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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Disturbing images - can we protect our children?

February 5, 2010

Should children be subjected to the horrendous images that surround us in newspapers, on television, on the Internet? How can we avoid having them see pictures of the death, devastation, and other horrors?

I'm thinking specifically of the images that continue to come out of Haiti and the ongoing discussion about the appropriateness of what newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times have published. There have been numerous comments shared, with people wanting to avoid having children confront the destruction in Haiti. I'm just not sure it's possible.

What may be possible, however, is to share a sense of hope with children. Life in Haiti — especially for the children — has never been easy. I was reminded of that when I came across a book intended for rather young children.

Selavi — That Is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, (Kids Can) a picture book by Youme Landowne is based on actual homeless children in Port-au-Prince and how they lived and grew in spite of their country's difficult history. It is a story nonetheless of resilience and hope.

A piece by the Reading Rockets staff suggests additional approaches to developing empathy and understanding. (The books suggested are about Haiti and about natural disasters and seem likely to address various concerns by children.)

Children also need to feel empowered; that they can do something — even a small something — to make a difference, so here are a few suggestions that may start children thinking that simple actions can help:

They can read about a 13-year old who is encouraging other young people to raise money for Haiti.

How one boy in Ghana helped his entire village is shared (on several levels) in One Hen — How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference (Kids Can) by Katie Smith Milway.

The story of one woman's action that started an entire movement in her native Kenya is told in an accessible way in Jeannette Winter's Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa (Harcourt).

Listen to the Wind (Dial) by Susan Roth is the stunningly illustrated picture book telling how Greg Mortenson built a school one stone at a time in a remote Pakistan village, bringing positive change.

Small things mean a lot. We can help children feel less powerless in the face of great difficulty by talking with them, sharing concrete ideas, helping them act. And it just may start by sharing books.

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