7 Picture Books that Celebrate Love and Promote Empathy
by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
Our community experienced a tragedy this week as someone with violent intent came onto one of our college campuses, Bridgewater College, with a gun. Two campus police officers lost their lives. I've been thinking a lot about how we talk with our children about violence and tragedies, and today I wanted to share some picture books that focus on love, teach about feelings, and promote empathy.
Harris J's Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace, illustrated by Ward Jenkins (Bookshop.org) - I love the central message of this book that we can spread peace and love through our actions and words. As the main character travels around his community, he carries a light with him, and that light spreads to everyone he encounters. It's a beautiful message and highlights how the Arabic greeting "salam alaikum" (which means peace be upon you) centers what is most important in our connection to others - spreading peace and love. Pat Zietlow Miller's When You Are Brave (Bookshop.org) - This is a new discovery for me (thanks to the recommendation of one of our Unabridged Ambassadors, Suzy!), and this story explores what to do when things are hard and you must face something scary. The central messaging - that we have strength and courage inside of us that we can draw upon during hard times - is so powerful and important for kids to understand. Susan Verde's I Am Love: A Book of Compassion, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (Bookshop.org) - I absolutely adore this entire series of books, but I wanted to highlight this one because of the clear messaging within it about how the choices that we make can really impact those around us, and if we center ourselves and think about how to connect to others in positive, loving ways, we can make a big difference in people's lives. (I also absolutely LOVE Peter H. Reynolds's Say Something! that focuses on activism and taking action... and I love all of his other books, too!)
Matt de la Peña's Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Bookshop.org) - This beautiful book highlights the way that serving others can bring us a sense of fulfillment and purpose. I love the way that, through the illustrations and through the words, young readers see that there are many kinds of people in the world and that we all have many things in common and things we can learn from each other if we just take the time to get to know each other.
Mark Spering and Layn Marlow's I’ll Catch You if You Fall (Bookshop.org) - This is a simple picture book for early readers with gorgeous illustrations that shows the way that we can all protect and care for one another even when things are hard. It's about community and keeping each other safe, and it's very approachable to even the youngest readers.
Jo Witek's In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Bookshop.org) - I love the way that this book explores the many different emotions we can have inside and how those can make us feel and act. The illustrations are beautiful and help children see the connection between what we feel inside and how we respond to those feelings. (I love all of Witek's books!) Jacqueline Woodson's The Day You Begin, illustrated by Rafael López (Bookshop.org) - This book, like so much of Woodson's writing, highlights how we can feel alone and unsure when surrounded by new people, but if we open ourselves up to meeting and really learning about others, we can feel connected and united with community. I love the beautiful illustrations and the central message of this powerful story. I also really appreciated these resources that are helping me navigate hard conversations with my children and other young people in our community. One thing that really struck me from the first article and led me to changing the nature of what I said to my seven year old is that it's vital that we reassure our children that there are never any questions that are too scary to ask. I initially tried not to say anything to my seven year old, who is very sensitive, but that meant that she asked a lot of questions I didn't answer (because the "shelter in place" part of the situation affected our family directly), so the next morning, I stated a couple of facts about the situation and opened up to questions. I also figured out exactly what I wanted to say before I said anything, and I waited until I could say it calmly before I said anything.
Lydia Breiseth's "15 Tips for Talking with Children about Violence"
Meghan Holohan's "How to Talk to Children about Shootings: An Age-by-Age Guide"
Joel Young, MD's "10 Strategies for Talking to Children About School Shootings"
Do you have books and resources you would recommend? Let us know in the comments or on social media!
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