As a mother, nothing comes close to my primitive urge as a mom to protect my child. So, I thought it ironic to visit a playground in North Carolina when my son was young and see a warning sign of alligators nearby.
This sign hit me with the realization that while we can provide our children with the resources to defend themselves and make good choices, ultimately we have to let them go out there to frolic amongst the good guys and the gators. This includes opening their eyes through media and books to not-so-nice things that go on in the world.
Especially books. They can open up our child’s eyes to events in history, just and unjust. Books have opened up many dialogues with my son about slavery, civil rights, religion, women earning the right to vote, the Holocaust, bullying, and terrorism.
When my son was six we got a wonderful book called The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (since made into a movie). In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky.
This book paved the way for us to talk in depth about the twin towers and terrorism. My son said at the time he hoped that the bad man would be caught and the towers would be rebuilt.
One out of two so far. I was able to report to my son not long after that the bad man had been caught. My son wanted to know how he was found, what happened to his children, his wife, and if his being caught meant this kind of thing would never happen again. How I wished I could have said ‘yes’ to that. But, I hope in having these discussions (as I hope parents are having everywhere) that we are changing the world for the better—one discussion at a time.
As my son got older, middle grade books opened up discussion for us. Here are some of them:
Wonder by R.J. Palacio: about being a disfigured kid in a “normal” world.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper: what it could be like to have a voice but not be able to communicate.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: the difficult decision of choosing where you belong.
Rules by Cynthia Lord: on autism and asking “what is normal?”
Holes by Louis Sachar: about friendship and believing in yourself.
Surviving Bear Island by Paul Greci: about being separated from your family and having to survive in a strange, dangerous place all alone.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen: on endangered animals and ecology.
Duck by Richard S. Ziegler: about standing up for yourself when the one person who protects you is gone.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney: fearing middle school and then finding out how cool it really is.
Books. They open us up to new worlds and help us as parents relate the good and bad of the world to our children. They reveal the beauty and the darkness that co-exist in our world—and within us. They inspire feelings of sadness, joy, compassion, or outrage.
Books. They open up conversations with my son about life and death and right and wrong. I watch him as he struggles with these issues even as he becomes a young man now and tries to figure out his place in the world.
And while I empower my son with information and send him out there to navigate the battle field of life with as much armor as possible, I hope the good guys outnumber the gators. I hope he witnesses more glory than gore. And even if the gators in disguise try and get him, I hope it’s “just a flesh wound!”
Are there books you’ve read with your children that opened up discussions about the world around them?
And if you’re looking for a fun, heartfelt adventure to read with your kids, check out the next books 6-10 in my Unicorn Island series, Secret Beneath the Sand, out today! There are new characters, new creatures, and new adventures to enjoy. In the next part of the series, when a mysterious scourge spreads among the unicorns, Sam and Tuck must face a long-buried secret to protect the herd. It releases on Epic, the leading digital library for kids 12 and under, in a 5-part serial May 2021 with illustrated hardcover out winter 2022 by Andrews McMeel.