Today’s guest post continues a conversation about talking to kids about race in storytime that I began to ponder last year. My initial post, Talking to Kids About Race, was followed by a guest post sharing racially diverse storytime booklists. This guest post by Jessica Bratt delves deeper into the topic of talking to kids about race in a storytime setting. Jessica shares her personal journey relating to this topic and shares a toolkit she created for library staff who do storytime. Take it away, Jessica!
I attended the 2018 Partners for a Racism-Free Community forum entitled, Standing at the Intersections. This forum talked about racial equity and inclusion that intersects with a person’s identity. Charlene Carruthers, their keynote speaker, talked about the work she has done with BYP100, her upcoming book, and how we could take part in seeing the world as it should be. Her Q&A session resonated with me because her responses were absolutely poignant in understanding the work early literacy/youth services librarians have towards inclusion in storytimes.
The first question a person asked was how does one go about doing self-work and why do they need to do self-work. Carruthers talked about how self-work is harder, yet should be higher than self-care (Agnes Wainman explained self-care is “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.”) because we are learning what we need to do to heal our traumas (big or small) to be a better person. It is learning about ourselves and how we can impact the world. Where does one begin to do the formidable process of self work? By using these questions as guidance:
- Who am I?
- What are my self interests?
- Who are my people?
- Who am I accountable to?
- What am I best positioned to do?
Another attendee followed up with a question of how do you get kids to intersect with others from all walks of life to have conversations about social justice terms: power, privilege, access, oppression, etc? Her response was that you create child-friendly components of whatever work you are doing and make a space to invite both groups into the room.
That self-work was how the Let’s Talk About Race series developed. It provides a child-friendly space to address inclusion and diversity to make space for everyone in the room. I saw talking about race as part of the self work that I needed to do (that we all should be doing). In part because who I am is integral to my profession. As an African-American librarian, I am a descendant of slaves and can trace back my history to 1796 when my great-great-great grandmother was born a slave in South Carolina, her father was sold when she was a baby and then she was sold to the Liddell plantation.
As a professional librarian, I am also a Youth Services Manager and it is my responsibility to help prepare children with the tools they need to be successful. That is how I settled on creating the Let’s Talk About Race toolkit. I wholeheartedly believe that the celebration of diversity and inclusion starts at birth. I am accountable to my community, to the future generations if I do try to do my best in providing tools to disrupt biases creating a world where kids can recognize, accept, and celebrate differences. One of my favorite books is Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Wood because ‘you are loved and so are they’ is a world truth that has been fractured, distorted, rebranded and coded into divisive messages that one group is always better than others.
A co-worker, Jeanne Clemo, an amazing early literacy instructor, brought into one of our library’s early literacy committee meetings the Jbrary post on talking about race. She talked about how the post made her think about what we could be doing more in our storytimes for inclusion and diversity. We had conversations about what that could look like which enabled me to sit down and create a toolkit. I realized that through our conversations talking about race, which seemed natural to me in my storytime programming others had a hard time opening up to the possibilities partially because there were no guides or blueprints developed.
In a profession that is 88% white how could I create tools necessary to make something that is natural for me empowering for others? How do I teach others to talk about race especially if it was something that they never had to do before?
I did a webinar in January for Washington State Library about the toolkit I developed in providing caretakers with simple tools to start dealing with biases that develop at an early age. We as librarians have immense power in the way we prepare kids not only for early literacy, which translates to kindergarten readiness, but we also have power in how their social interactions with “others.” The library is free and open to the community which means we have the perfect opportunity to create inclusive environments where we are fostering appropriately aged dialogue about our humanity and legit science. Skin pigment is not a magical thing that just happens.
I will give a few highlights from the webinar that I hope will challenge you to create a balance of not only whatever fun storytimes you want to do, but remembering that you have a chance to model inclusion and celebrate diversity in the books that you choose and the parent tips that you speak.
The New York Times summed it up best when they wrote a recent article, “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time.” Just like you would challenge gender roles, a book of all male inventors might make you uncomfortable. Women were inventors too! Well, race should be the same way. African-Americans are more than just entertainers, musicians, and civil rights activist. Are you portraying stories to your patrons of just regular black kids like Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall or Max and the Tag Along Moon by Flyod Cooper or I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison? Native Americans are still around today! Are you only reading books in your storytime that portray them in a certain historic era?
Change Your Thinking: Not a Checklist
The biggest issue is in how you model. We talk about storytime transitions. In those storytime transitions, early literacy educators have developed practical tips for caretakers to take from our storytimes to help encourage modeling at home. Raising socially conscious kids or just good citizens or empathetic people is the same way. You can bring up these points naturally—in a non preachy, non checklist way—or in an I’ve done my good storytime universe deed of the day. This also should not feel like OMG–ANOTHER THING TO REMEMBER. If it is detracting from your storytime rhythm you are not doing it right. I’m a black librarian and haven’t missed a beat when pointing out features to kids and I have observed my storytime instructors doing it as well.
A simple easy way to introduce talking about race (I would say babystep #1) is introducing your read aloud by simply saying, “The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, an award-winning African-American illustrator.” This highlights the author’s race and let’s caretakers know that the picture book section is not just filled with all white authors/illustrators. Caretakers may have no idea that the picture book section is not just filled with white authors/illustrators. Here are other books that work great for this purpose:
These two charts can be used to help staff start to think about how they can approach race in storytime.
Here are some more resources:
- Sample babytime outline with early literacy tip about race
- Sample family storytime outline with early literacy tip about race
- Let’s Talk About Race in Storytime PowerPoint presentation
- Sample list of parent tips about talking to kids about race
I hope that you can take this as a call to action in challenging yourself to add some solidarity work to your storytimes. I hope that we can be a better society. Fred Hampton said, “we can fight racism not with racism, but with solidarity.” Alex Haley said that “racism is taught and not an automatic behavior it is a learned behavior towards persons with dissimilar characteristics.” You do not have to embrace fear. Help empower families and children that they do not have to automatically learn to embrace ignorance and fear.
Let’s Talk About Race Educator’s Guide
Strengthen your knowledge on race and its negative impacts by getting a birds eye view on different past and present racial happenings.
- NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
- In Brown’s Wake: Legacies of America’s Educational Landmark by Martha Minow
- How to Be Black by Baratunde R. Thurston
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
Other great starts are the books Tai-Nehisi Coates writes and this amazing article/thinkpiece on race from national book award winner Ibram Kendi. For intersectional feminism 101: Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America or Tamara Winfrey Harris’ The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women are great places to start.
- Kids Speak Their Minds About Race
- “What can I do to change? You know? To be a better American?”
- Verna Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them
- How to raise a black son in America | Clint Smith
- Color blind or color brave? | Mellody Hobson
- The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Jamila Lysicott, 3 ways to speak English
- Skin Color – The Way Kids See It