What We Can Do Now

Leslie Hawkins -- January 30th, 2017

Even kids whose parents keep them on a fairly low screen-time diet will likely have seen or heard something about the tumultuous events of this past weekend, as spontaneous nationwide protests sprang up in airports around the country. How can, or should, we in our role as children’s booksellers be of service to kids and families in a time like this?

We all have different approaches and different comfort levels when it comes to broaching subjects with our customers that are political or that may be easily politicized. What’s appropriate? What’s useful? Aside from anything else I may feel called to do on my personal time, I’m determined to do something this week at the bookstore to provide some small measure of comfort, insight, and empowerment to those kids.

Here are two actionable ideas being implemented at Spellbound this week:

Charlesbridge, 2015

First, our weekly story time will feature stories of immigrants and refugees. It’s always appropriate to share stories that foster empathy and compassion. Among the picture books we’re looking forward to sharing this week: I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, in which three students, newly arrived from three different countries, learn to feel confident and comfortable in their new school without losing a sense of their home country, language, and identity.

Little Bee Books, 2016

Welcome by French author-illustrator Barroux was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. It follows three polar bears who are in danger and in need of a new home. After being turned away by others when they were in need, the bears decide to be kind and welcoming when, after finally finding that home, a trio of lost monkeys comes along and is in need of a new home.

Nobrow Press, 2016

The Journey by Francesca Sanna is a beautiful book that’s received well-earned attention and critical praise since its release last year. A family leaves their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war.

How many stories we’ll get through at story time depends, as many of you well know, on the average age and attention span of the audience that shows up any given day.  Some more great choices on this theme that we look forward to featuring at this or upcoming story times include: We Came to America by Faith Ringgold (Knopf, 2016), Why Am I Here? by Akin Duzakin and Constance Orbeck-Nilssen (Eerdmans, 2016), Joseph’s Big Ride by Terry Farish and Ken Daley (Annick Press, 2016), and My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood (HMH, 2015).

The second idea that we’re acting on is inspired by an Instagram post from our indie colleagues at Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa.: providing free stamped postcards for kids and adults to, as the wise folks at Aaron’s put it, “let their elected representatives know how they feel about issues near and dear to them.” Being an active and engaged citizen and modeling that for kids is, like fostering empathy, always appropriate.

We’ll continue to look for ways we can make the bookstore a welcoming, enlightening, and engaging place for all.

What titles are ShelfTalker readers recommending this week, and how do you engage your young customers when difficult but important issues are top of mind?

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