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Books to Help Kids Make Sense of Challenging Current Events

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Photo credit: Cultura RM Exclusive/Flynn Larsen, Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

My seventh grader would probably go through the roof for a signed poster of the “PBS NewsHour’s” Gwen Ifill, and regularly checks to make sure I’m still a “sustaining member” of our local public radio station. Her humanities homework includes presidential debate watching, and she and her friends often discuss sustainability activities and the latest on standardized testing (in between watching Drake memes on YouTube). I’m glad that she’s engaged, but also sometimes have to squelch my inclination to shield her from news that I’m not comfortable discussing. Today’s news reports or political discussions can sometimes be more disturbing or demoralizing than anything else. So how do we encourage young people to pay attention to the world we live in without feeling powerless in the face of what often seem to be enormous challenges?

Resources created to help parents and educators share current events with children and teens abound, from youth-created newspapers like IndyKids and classroom-oriented newsmagazines like Upfront. The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility offers some helpful tips for how adults and children can discuss tough topics “in constructive, thoughtful, and sensitive ways.” And the books below can also provide a pathway for conversation, reflection, and action.

  • Immigration and Displacement

  • Stories of Syrian refugees, of unaccompanied minors making dangerous and desperate journeys to the U.S., and of people all over the world searching and fighting for homeland can bring up questions of identity, belonging, and power. If your child is interested in conversations about diverse and changing communities, try:

  • I’m New Here

    by Anne Sibley O’Brien

    Three students from three countries — Korea, Somalia, and Guatemala — struggle to belong in a new school. Through art, sports, language, and more, a celebration of inclusion and diversity emerges. An author’s note includes resources for discussion of immigration.

  • Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

    by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

    Award-winning author Danticat tells a finely wrought tale in English and Kreyol of a mother in detention and the daughter who is empowered to become an advocate on her mother’s behalf.

  • The Arrival

    by Shaun Tan

    Tan’s award-winning wordless story challenges readers as it captures the triumphs and struggles of the immigrant experience with haunting, intricate, and thought-provoking details. As one reviewer notes, “This could electrify a curriculum, provoke conversation if shared within a family, or simply bring a reader a startling new way of seeing a familiar story."

  • Criminal Justice and Incarceration

  • Recent reports of the “school to prison pipeline” and debates about our links between race, economics, and punishment can seem dehumanizing; if your child has questions about how we engage with the criminal justice system, try:

  • Visiting Day

    by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome

    Jacqueline Woodson’s tender picture book reminds readers that those who are incarcerated are human beings, with lives and connections that go beyond prison walls. Ultimately a hopeful celebration of a father-daughter bond, Visiting Day offers hope to children dealing with separation or loss.

  • House Arrest

    by K.A. Holt

    Holt’s poignant and funny novel in verse tells the very real story of a young boy’s struggle to “stay out of trouble” while he deals with the challenges of the juvenile justice system and family life.

  • All-American Boys

    by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

    Two teens — one Black, one White — are forced to grapple with issues of police brutality and racial tension in America in this hard-hitting novel told from two points of view.

What other books and resources have helped you and your kids talk about the challenging issues we’re faced with?

 

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