Monday, March 28, 2016

Showing children our world – good and bad – through books by Donna Galanti

As a mother, nothing comes close to my primitive urge as a mom to protect my child. So, I thought it ironic to visit a playground in North Carolina with a warning sign of alligators nearby.

This sign hit me with the realization that while we can provide our children with the resources to defend themselves and make good choices, ultimately we have to let them go out there to frolic amongst the good guys and the gators. This includes opening their eyes through media and books to not-so-nice things that go on in the world.

Especially books. They can open up our child’s eyes to events in history, just and unjust. Books have opened up many dialogues with my son about slavery, civil rights, oppressive religions, women earning the right to vote, the Holocaust, bullying, and terrorism.

When my son was six we got a wonderful book called The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (since made into a movie). In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This book paved the way for us to talk in depth about the twin towers and terrorism. My son said at the time he hoped that bad man would be caught and the towers would be rebuilt.

One out of two so far. I was able to report to my son not long after that the bad man had been caught and killed. My son wanted to know how he was found and killed, what happened to his children, his wives, and if his being caught meant this kind of thing would never happen again. I wish. But, I hope in having these discussions (as I hope parents are having everywhere) that we are changing the world for the better – one discussion at a time.

As my son got older, middle grade books opened up discussion for us. Here are some of them:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: about being a disfigured kid in a “normal” world.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper: what it could be like to have a voice but not be able to communicate.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: the difficult decision of choosing where you belong.
Rules by Cynthia Lord: on autism and asking “what is normal?”
Holes by Louis Sachar: about friendship and believing in yourself.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: being separated from your family and having to survive in a strange place.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen: on endangered animals and ecology.
Duck by Richard S. Ziegler: about standing up for yourself when the one person who protects you is gone.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: fearing middle school and then finding out how cool it really is.

Books. They open us up to new worlds and help us as parents relate the good and bad of the world to our children. They reveal the beauty and the darkness that co-exist in our world - and within us. They inspire feelings of sadness, joy, compassion, or outrage.

Books. They open up conversations with my son about life and death and right and wrong. I watch him as he struggles with these issues and tries to figure out his place in the world.

And while I empower my son with information and send him out there to navigate the battle field of life with as much armor as possible, I hope the good guys outnumber the gators. I hope he witnesses more glory than gore. And even if the gators in disguise try and get him, I hope it's “just a flesh wound!”

Are there books you've read with your children that opened up discussions about the world around them? 


  1. Great, great post! And ack on that sign! If I saw that, I'd prolly turn right around and leave. Alligators terrify me! =)

    1. Leandra, I sure did do a double take! And did not let my son wander and we stayed away from the watery swampy parts. We also toured the USS North Carolina battleship in Wilmington, NC, and you can look off the boat and see the gators sunning themselves! A strange view for a gal from PA. :)

  2. I love The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and my stomach always lurches when I even think of doing such a thing.

    You're right--books give us wonderful opportunities for conversation with our children. I'm glad you and your son still have this reading bond.

    1. Oh Michael, my stomach flip flops too! In watching the movie I wondered how can someone do that without fear? Must be a gene some folks get!

  3. Great post, Donna. I have a friend who wouldn't allow her daughter to read To Kill a Mockingbird when she was 11. I was shocked, thinking she was sheltering her daughter. But then she told me it was because she wanted her daughter to be old enough to really comprehend the book's ideas. She didn't fear the book, but wanted it to come at the best time for impacting her daughter. That same friend went on a civil rights pilgrimage through the South this spring, so I know the book's message was dear to her. I think protecting our kids from the world is good-intentioned, but a doomed enterprise. We can be guides, though, letting them encounter the world's dangers and difficulties at strategic times and offering a narrative for them to help them interpret it all. Not telling them what to think, but giving them a framework that helps them think for themselves. Giving them opportunities to come to their own conclusions. Such an important topic for us as parents, and not an easy one to puzzle out in practice.

    1. Joanna, thanks for sharing this story! Your friend was wise in deciding when to share that book with her - and I think something like that will depend on the child's maturity as well. In 4th grade some students were reading The Hunger Games but I would not allow my son. I did not think he needed to read that at 9 years old. Funny enough, when he did become old enough he had no interest in reading a book about "kids killing kids" as he said, even when I talked about it as an example of a well-written story.

      I think part of being a guide as a parent too is enabling our children to think and act strategically in difficult situations so they aren't so subject to being victims. Unfortunately, the media's stories on so many school shootings has opened up this discussion many times with my son - about why people would do that, how my son might react, what he would feel, and do. It's sad, but conversations we must have.

  4. Terrific post, Donna! I like to think that children's books are guides to life's difficulties -- but guides that wrap their arms around our kids and make the bad a little safer to experience on the page. Write on!

    1. Rose, I agree! Books are a wonderful place to help kids also feel not so alone as well, and seeing how other kids may be dealing with their situation.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!