Joyful Reads in the Midst of the Struggle Against Racism

My birthday bookshelf. There’s even space for more books!

Last week was my birthday and I think it was my most bookish celebration of all time. My parents got me a big bookshelf that will hold all my “grown-up” books. It is beautiful and so nice not to have piles of my books all over the floor of our bedroom. A dear friend gave me a gift certificate to our lovely local bookstore. They just started booking private appointments for people to browse for 45 minutes (with a mask on), which sounds like heaven. And my gift-giving superstar of a wife got me a fabulous purple hammock. I have dreams of lounging in it for hours reading books. That is, if I didn’t have kids…

Courtesy of Barefoot Books, Better World Books and Ashay by the Bay and the the United State Postal Service, I received another round of birthday treats too. The books I have been ordering recently started to arrive (an aside, reader, I need the library to re-open before I go broke). I was, as you would imagine, delighted to see all those new stories on my doorstep. The ones we have read so far are just wonderful. They are full of vibrant illustrations, beautiful storytelling and a cast of lovable multi-racial, global children.

We are enjoying them so much that I started to feel a bit guilty. There is an awful lot of pain, grief and sadness in the world right now. Should I really be spending time delighting in these beautiful books or should we only be reading serious stories of racism and white privilege? After all, my four year olds don’t know who Rosa Parks is. We have a lot of work to do.

And then I saw a tweet:

I’m a parent, author and former college interviewer. Please hear me- in this time of “stress” people want to flood their kids with books about racism. Please provide 20 joyful books for every one book on racism. They also need to know POC kids are like every other kid.” – Christine Taylor Butler

This tweet made me take a deep breath. I do need to read more books to my kids that specifically explain racism. I have one on Rosa Parks coming in the mail. And we need to continue reading joyful books about People of Color. Stories in which Black children live their lives, spend time with their loving families, make friends and face all the challenges and pleasures of childhood. This is not separate from my efforts to raise anti-racist children because Black children matter, Black families matter, Black stories matter, Black lives matter.

One of my greatest teachers on issues of race and peacemaking is Osheta Moore. I wrote about her book here. One of her manifesto points for aspiring shalom seekers is that they “choose subversive joy.” This is the phrase that repeated in my mind when I read my new copy of The More We Get Together by Celeste Cortright. It’s Barefoot Book’s new Spring of 2020 sing-a-long. Naturally, the publishers, author and book team did not know all that would be happening in our world when this little book was launched into the world. But, readers, this is the right book for our times. The children and community members in this story are Black, Brown, Asian and white. Several characters have a disability. At least one woman wears a hijab. And do they ever get together and engage in practices of peace with joy!

Set to the familiar tune of “The More We Get Together,” these children make the air cleaner by riding their bicycles, helping their neighbors, eating and gardening together and even writing letters and speaking up to make their world a better place. Bettania Zacarias’s illustrations are so vibrant and joyful (I can’t stop using this word) that they make me smile every time I see them. Look:

The book comes with a CD that includes the song on audio and the animated video version. My kids love the animated video. The burst out dancing and twirling in the living room when we watched it the first time. I call that a win.

Tackling the insidious racism in our society and engaging in other social justice work is a marathon, not a sprint. If we want our children to engage in this work wholeheartedly, they must see the joy that is possible both in the work and in the peace and justice this work can bring. Obviously, this struggle cannot and will not always feel good. We white people need to be willing to feel uncomfortable and broken hearted as we confront our role in a racist society. But we should not forget the joy in the midst of all the pain.

A final note: On Saturday, we watched the Sesame Street/ CNN Town Hall on racism for families. It is so worth an hour of your time. Even if your kids only watch the first 5 minutes of Elmo talking to his dad like mine did, they will run off with a better understanding of racism and how we all need to work together to make the world more fair. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum recommended a brilliant resource: Social Justice Books. So many books lists and recommendations. Check it out!

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Community Bookseller, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. Any earnings I receive from this post will be donated to the Children’s Defense Fund.

Joyful Reads in the Midst of the Struggle Against Racism

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