“Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” John Green
There is something precious about lying down with your children at night and having them actually read a bedtime story to you. Our six-year-old son has recently started reading to us, and hearing his process of sounding out words and over-emphasizing an italicized word is just as cute as you are imagining. As a curious and inquisitive child himself, his typical nighttime go-to books are Curious George or anything about reptiles, but I recently checked out a book from our public library called Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same. He seriously cannot get enough of this book!
The book starts by explaining that Ling and Ting are twins, but they are not exactly the same and continues using cute little chapters to show ways that they have different preferences and interests while they are also clearly similar. Our son loved it immediately and couldn’t wait to take it on the bus to share with his friends. “Oh, my friend is going to LOVE this part.” Spoiler alert: Ting sneezes during her haircut and has a chunk of her bangs unexpectedly cut off! They are not exactly the same!
DIVERSITY AND EMPATHY THROUGH READING
Every family has their own bedtime routine and things they value, but for our family books are a large part of our daily lives. My husband literally reads for a living (PhD student), and since our kids were babies we have been reading to them before every nap time and bedtime. Our kids’ favorite store is actually a used bookstore!
There are clearly educational benefits of reading to children: reading helps with language acquisition and literacy skills, sparks curiosity and inquisitiveness, and enhances a child’s ability to concentrate. Books also animate a child’s creativity and imagination as they explore new places and new things within the pages. Reading together also creates a special bond between parents and children and counteracts our tech-focused world.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about an aspect of reading that often goes unnoticed but is incredibly important; reading books with children can help them develop empathy as they learn about, relate to, and appreciate different groups of people. Literature can serve as a lovely doorway that opens conversations and leads to an appreciation and deeper understanding of other cultures, ethnicities, and religions.
Our country is growing more diverse, and although this is a beautiful and amazing thing, many people do not see diversity as an asset but instead allow fear of others to create division. Why do we fear others? Why would we want to live in a world where everyone were exactly the same?
My husband and I often remind our children (usually at the dinner table when someone is complaining about the squash) that God created our glorious world with variety that awakens our senses––color, tastes, smells.
Isn’t it a gift that food tastes good and not exactly the same! This gift of diversity also applies to humans, but when we do not take the time to get to know ALL of God’s children who are beautifully and wonderfully made, we fail to appreciate them for who they are and their unique path upon which they have journeyed.
MIRRORS AND WINDOWS
We as people, and more specifically as parents, can work toward a deeper understanding of one another by simply sharing life together with friends and neighbors who are different, making an effort to connect with people in your immediate surroundings. Relationships reduce stereotypes and prejudice and foster empathy, a deeper understanding and sensitivity to the feelings and experiences of other people.
Play at a playground outside your neighborhood, schedule a play date with someone outside your typical social circle, or share a meal together! The simple act of sharing a meal is a powerful way to connect and share traditions and values with other families.
While sharing life together is an ideal way of gaining insight into the stories of others, reading diverse books, for yourself and to your children, is also incredibly important.
Rudine Sims Bishop uses the terms mirror books and window books to describe what happens when we read a book in that we can both see ourselves and/or see others in the characters and stories.
How often do we fill our bookshelves with mirror books and miss the opportunity to provide our children with windows of opportunities to see the beautiful diversity of life on this planet?
We can do better. We must do better. Our children need to realize that not everyone looks the same, eats the same foods, shares the same religious holidays, or has the same type of family as they do. They also need to see a part of themselves in others––the ability to laugh, learn, dream, and care for one another.
Stories have a way of connecting us in a way that is unparalleled. God made us in God’s image. ALL of us. With a thoughtful and diverse selection of books, we can take further steps toward nurturing empathy in our children and teaching them to value and respect ALL of God’s children.
BOOKS TO GET STARTED
I reached out to my online Christian educator community and am happy to share with you some of their favorites. I have also included a few websites and an Instagram account that I plan to check out for our own home library. This is not exhaustive, so please feel free to add your favorites in the comment section!
- God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family by Trillia Newbell
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- The No. 1 Car Spotter Series by Atinuke
- Little Leaders Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
- I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl by Betty K. Bynum
- When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner
- Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
- Please Baby Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee
- Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
- Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson
- Ling and Ting books and others by Grace Lin
- Authors Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Pena, Susan Middleton Elya, Roseanne Thong, Ezra Jack Keats, Linda Sue Park
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Maya Angelou
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.