Be the Change You Want to See In Kids’ Books

From Publishers Weekly:

Books have always played an important role in my life. Books about social issues and activism nudged me into my career path. It’s only now, though, that I see where the gaps in children’s literature are and am in a position to do something about it.

As a young child books about activists were a mixed experience for me: moving, but also scary and sad. It appeared that most people did not do anything to support the activists, powerful people were against them, their paths required suffering and single-mindedness, and many faced beatings, jail, and untimely deaths. Only bold, extraordinary people could have such conviction, make such sacrifices. I did not feel extraordinary. I did not even feel bold. Yes, I was taught to do the right thing and help others, but I was also expected to be polite, not yell, not demand, and definitely not challenge the adults enforcing the rules. Obviously, I did not have what it takes to be an activist—and even if I did, no path was offered to that destination.

As an elementary school teacher the books about activists I had were mostly historical. I would finish a read-aloud title about women’s suffrage, desegregation, or labor rights and tell students there is still much more to do, that it isn’t all solved yet! There’s still discrimination, limitations, power imbalances. We need you! I knew there were vibrant organizations out there doing crucial work on issues like labor rights and immigration reform, but I didn’t have a way to capture it and bring it into the reading circle, the curriculum. I remember one student, Joselyn, who acted out but thrived when given leadership positions. Where was the book that showed an undocumented young girl like her how to be an agent of change?

As an activist I enjoy the deep sense of meaning of being part of a movement. Most days, I marvel about how lucky I am to get paid to do something I care about. I get to learn about issues, develop skills to address them, work with people I admire and respect. Where are the children’s books that show how joyful and satisfying this career is—and also how normal it is?

. . . .

As a parent I sneak in as many social justice books as I can get away with, but my kids can smell “lessons” coming from a mile away. I wish I had more books about social change that don’t feel like history textbooks—that are funny or surprising, and that have three-dimensional characters whom my kids can relate to instead of flattened-out “heroes.” I could sneak in a lot more books that way. I look for books that make activism seem fun, cool, and right for them. It’s not easy, as, currently, their passions are mainly riding scooters and making fart jokes. I wish I had books that showed them that no matter what they are interested in—science, cooking, sports, coding, business, art—there are ways to put these in the service of something that will change the world.

As an author, in my new book, For All/Para Todos, about a young undocumented girl who becomes an activist, I want to lift up the stories of people who are making change but not making it into headlines or lesson plans. And I want to do something more subversive—I want the reader to address a range of questions: What do you think about this? What do you care about? What do you think is fair? I want to make sure kids fully own their power as agents of change. And I want to question all of us: What role do we have in this issue? How are we complicit?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders if the author of the OP realizes how many people find stereotypical activists to be annoying and how many parents sincerely hope none of their children grow up to be activists, in part, because Thanksgiving dinner would be unbearable.

8 thoughts on “Be the Change You Want to See In Kids’ Books”

  1. This woman, I suspect, is going to be very disappointed when her kids figure out that she was raising them to be foot soldiers for her pet causes rather than functional human beings. This is a pretty universal thing, by the way–the Quiverfull movement has a lot of defectors among the kids its followers produce.

    • Probably true about activists on any side. My granddaughter is anti-abortion – not forced to be, by a prolife advocate, but in opposition to her mother’s position.
      It does tickle me – there is a limit to how much all that indoctrination can accomplish. I’m a retired teacher, and it’s heartwarming to remember just how skeptically most kids looked at the ‘Woke’ advocacy.
      They also questioned ‘pro-chastity’ and ‘anti-drug’ messages, when heavy-handed, with the same spirit.

      • When I was in “those years,” my peers and I thought the “this is your brain on drugs” PSAs were a hoot.

        I agree, heavy-handed is counterproductive. My three drink, but keep it quite moderate. Probably partly because I just was (reasonably) honest about my high school years (perhaps a bit of exaggeration). They did not want to have intimate relations with a teddy bear cholla.

        I know that they have not tried marijuana; since I managed to kick that back in high school, even the slightest whiff of it triggers a massive migraine. They would not have been able to conceal it from me at all.

        • Smart kids:

          There’s a whole body of studies that is routinely ignored in the quest for more taxable sources.

          My main gripe is the causal link to autism, reported by CNN and Forbes and many other. Both by pregant women and men (whose sperm has been found to undergo changes in the genes linked to autism). One study found its genetic damages to the user are worse than cocaine.

          Sherlock Holmes got tbat much right. 😉

  2. My own definition of ‘activist’, unfortunately, seldom lets me down:

    ‘A person who goes around saying, I demand that you pay to solve their problem.’

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