It was a typical afternoon in the library with my first grade students. They came bursting through the double doors, settled down on the carpet, and turned their attention to where I sat with a picture book face down in my lap.
“Raise your hand if you like pizza!”
Every one of my first grade students thrust a hand up into the air.
“Raise your hand if you like chocolate chip cookies!”
All hands stayed up— some even threw up both hands up.
“Raise your hand if you like frog legs!”
Down. Every single hand dropped into a lap- and a chorus of “ewwwwwwwww” filled the room.
“Really?” I asked. “Do you know frog legs are considered delicacies in Japanese and French cuisines?”
No answer, just a series of horrified looks on my students’ faces.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Raise your hand if you’ve actually eaten a frog leg?”
Nothing. Silence. No hands raised.
I feigned a look of horror. “What?!? How on earth do you know you hate frog legs if you’ve never even tried them?”
One of my boys said “they sound gross.” Another girl said “I think I’d throw up if I ever had to eat them.”
And thus began a conversation about preconceived notions. How we make judgments before we have experience or evidence to back them up. How these judgments can extend not just to food or toys or places, but to people, too. And how, when it comes to people, these biases can be ever so harmful— and even more dangerous.
The conversation sparked curiosity in my students. It sparked adamant statements that they would never judge a person based on anything but their hearts and how kind or thoughtful or compassionate they were. I was proud of them, of course. But then I also spoke about how even when we think we are open minded and inclusive, we can easily succumb to the pressure of those around us who think differently, those who might be scared of “otherness” and are thus quick to speak out against it because of ignorance or fear. And how when that happens, others may quickly follow suit.
It’s easy to slide into apathy, and we can’t let this happen to the next generation. Raising children who are not just open minded, but free thinkers who won’t fall prey to rash judgments must be a priority as a parent and an educator. It is so important that we challenge our kids to recognize when they succumb to preconceived notions, as this is the only way we will ever combat bias and harmful stereotypes.
There is no better way to do this then by reading, and there are a handful of books that have come out recently — together with some classics — that are absolutely fabulous for addressing this critical topic. I hope you enjoy them and find them as tremendously helpful as we do. Here’s to teaching each other, learning from one another, and helping to lift up “others” through books and conversation, today and always.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee: Perhaps my favorite story of 2018! In this powerful story, there is literally just what the title says – a wall running along the gutter of the book. On one side of the wall stands a knight who proudly proclaims he is safe right where he is. The dangers, after all, live on the other side of the wall. So what exactly is on that other side? Angry animals and evil ogres, of course. What the knight doesn’t realize, however, is that rising water and a looming crocodile threaten his safety on the safe side of the wall. And when the knight finds himself in need of serious help, the one who comes to his rescue is not at all who the knight anticipated… and the other side of the wall may possess a lot more fun than fright. For our full review of The Wall in the Middle of the book, click here!
The Very Last Castle, by Travis Jonker and illustrated by Mark Pett: An old castle, with no visitors going in and no people coming out? That leaves the castle ripe for rumorville, and the people in town have no problem spinning tales about the horrors that must lie inside. We simply love the way this book challenges the preconceived notions of an entire community – all, that is, but one small, curious girl who constantly tries to catch the eye of the man guarding the mysterious castle. This is a fabulous story in which a child overcomes fear of the unknown by being brave enough to discover for herself what really lies behind the castle’s doors. In the process, she discovers her inner courage, makes a new friend, and creates a big change right within her neighborhood.
The Boy and the Giant, by David Litchfield: Did you hear about the secret giant in Gableview? He’s got legs the size of drain pipes and feet the size of rowboats, and everyone in town is terrified of him. But is the giant really real? And if he is real, is he truly as horrible as everyone makes him out to be? When Billy happens upon the giant, he runs away in fear — and ends up hurting the poor giants feelings! But maybe the the giant isn’t really as scary as the townspeople think. He might even just be the most loving guy in town. We love the way this book challenges — and then turns on their head — the judgments people make about someone who looks so wholly different from themselves. This beautiful book reminds us all that if we learn to embrace our differences, we may create fulfilling relationships with the people we least expected.
Bear’s Scare, by Jacob Grant: Bear loves a clean house (don’t we all!?) and he will stop at nothing to keep his house tidy and clean. The only thing he loves more than a clean house is his stuffie, Ursa. When Bear happens upon a sticky, icky spiderweb, he will stop at nothing to find the spider. After all, messy guests must be banished from the house, and a spider is surely a messy guest! But when he does discover that messy house guest, Bear and Ursa learn that Spider may be much less messy — and much more friendly, helpful and lovely — than they initially thought. This is a perfect book for young readers to convey the message that we should never be quick to judge others!
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson: Ferdinand is a peaceful, calm little bull, content to graze in the grass and sniff his favorite flowers. But this isn’t what a bull should really do — it’s not at all how a bull should act. Bulls should be tough! Aggressive! They should snort and leap and butt heads. Why? Because that’s how everyone else has been trained to think they should act. But not Ferdinand. We will forever love this book that teaches children they can go against the grain and buck common stereotypes about how they should — or should not behave. Any book that teaches kids to be true to themselves will forever be a winner in our house!
Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems: Leonardo has a problem: he is one terrible monster. As hard as he tries, he cannot scare anyone! After his first attempt at frightening a little boy named Sam, Leo realizes Sam needs a friend instead of a monster… and in doing so, he goes against the grain and doesn’t act how monsters are “supposed” to act. I love the way this book challenges how we see ourselves — how we think we ought to be instead of who we want to be. Willems brilliantly illustrates that even the scariest creatures have emotions too, and some can even be quite sensitive to the needs of others. Not what any kid first thinks of when they conjure up images of a monster, is it? This one is a hoot — but even as it’s giving kids belly laughs, it’s making them question everything they thought they knew about that things that go bump in the night. For our full review of Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems, click here!
Did you like this post? Yay! We think you will love these as well – make sure to check them out! Picture Books to Help You Raise Kind Kids, 21 Books to Promote Kindness, Inclusiveness and Equality, Favorite Books About Courage, and Favorite Picture Books of 2018
*HEE received review copies of some of these books from publishers. However, all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own. All links are affiliate links.