6 Picture Books I'm Reading To My Children To Help Them Navigate Current Events

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In the months since Donald Trump has become president, more and more people have become inspired to join the Resistance — whether that means volunteering, campaigning, donating, making calls, educating themselves and others on the issues, or otherwise. Bustle's 31 Days of Reading Resistance takes a look at the role of literature and writing in the Resistance, both as a source of inspiration and as a tool for action.

The summer Trump announced his run for the highest office was the summer before my son’s first year of kindergarten. I remember walking up and down the aisles of Target loading the cart with pencils, erasers, and crayons and grabbing a box of chocolates for the teacher.  I taped a handwritten cheesy note on it telling her I hoped she had a sweet and wonderful school year and sent my eldest off to school. When my child returned home after his first day of class, I asked him what he learned that day, and he asked me why his skin was brown. He asked how he could make it white because of taunts from children in the playground. He wanted to know why they kept telling him to go back to where he came from. He wanted to know what certain racist slurs hurled at him meant. I talked to the teacher, the administration, and after seeing nothing was going to change, I had to pull my child from school.

When my child returned home after his first day of class, I asked him what he learned that day, and he asked me why his skin was brown.

Like every parent, I have an innate instinct to protect my children from harm and pain. I want them to skip pebbles in streams, ride bicycles, and experience the full wonder of the transitory state that is childhood. I understand there will be squabbles with siblings, and homework that’s challenging, and monsters suspected of living under beds, and I’m fully prepared to tackle those parenting challenges but the parenting part I wasn’t prepared for was helping them navigate the scary monsters who are all too real and can’t be dispelled with a quick scan with a flashlight under the bed. It’s not just the current regime (including the complicit GOP in its entirety) and the policies they are putting in place and proposing to enact that are frightening, but also the people now emboldened to act upon the hate lurking in their hearts who then pass on the hate to their children. Until Kindergarten came with its cruel reality shock, I hoped to shield my children as best I could through the current events that haunt us, to have the tough conversations when they were older — but I learned the hard way our children live through these current events with us and so it is on me as a parent to help them navigate through it.

The parenting part I wasn’t prepared for was helping them navigate the scary monsters who are all too real and can’t be dispelled with a quick scan with a flashlight under the bed.

I believe it is incumbent not only on parents of children from marginalized communities and identities to have these conversations but for all parents to have these conversations. As a former educator, I know firsthand that bigotry and hate are taught (Side note: Your children are listening to the things you say, and your kid’s teachers know more than you realize) and with the news cycle and the rising rhetoric there is much our children may pick up if we don’t stop and actually have direct and explicit conversations about difficult topics and offer them comfort and hope and to remind them they can be the change we wish to see in this world.

Below is a sampling of the few picture books I’m reading with my children that help us navigate these current times.

This is a powerful story from the perspective of a girl who is unkind to a fellow classmate new to the school. Unlike many stories for children where there are happy endings to the tale, there is no happy ending to this one; instead it’s an honest reminder that we don’t always get the opportunities to undo the harm we inflict on others and that each kindness we put forward in this world ripples out to better this world no matter how large or how small our actions are.

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This book follows the journey of CJ and his grandmother on their way to a soup kitchen. This book is a powerful reminder of the beauty that exists all around us, the importance of giving back to our communities and society, and our own individual power in making the world a better place.

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This is a classic from my own childhood about staying true to who you are even in the face of pressure. In a world where Islamaphobia and other forms of bigotry and racism are on the rise, I find it important to remind my children that staying true to who they are and being at peace with their identity—even in the face of great ridicule and opposition —  is important.

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This is a book about a dog who gets into all sorts of trouble and is loved regardless. Shortly after the election, Linda Sarsour, a Muslim American activist and community organizer, spoke at an event near my home. She warned of the rising bullying and pressures our children now face and how kids, especially from marginalized backgrounds, should see their homes as a safe place because the outside world may not be. She reminded us that unconditional love now more than ever, was the greatest thing we could give our children these days. This book is a reminder to my children of the beauty of unconditional love and I hope it’s a quiet regular reminder that despite the difficulties out there in the world there are people who will always be a safe space for them.

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This is a biography of Rosa Parks designed for young children. I’ve heard many parents say they don’t want their children to have to think about racism and bigotry so young and who avoid books like this one but all children need to understand the reality of racism and bigotry and this book does it in an age-appropriate way. We cannot eradicate a monster we do not know.  

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This hilarious and touching story of a child who thinks his mother is an alien when he sees her Resident Alien immigration card underscores just how important diverse books are for young children. With the current anti-immigration dialogues all over the country, this book brings the abstract conversations into the concrete with a look at a loving family and a mother becoming an American citizen.

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These are just a handful of books of many books that children can benefit from, but however it’s done, I do believe that part of resistance is providing our children unending love and support, helping them feel pride in their identities, and having the challenging conversations we must have so we can hope and pave the way through our actions for a better tomorrow.

Follow along all month long for more Reading Resistance book recommendations.