“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana
There’s no doubt about it, the past can be ugly, but Santayana’s right. And while this is easy enough to say, explaining the ugly to children can be especially tricky.
One ugly example of our country’s history is the sordid tale of race relations – an issue that has stepped into a national spotlight once again. This is an issue that is a part of our past as well as our present, but we can work together to educate our children in order to move toward a more tolerant future.
Some historical perspective may be helpful in starting important conversations with your kids about present-day conditions. Fortunately, we have books for that:
Revolution, by Deborah Wiles
Greenville, MS is segregated when the summer of 1964 rolls around, but many believe it’s time for that to end. Just as strong in their beliefs, are those who believe things are fine as they are. Dubbed Freedom Summer, because volunteers from all over the U.S. were heading south to help black southerners register to vote, this was a time of unrest and change. In Revolution, Wiles weaves actual photos, quotes, and news clippings from this time with the characters’ poignant narratives. This is recommended for fifth through eighth graders.
Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood
Another story set in turbulent 1964 Mississippi, this particular tale follows 12-year-old Gloriana whose summers had previously been spent worry-free – pool, library, friends, repeat. When the city pool is suspiciously closed indefinitely “for repairs”, Glory realizes not everyone is fortunate enough to live her trouble-free existence. A great book for those in grades 3-6.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
A book praised as a Newbery Honor book, as well as a Corretta Scott King honor winner, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 follows the lovable Watson family as they travel from Michigan to Birmingham, AL in the summer of 1963. The intention is to deliver their eldest son to the strict matriarch of the family for a summer of tough love; however the Watsons unwittingly descend upon the city at the time of the burning of a Baptist Church that acts as a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in the American South. This book is recommended for grades 5 and older.
Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles
An illustrated book about two friends – one white, one black – in the aftermath of the passage of The Civil Rights Act. Written for kids ages 4-8, this books makes the concept Freedom Summer accessible to all.
These books feature fictional characters living through true events, and may help start important conversations with your family. They’re engrossing and transport the readers to another time – a time that empathetic readers may recognize as one not incredibly dissimilar to the world they know.