Friday, December 9, 2016

The Gift Your Family Might Not Know it Needs

Yesterday, in passing, someone referred to next weekend as being one week before Christmas and I almost spit out my tea. Like most of life these days, it feels entirely impossible yet close enough to touch. 

The kids have one week of school left, but all week I've been ahead of myself. I'm ready to bust out the puzzle and hunker down. I'm so ready to eat random dips with my friends at strange hours and stay up late with Cory. (Friends, we have hopped on the Poldark wagon and *I have heard* there is trouble coming, but I can't walk away. We're springing for season 2 the minute Christmas break starts. Don't try to stop us.)

For now, I'm slowly adding Christmasy touches to our home and we're enjoying what I hope will be a new tradition for our family - sharing our home and our table with someone each Friday during Advent. We're all waiting with expectation and it's even better to wait together. With a plate of tacos.

All the while, life is still life. The neighbor boys pile into our living room every morning and some afternoons. Three nights ago as I was running out the door for a PTO meeting, two brothers showed up at the door - one crying, one sulking. I was in a bit of a rush and no one was really talking, but I eventually gathered up the loose ends of their angst. Not knowing what else to do and because their ears were bright and freezing, I cupped each of their faces in my XL hands, looked them in the eye, called them by name, and said, "I love you." I told them to get along. Be good to each other. "Friends will come and go, but the two of you are best friends for life." They sniffled and avoided eye contact and didn't say a word in return. Then we headed into the bitterly cold night and walked our separate ways. It felt like maybe the most important three minutes of my entire week.

When I tell you my neighbors have changed my life forever, I know it sounds a bit trite. But I grew up in a tiny corner where both walls were white, along with the floor and ceiling. My childhood was simple. It was bright and beautiful. But it did not allow me to see or understand the breadth of human existence. I had one Asian friend. My cousin wanted and received a black baby doll for Christmas one year and it disarmed us. It was a topic of conversation, not because we were "racist", but because it simply did not fit the script. That was not our world, or so we thought. People of color existed, somewhere far removed from us. Without intending it to happen, I learned to see them not as bad or less than, but as "other".

I will never begrudge the tiny towns sprinkled across our country which lack diversity. It doesn't, in itself, mean anything about the good people who live in them. It simply means that is where they live. If that happens to be you, please remember it was also me, not long ago. Wherever we are planted, we're called to love people and make God's light known. 

But I wish my library had been stocked with books featuring people who didn't reflect my own life. I wish my white teachers would have at least talked about different experiences. I wish my white pastors would have refused to hang pictures on the walls of a white Jesus with light brown hair. I wish I hadn't casually, quietly been taught that "people like me" were the center of the Universe, and everyone else was somewhere at the periphery. 

I wish I had learned the beauty of God's diverse kingdom from birth, in a way that was meaningful.

Life is a crash course now, and I'm playing catch-up. My bland diet has left me starving for the essential nutrients of a well-lived life and faith. 

Maybe you feel like I do. Or maybe you honestly don't, but you sort of wish you would. Changing courses starts with just a single degree of rotation. Most of you are not called to change communities (though some of you are,) or adopt a child of a different ethnicity. But there are small things we can do that have big impact on our lives and particularly on the lives of our kids. 

Here's one: Buy your kids books that feature people of color. Let your gift to them be the understanding that the world is much richer than they imagine. 

As a mom of multi-cultural kids, this has become imperative and life-giving for my family. As they grow, I become more keenly aware of how important representation is for them. But even if my kids were Caucasian, like me, there would be tremendous value in a personal library that honors a wider scope of personal history and experience. 

I've put together a list of the books my kids are receiving from us this Christmas (shh!) along with a list of favorites we already have on hand.


Song of the Trees by Mildred D. Taylor

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Ichiro by Ryan Inzana

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba


These are favorites from our personal stash. I scour thrift stores for new additions.

Additional favorites:
Brown Girl Dreaming
Esperanza Rising

(Also, check this out: 1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide )


I would love for you to list your favorites in the comments. We're always on the hunt for new favorites! You can also pass this list along to your public library and request a more diverse selection if you find it lacking.

Also, next week I'll be sending out a Super Scoop newsletter, sharing some of my favorite things this season. Make sure you're on the list to receive it!


*All links are Amazon affiliate links. 


27 comments:

  1. Hi Shannan - thank you for this - would any be appropriate for almost 13 year olds - boys and girls of that age?

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    1. Calvin is almost 12 and loves fantasy. Where the Moon Meets the Mountain is for him and I have heard AMAZING things about that whole series. He also read Esperanza Rising in school and really enjoyed it. It's told from a teenage girl's perspective...my Latina neighbor girl (a year younger than Calvin) also loved it. It would definitely work for a 13 year old, as would Brown Girl Dreaming. The Birchbark house is also new to us, but is written in the era of Little House on the Prairie but told from the Native American perspective. Hope you find something! Thanks for inquiring.

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  2. In my elementary classroom (which was home to primarily white students), it was so important to regularly read stories featuring people of all races and colors (not just in February). Some of my favorites are anything by Donald Crews, The Hello Goodbye Window, the Courdoroy stories, A Chair For Mama, and anything by Ezra Jack Keats. I know there are so many more, but that's what comes to mind!
    Thanks for these new suggestions, too!

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  3. Here's a great resource for loads of multicultural books. Thanks for this important post! Love, love reading your blog.
    http://www.colorincolorado.org/books-authors

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  4. We love the website: www.amightygirl.com, lots of great book suggestions not just for girls!

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  5. Half a moon and one whole star https://www.amazon.com/Half-Moon-One-Whole-Star/dp/0876283911/ref=la_B000APJCO0_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481318450&sr=1-11&refinements=p_82%3AB000APJCO0 is a pretty sweet book.

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  6. OH MY STARS!!!!!!!!!! SO many new books and so little time! BUT...thanks and I'll be reading a bunch of these even as a grandma -- AKA Kiki! :-)

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  7. Counting by 7's is my favourite EVER, and most of the main characters are not white. After seeing that book on here, I bought it, and now it's in my classroom and my kids are loving it too! I teach in a Christian school in the tiniest, most Mennonite town ever. It's so isolated you have to drive for miles down gravel roads just to get there. So it's pretty whitewashed, although that's slowly changing. I've been trying hard to introduce different views and life experiences to my students and books are an amazing way to do that! Thank you for this list!

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  8. When I was a girl (I'm 69 now.) one of my favorites was "Bright April" about a little black girl in Philadelphia and her family. She joins the Brownies, her brother plays the drums, her Mother is a nurse and her Father a mailman I think. By Marguarite de Angela and it might be out of print but is is a real classic.I love your blog Shannon. As my dead Grandmother would say, "You have a heart as big as a ham." Janet

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  9. Love this Shannan! Thanks so much :) I can't see the title of the little white book between psalm 23 and whistle for willie. Could you send me that one please!

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  10. This is beautiful and challenging and exactly right for what God has already put on my heart this morning. Dang it that I can never come to this sweet corner of the internet without being challenged and wrecked, inspired and gently nudged along the path clearly being laid out for us. You are my favorite :)

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  11. Desmond Tutu's children's bible is my favorite children's bible: https://www.amazon.com/Children-Storybook-Bible-Archbishop-Desmond/dp/0310719127/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481394592&sr=8-1&keywords=desmond+tutu+children+bible

    Also, the books done by Bob Marley's daughter, Cedella: https://www.amazon.com/One-Love-Cedella-Marley/dp/1452138559/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1481394617&sr=8-2&keywords=bob+marley+children%27s+books

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  12. Thankful for your book list...as parents of Ethiopian, Chinese, Vietnamese and US-born kiddos, ours looks something similar. A couple you might want to look into: A Child's Calendar (Updike/Trina Schart Hyman), Inside Out & Back Again (Tranhha Lai), Moses: How Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, Ruby's Wish (Yin Bridges), Wagon Wheels (Brenner), Lon Po Po: A Chinese Little Red Riding Hood, Yeh Shen: A Chinese Cinderella Story, Long Walk to Water (Park), Red Scarf Girl (Jiang), A Perfect Orange: A Tale From Ethiopia...will try to share our titles as they come to mind. I am so thankful for your words, your transparency, your gifts shared.

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    1. Ran across a few more while tucking kids in tonight...Octopus Hugs (Pringle), Amazing Grace (Hoffman), Anna Hibiscus, Princess and the Pea (Isadora), The Colors of Us (Katz)...

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    2. ...oh, and one of my new favorite books on my shelf -- yours. You have brought beauty to my days for years through your blog, and your words, crafted into chapters, heart songs, connected with laughter and paperbound, these are sweeter gifts still. Thank you.

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    3. So...maybe we can be friends, because I obviously can't drop this book conversation? Last one (maybe)?? Africa Brothers and Sisters (Kroll)

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    4. I guess that wasn't the last one, but I keep thinking about you when shelving books throughout the day! The Hired Hand (Pinkney), Pink and Say (Polacco)...I am sure I will be back with another...

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  13. Could you please list the titles of the books in the second photo? They are hard to see.

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  14. What a great idea Shannan! I can relate to much of your growing up experience too. Not because of anything particular, but I did see people or cultures I didn't know or understand as "other." Thank goodness though when God comes and shakes that all up! ;)

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  15. Yay! YES! Children need windows to look in on and mirrors to reflect themselves (heard Grace Lin say that in a TEDtalk)
    The "Sasha visits ______" series is fantastic! Shamini Flint Author, Sunbear Publishing. Paperback watercolor books about Sasha, a girl in Singapore who travels all over Southeast Asia and Asia on visits with her Mom. Sasha visits several places in Singapore, then on to Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, and Manila and New Delhi too I believe (also London!). They are simple well written stories that do a great job of introducing culture and places to children.

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    1. Amazon Link to Sasha visits Bali-

      https://www.amazon.com/Sasha-Visits-Bali-Shamini-Flint/dp/9810554044/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1481761939&sr=8-4&keywords=Sasha+visits

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  16. Love the "Children Just Like Me" series the Kindersley's did for Unicef. The one on Celebrations around the world is my favorite - because of that book my white, evangelical daughter was able to ask her Hindu college classmates about celebrating Holi with them and they, in turn joined her Bible study group for a Thanksgiving meal.
    https://www.amazon.com/Children-Just-Like-Me-Celebration/dp/0789402017

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  17. It's past Christmas now, but a favorite that we like to read aloud in our family over Christmas time is "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." It is such a fun classic!

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  18. What an eye opening post -- thank you for these suggestions! The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Ada Twist, Scientist were all hits with my 3 kids.

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  19. I'd love to add Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. It's one of the most amazing books I've read this year. Love using Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in my classroom and have used parts of Brown Girl Dreaming ... ahhhhhhh I sigh in pleasure at the reading of all ... Last Stop on Market Street reminds me of YOU!

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  20. Your Korean Cinderella made me think of my favorite books to read to my own kids - and my students - Fairy Tales of all types and from all cultures. The ones that come to mind first are: The Three Little Javelinas, Cinderhazel, The Three Ninja pigs, and my favorites by Mike Artell - the Cajun Three Little Pigs, Petite Rouge, and Jacques and de Beanstalk. Written in heavy dialect, you can't help but read Artell's book in a thick accent. They are the most fun books I read on "Fairy Tale Friday!"

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