We live in a mostly white, suburban neighborhood. Most everybody is Christian. There isn’t a lot of diversity or chances to teach my daughter from experience about other cultures and religions. So, when I can do so through books, I always jump on that chance. I want her to read as widely and broadly as possible. We recently read two children’s books that I think accomplish this and that will hopefully open her eyes to a world that exists outside of our sheltered one. I also hope that these stories create a sense of compassion in her and a sense of love for everybody, no matter their circumstances or beliefs.
Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family: No Bookmark Required
This is my kind of book. The first chapter is titled “The Library Lady,” and the plot goes on to reveal that the family visits the library each Friday. There are tears and drama over Sarah having lost her library book. I found myself gripped, and it’s a children’s book! (It’s also the first in a series.)
The book is about a Jewish family who has five daughters, which is why the book is titled All-of-a-Kind Family (1951). The five little girls are also described as a stair-step family, because from oldest to youngest they look like the descent of stairs.
The first chapter, about the lost library book, also reminded me of how I seldom let friends borrow library books from me. I know. I’m stingy. But as Sarah learns in that chapter, she should not have let her friend Tillie borrow her book, for she lost it and Sarah must be the one to pay. I once had a friend who would tell me about her escapades with losing books. Once, she left a library book in a restaurant bathroom and never did get it back. Then, she wanted me to lend her a book I had taken out from my university’s library. No way!
The second chapter is called “Dusting is Fun.” Yeah, right. But when I read about the mother’s solution to motivating her children to dust, I felt that I had learned a new parenting skill. Mother hides twelve buttons in the front room, and the girl responsible for dusting must find them all in order to be finished. This made the hunt for buttons fun for the girl, and it made sure that the room got dusted thoroughly for Mother.
One of the most fascinating parts of this book was the Jewish culture and traditions. Several chapters revolve around the family’s celebration of different Jewish holidays. Yom Kippur, Purim, Passover, and Succos are explained. We also learned about the Jewish Sabbath.
In a way, the girls’ visit to the library each Friday is a religious act for them as well. It is their ritual, which takes place right before their Sabbath begins, and it represents how important education is to their parents. When their father brings home books for them to choose from his second-hand store, the children spend hours deciding. Once they choose, they decide to play “library.”
The story also captures childhood perfectly. The children each receive a penny a week for their chores. They spend them on candy and crackers, which they secretly eat in bed. I can remember gathering all of my change with my sisters to visit the candy section of the grocery store. We would agonize over what to buy and when to eat it.
I highly recommend this book for any age. No bookmark is required. You won’t want to put it down.
Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book by Nikki Grimes: A Lesson in Compassion
This is the second Dyamonde Daniel book in Nikki Grimes’s series. Dyamonde is a spunky elementary school girl who is a great friend and problem solver. She’s African American, and so are most of her classmates. I haven’t read the first book, but my daughter loved it.
This book, titled Rich, is not about what you’d expect. It has nothing to do with a child’s desire to eat cookies and candy all day or to own a water park. It is about how Dyamonde makes a new friend and discovers that this friend is homeless. Damaris’s mother had lost one of her jobs, and therefore couldn’t afford their apartment any longer. Damaris and her family live in the shelter, a fact that makes her ashamed.
My daughter has recently witnessed a similar situation. We found out this weekend that one of her friends is moving because her parents are separating and they cannot afford to continue renting the home they are in. This friend has attended church with us for the last six months, and through our conversations, I know that her family life has been hard. It breaks my heart to see her family being torn apart and to see her move away. My little Olivia spent most of the day crying on Saturday because of the news, and I can only hope that her friend’s life gets better and that they find their way. I spoke tearfully with the friend’s mother yesterday, and I just can’t stop thinking about their situation and how hard it must be on all of them. I just wish there was something I could do to fix it.
Family strife and financial insecurity are difficult problems. They are real problems too, and I see Grimes as a morally responsible storyteller. Her work can open up conversations with children that I don’t think we’d have otherwise. And Dyamonde’s response to it is compassion, a quality I want my children to learn.
On the other hand, Dyamonde’s friend Free is somewhat judgmental, showing this by commenting on how much he hates Dyamonde’s favorite store, a thrift store. He finds the items to be dirty and worthy of the trash. Dyamonde teaches him that they are gently used and perhaps the lost treasures of those who could not keep them. As we later find out, this is true for Damaris’s possessions.
The novel is short, heartwarming, and uplifting. It ends with Damaris triumphing in a school poetry contest because she dares to share her situation. The other children of course rally around her and learn to accept rather than judge. Damaris’s poem riffs on the idea that she is rich in friendship, so money does not matter. The use of poetry is also sprinkled throughout the story, which endears me to it even more. Any children’s book that promotes poetry or more advanced literature is worthy of a read to me.
Do you have any favorite children’s novels that help teach your children about the merits of those who are different from them?