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Building a Home Library

Martin Luther King Would Like

 

Q. On Martin Luther King Day, I see a lot of school activities that honor the themes of racial understanding and tolerance. But I don't see a lot of ideas for what parents can do in their homes. It would be nice to foster multiculturalism throughout the year with my young children. What's an easy way to do that?

 

Martin Luther King Day is a great time to make your home library multicultural. Why don't you purchase a book every year on this date, with your child? Children are so tangible - they get candy for Easter, fireworks for the Fourth of July, presents for Christmas . . . why not help them anticipate and appreciate this day of celebrating racial reconciliation by presenting them with a book each year?

 

If you want to raise a child who's as free from prejudice as possible, it's a great idea to go out of your way to have books in your home that show people of all skin colors doing good things, and books by multicultural authors with their photos on the book jackets. You shouldn't harp on it, but make sure you're presenting that truth about human beings in a nonverbal way. That way, your child will learn a little about other people whose skin may be a little different color, but who are very interesting and loveable all the same - since we are, on balance, all the same.

 

If finances are a problem, you should be able to check out these books at a public library, or send a note to your child's school librarian to see if these could be sent home for an evening of multicultural appreciation.

 

If young children associate snuggling with Mom or Dad with books, and associate brown or black faces pictured in those books with warm, happy times reading, it gives them a great start at getting along with other people, even years and decades later.

 

You can teach a little basic history, and prevent bias and stereotypes in your child before they get a chance to get implanted. Some of these stories don't directly have anything to do with race, but quietly emphasize common ground, and introduce the themes of friendship and acceptance, which are keys for all ages.

 

Some suggestions:

 

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Bill Martin Jr.

The "climax" at the end shows a warm and nurturing brown-faced woman that sends a quiet message to Caucasian children.

 

A Chair For My Mother

Vera B. Williams

African-Americans Rosa and her grandmother save their loose change so that Rosa's mother can have a chair to sink into after a hard day at her waitressing job.

 

The Snowy Day

Ezra Jack Keats

This sweet, gentle book shows an African-American child having fun on a snowy day. Look for other picture books by Keats, who was the first to break the color line with mainstream children's books featuring nonwhite main characters.

 

Pink and Say

Patricia Polacco

This story of one black and one white boy soldiers for the Union during the Civil War says a lot about friendship and racial understanding, but it does have a sad ending, so isn't recommended for children younger than Grade 4.

 

Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth

Anne Rockwell and R. Gregory Christie

Striking illustrations bring the story to life about a tall, brave, black woman back before the Civil War, who had a dream one night, that she was supposed to go around the country and tell everyone what it was like to have been a slave. She did, and influenced the course of American history as people paid attention and fought the Civil War to free the slaves.

 

Little Blue and Little Yellow

Leo Lionni

Two blobs of color demonstrate the beauty of friendship that transcends surface differences. While this book doesn't directly illustrate skin color differences, the principle is powerfully presented.

 

Homework: Here are more suggested books for infants and toddlers, many with African-American characters in them, from the Oakland, Calif., public library:

 

www.oaklandlibrary.org/links/kids/Booklists/babiestoddlers.html

 

Here are some listed by a reference website on black heritage issues:

 

www.melanet.com/watoto/book_list.html

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Reading 19 2009

 

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