I'll be honest, skimming Facebook this past week has made my stomach ache and my heart hurt. It began with a ruling from California, it continued with hateful political posts, and then my world began to spin when I read how two of my favorite authors were "disinvited" to two schools. I won't go over all of the particulars, you can read Phil Bildner's story HERE and Kate Messner's HERE.
This is not ok. I've read Kate's amazing middle grade book, The Seventh Wish. I actually made it required reading this year for my seventh grader and my fifth grader. She does a brilliant job of showing the impact of drug use on a family. The book teaches the lessons I wanted my sons to see. The main reason I asked them to read it was that I thought could make them think twice when they are offered drugs one day by a friend. That they might remember the horrible impact it had on a family they read about. Beyond that, it was just a great book.
The book that Phil had spoken about, Alex Gino's George is also absolutely wonderful. I thought Alex perfectly captured the confusion and frustrations of George as she struggles to figure out her place in the world. (I reviewed it HERE.)
I get that both The Seventh Wish and George are dealing with difficult issues. I get that not every child in your class or school may be dealing with those issues. However, some are. They need to see themselves in books. They need to know they are still accepted by you. They need to get that they aren't alone. Also, and this is important, even if your students aren't dealing with drug use by a sibling or gender identity, they can still get something out of these books. Empathy, compassion, and kindness are just some things we can gain from books. We learn about others from their stories. And after watching the news this week, I think we need a heck of a lot more readers in the world.
My classroom library has always had a wide variety of books in it. I've wanted kids to find the precise book they needed to read when they needed it. I teach in a rural town in the middle of Illinois. My students have come from good homes and ones that break my heart. I've heard teachers say that they don't need books with gay characters, or transgender characters, or books with drug abuse because that's not what is happening with their students. I disagree. I've taught for twenty years. Sometimes I knew what books my students needed, sometimes it is in hindsight that I wish I had given them a particular book. In a small town, I know my students long after they have left my class. I wish some had found themselves in books when they were in my room. I wish that they had known they weren't alone. I wish I could make them become fourth or fifth graders again so that I could give them the book that would speak to their soul.
We can't censor books because they make us uncomfortable. This isn't to say I want to hand Thirteen Reasons Why to a fifth grader, but there are perfect books written for elementary school kids. They do discuss hard issues, but in a way that is just right for the age group. If the book isn't right for the child, they won't read it. Kids have a fabulous way of finding out what works for them.
We need to be the best teachers for all of our students, not just the ones that have lives easy for us to discuss, but all of them. We owe them that much.
For more reading, check out Pernille Ripp's post HERE, Teri Lesesne's post HERE, and Kate Messner's post HERE.