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February is ending but that doesn’t mean the celebration of African American history should. After all, good books are good year round.

Plus, there’s evidence (opens in a new window) that sharing stories with children builds empathy. (Though the study’s focus was on fiction, I think that well-presented nonfiction for young children is equally powerful.)

Think of the classic story of Peter who simply enjoys The Snowy Day (opens in a new window) (Scholastic), how a boy and his grandmother travel to the Last Stop on Market Street (opens in a new window) (Putnam) to serve lunch to other people, or how a little girl fell in love with a teddy bear named Corduroy (opens in a new window) (Viking). As children read these books they’ll share Peter’s joy in a city brightened by a snowfall, CJ’s dissatisfaction at riding in a bus instead of a car, and Lisa’s satisfaction in doing something nice for someone she loves.

Each of the characters in these picture books is a child of color. No mention of their background is needed as their experiences are universal. Informational books can evoke emotions, too, perhaps even more so; after all, they’re “real”.

Any child who has ever been stung through rejection or unkind words will empathize with young Martin who felt bad about the signs that read “White Only” but comforted by his mother’s assurance that, “You are as good as anyone.” Martin’s Big Words (opens in a new window) (Hyperion) continue to resonate today.

Children abhor unfairness. The inability of Mildred and Richard to marry legally in their home state was patently unfair just because she was African American and he was white.  It took a Supreme Court decision to make interracial marriage legal, brought forward in The Case for Loving (opens in a new window) (Scholastic). The Lovings achieved fairness for themselves and other interracial couples; their firm stand led to justice and freedom.

Additional material and resources (opens in a new window) are widely available, good in February and beyond. The empathy our children develop is sure to help them thrive in an unsettled, divided world.

About the Author

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.

Publication Date
February 27, 2017