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Bending the arc
I’m breaking with our typical format this week to talk with you a little more personally. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t quite feel ready yet to go back to business as usual. The past two weeks have given us all a lot to think about. Issues and concerns that maybe were on a back burner are now front and center. Goals of kindness, truth, empathy, acceptance of diversity – all values that seemed to be winning, suddenly appear newly threatened. And yes – I know now how naive I was to think that.
During this time of intense national division, it seems appropriate to pause, to reflect, to reassess, and ultimately to set some new priorities.
During the last episode, I talked about the novel Children of Exile and how the utopian city had founding principles based on the best human philosophies. And the one that I keep mulling over is the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
And actually, MLKs quote is paraphrased from words spoken 100 years earlier by abolitionist Theodore Parker. And right now, I echo Parker’s sentiment when he said of that moral arc “I cannot calculate the curve.”
But, the version of that quote that I like best, the one that spurs me on now, is President Barack Obama’s from his 2008 speech commemorating Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington. He said, “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.”
So as I think about myself as an educator and as a mom, I am asking myself some questions.
How can I, as a reading advocate, work to bend that arc?
What do I need to change within myself?
And how can I help children see beyond their bubble and into the lives of others in a way leads them to empathy and action?
It’s going to be hard work, but here are a few ideas and few places to find inspiration:
Read books that make you uncomfortable
First – we adults should read books that make us a little uncomfortable. We need to take a look within and ask ourselves, what pieces of the human experience have I overlooked? Seek out other perspectives, share those books with friends, and be vocal about what you are learning from them. Over the last week, I’ve been compiling lists of adult memoirs and nonfiction that will start to help me better understand the point of view of folks not like me. This week that started with reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’m hoping for new insight for myself and to pass along to the children in my life.
find your reading crew
Second – find your reading crew. And gather to inspire each other and sometimes push each other to think in new ways. Now, I’m in a women’s book club with some close family members. We’ve been meeting for 10 years. Last month, my sister-in-law recommended the YA novel, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I don’t often have time to read much Young Adult and I never would have picked it up myself, but reading that novel has forever changed the way I view mental illness. And helped me to have more patience and compassion.
Help kids find their reading crew
Third – help your children and students find their reading crew. Connect kids with other readers and help them discover their own reading community. A friend of mine hosts a monthly children’s read aloud at her Little Free Library right in her front yard. Parents and kids gather on a blanket and she reads aloud books connected to gender equality or prejudice or whatever topic seems most needed at the time. It is incredible.
Be a champion for diverse books
Fourth – be a champion for diverse books. Donate to the We Need Diverse Books Campaign (I’ll link to that in the show notes) and truly commit to including more diverse titles in your library or home. And not only putting them on the shelf, but enthusiastically book talking them. And if you can, donate some titles to needy schools or your local libraries.
And a final thought – if you want inspiration, if you want a testament to how incredible the kidlit community is, check out two things:
1. The hashtag #hugsfromkidlit and
#2 The Declaration in Support of Children at thebrownbookshelf.com
The statement begins with the following:
“Children’s literature may be the most influential literary genre of all. Picture books, chapter books, middle-grade and young-adult novels all serve the most noble of purposes: to satisfy the need for information, to entertain curious imaginations, to encourage critical thinking skills, to move and inspire. Within their pages, seeds of wisdom and possibility are sown.
Therefore we, the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators*, do publicly affirm our commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death.”
As of today, November 21st, it is signed by over 600 children’s book authors and illustrators. I’ll link to to the full statement on the shownotes – it’s worth reading in its entirety and please consider supporting them. Let me just read you the final paragraph.
“With paintbrushes and pens in hand, we, the undersigned, will continue to press toward the goals of equality, justice, and peace. We will write. We will draw. We will listen to the children. We invite you to join us. In the words of Ella Baker, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
And I will simply add, that if we want to bend that moral arc we have to pull on it with all our might. And harness our strengths and our passions to work joyfully toward equality and justice.
Thank you so much for spending some time with me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show with links to any books and resources I talked about today by going to BooksBetween.com/11 which will take you to our home at All the Wonders where you can immerse yourself in everything that is positive and inspiring in the world of children’s literature.
Thank you again and we will be back in two weeks!