Step 2: Read More. Look in the Mirror Less.
Reading is good for you; it is exercise for the brain and food for the soul. In fact, reading has documented health benefits like reducing stress, improving memory and increasing focus. It also has social-emotional benefits and can help us connect to others, develop empathy and understand differences.
There are lots of ways to read. You can read a novel curled up in your favorite chair with the sun shining over your shoulder. You can read a magazine in the doctor’s office and learn 25 healthy ways to cook chicken while you wait. Or, like Dr. Seuss, you can read with your eyes shut (fun, but not recommended). My favorite way to read is snuggled in bed with my children. We read anything from adventurous chapter books to picture book classics to maps of museums we recently have visited.
After years of sharing children’s books with young readers, I have noticed that as much as I love the wild rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are or other “classics”, these stories do not generate nearly as much conversation as when I read books that offer new perspectives. For example, my children and I can identify with not wanting to try a new food that appears different like “green eggs and ham”, but then being surprised at how good it actually tastes and admitting that they would eat it here, there or anywhere. Since this experience is familiar to us and mirrors our own lives, it does not generate lots of questions. However, when we read in the world atlas that South Africa has eleven official languages, we begin to wonder: What language do they use for street signs? What languages are taught in school?
These wonderings about the world have led me to look for windows in books. What do I mean? Well, many of the books we read are like mirrors; they reflect our own lives. However, when we read books with windows they give us a glimpse into a new world. They help us look at our lives and every day occurrences from new perspectives.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There may be moments for some of us when there are no mirrors. We can’t find books on the shelves that reflect our lives, and we realize our story seems to be missing. This happened to me when I stood in the library looking for picture book biographies that represented my family and I could only find two that focused on the abilities of individuals with exceptionalities. When we find this gap and are left searching, it is time to pick up the pen and tell our story. We need diverse books.
OUR FAVORITE WINDOW BOOKS
With my son, Nolan, acting as editor of this post, we have included a few of our favorite books that create windows and conversations:
How do you spend time as a family? How do you drink your water? Do people around the world spend time with family or drink water the same way? In Barbara Kerley’s You and Me Together: Moms, Dads & Kids Around the World and A Cool Drink of Water, readers get to peer through windows around the world. Stunning photographs in both books show lives very familiar and very different from your own. The images are woven together with repetitive and lyrical phrases that connect you to each image and humanity.
“He proved that one leg is enough to do great things- and one person is enough to change the world.”
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls is a recommended read aloud for every home and classroom. This picture book biography is about, Emmanuel, a young man from Ghana who is born with a limb difference. In the story, Emmanuel embraces his exceptionality and pushes past limitations others try to impose on him. With a vision for a better world and a bike from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Emmanuel sets off on a journey across Ghana to raise awareness and hope for people with disabilities. Emmanuel’s story inspires and empowers readers to believe that “one person can change the world.”
Finally, everyone should read I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. And now, with her story available in both picture book and chapter book formats, everyone can hear this powerful story of how one girl challenged systems of oppression and changed the word.
So for step two in being a part of the change, I will READ. I will look in the mirror less and try to find windows by reading more diverse books that challenge my perspectives and help me grow. And if at times I don’t find a mirror, I will WRITE because “ONE BOOK, ONE PEN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.”
Believe in the Possible,