaps, their eyes would open to the world beyond their own backyards.

I recently listened to Jacqueline Woodson’s novel, *Harbor Me. I loved this book. It was about a group of kids who were given time to just be together and share their stories. At first it was awkward and they didn’t see the gift that they were given. In the end, we the reader, realize the power in having our stories heard and in sharing our own.

I immediately thought of our fifth graders and thought how this would be the perfect book for them to read aloud. Not because the characters looked like them or their experiences matched perfectly. But because this story helps us navigate what it means to be human, considering that we’re all coming with our own stories.

I ended my August, “Navigating the World” book list with this:

I saw a Tweet from Katie Clements, from TCRWP, who shared a quote from James Howe. It said, “The world we are living in now makes the world of the book all that much more important as we consider what we want to say to our children about how to live, about what being human in a community should look like.” 

That right there is what I tried to share with Wren today when she shared her story from gym class. I am grateful for so many beautiful authors, writing stories that help us have big conversations- to give us a vision for humanity.

*At the end of the Audible version of Harbor Me, Jacqueline Woodson’s ten year old son interviews her. He sounds like a fine young man, an inspiration for raising kids to celebrate all people. This was one of my favorite parts of the listening experience.






9 thoughts on “An invitation: Still navigating what it means to be human…

  1. Such a sweet sad comment from your lovely daughter! Race continues to be contentious, I just don’t get it, our kids lived with us in India for 9 and a half years and couldn’t give a toss about the colour of anyone’s skin, my mum is English and was a total racist, so she and I never saw eye to eye. I am teaching tribal Indian kids right now, I adore them.
    I love Jacqueline Woodson’s books but feel they are tinged with sadness, maybe always harking back to race?
    As a non-American I find the race situation in the US unfathomable, I won’t say more than that..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing about all of these things: books, kids, race, difference and being human. I read that same article about Dr. Suess and felt sad that I, too, might need to leave behind some of my own favorites of children’s literature. I also read Harbor Me and loved every word. It is a beautifully crafted story and truly contains multitudes. I read it for myself when my 11 y-o & I were on vacation together. Our read-aloud at the time was Alex Gino’s George which gave us lots to talk and wonder about. Harbor Me is a title I’ll need to bring back into the picture. When I read with my son and observe him develop his own tastes, I’m always thinking about opportunities he has for both mirrors and windows and sliding doors. (Now I have to get the audio version to hear that interview!)
    Raising our kids and being able to shape their reading lives is a wonderful privilege. I’m glad that Wren had language to describe the possibility of why she didn’t gain the same access as some of her peers. Perhaps that’s the best we can do sometimes, offer them language and space for feelings big and small, and listening with our hearts and arms wide open. That’s actually quite a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t wait to pour over all the resources you have shared. In our very diverse learning community, the librarian, the EL coordinator, myself and many teachers have talked and bought many books that reflect windows and mirrors to our community. When I recommend books for a read aloud or mentor text I try to find books that help us be more human. Thanks for helping me with that.


  4. I’m so sorry that Wren had the experience with the sneakers. That makes me both angry and sad. I’m so glad that we have books and stories that can help all of us navigate this difficult world. How else would we manage through it all? I too loved Harbor Me. I loved the way the children’s stories helped each other and themselves to better understand and better manage through the difficulties.


  5. I have so many thoughts in response to this post. I am sad and angry that Wren already knows that her skin color may be problematic for some people. I am intrigued by the article about Dr. Suess and some of the other links you shared. I, too, have been recommending Jason Reynolds like mad – because he’s so damn good, not because the characters are Black. And I’m trying to increase the diversity of my own reading, mostly so I can hear voices other than my own and have more things to introduce to others. And finally, I’m glad that you are a reader and that your girls have so many books and so much conversation to help them make sense of a world that can sometimes seem senseless. Hugs to Wren – and to her mama.


  6. Heartbreaking that Wren had to hear that, and that you have to help her navigate those words. I will for sure be looking at all the resources you mentioned in your post. Thanks for being brave, pushing past your comfort zone and sharing.


  7. I can almost not respond to your post because I have been sort of angry about the bandaid idea all day. I appreciate feedback but I believe that any way you push your voice out into the world can become part of your story. I can choose to see everything as a story. Multiple entry points and access. I just do not think anything is a band aid. You share your soul. you share your story.

    Liked by 1 person

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