I’ve often wondered what adults can do to help children and young adults cope with complicated lives in a complicated world. Several things came together for me when I had a chance to spend some time with author Nikki Grimes.
In her recent novel, Road to Paris (Putnam, 2006), Nikki Grimes explores the meaning of home. For the main character named Paris, a girl who’s named after a place, home isn’t a place at all, it’s a person. Paris and her older brother, Malcolm, are separated when they’re placed in foster care — at least until their mother can get her life together again.
A lot of Nikki Grimes’ story is in Paris’. Like Paris and Malcolm, Nikki was separated from her sister when placed in the foster care system. And like Paris, Nikki gained strength in the arts. For Paris, it’s music and “keeping God in her pocket.” For Nikki, it was writing and reading.
But writing and reading, music, and community, can provide coping skills for all kids, whether or not they’re currently experiencing difficulty.
I’ve always thought that reading about other kids in rough circumstances not only allows readers to empathize, but also builds up a sort of emotional repertoire — to hold in reserve until needed.
Maybe reading about siblings like Malcolm and Paris prepares kids who are facing difficult challenges, perhaps reminding them that even tough times can come to an end. And it may even help kids find a way to share their own experiences.
Perhaps by offering young people ways to experience books and reading, we’re helping them to better understand their complicated world.