This election has made everyone feel a little crazy. We all are suffering campaign fatigue at this point. So why do I need to rope in the shenanigans of our politicians on a picture book blog post? Well, like I mentioned in my previous post, we are a bit of a tribe. (An all-inclusive one that accepts any creative person.) And as an inclusive tribe that celebrates all backgrounds and faiths, it's my opinion that we should stand up against people who prefer to spread bigotry, fear and hate. I have no concern about left, right, up or down leanings. I just care that the dialog in this country has somehow permitted open hatred of those who are different. Our children hear these harsh words. Young children are designed to mimic. That's how they learn. They practice from the examples set by their elders. So if adults openly speak about racist, classist, sexist or homophobic themes, our children believe this is correct. And then they repeat the same words.
Thankfully, we have books. We have authors and illustrators that uphold hope, that challenge oppressive belief systems, that find beauty in the odd or rare soul. If children can read about this, they can take a step toward that unfamiliar person, and maybe reach out with a friendly smile. If a girl whose family is from Turkey mentions she is Muslim during a class discussion, how wonderful if her classmates respond, "Hmm... What is that like?" That may seem far-fetched, but that is exactly what happened in one of the art classes I taught over the summer. My class had an entire discussion on an upcoming holiday, and what the Muslim food traditions were. Granted, the kids were teenagers, and not necessarily from fear-based families. But I was proud of them for being inquisitive and respectful, comparing their own food traditions with hers. Maybe because the girl was already a beloved member of the class, no one judged her. But that's kind of the point too... The kids knew her and weren't scared of the unknown. They regarded her as one of the most skillful artists in the class.
I also have been teaching a weekly class made up of a population of economically challenged kids, whose backgrounds range from Southern and Latin American countries, to African American and Caucasian backgrounds. But in my class, they are artists first. Some struggle to find their voice artistically, and some precocious young folks already know exactly what they want to say and how to express it visually. We all know each other better and better each week-seeing less of the physical person, and more of the complex artist inside. At this point, when I hear a derogatory remark about an entire swath of geography and the people who belong to it, I just can't understand. It feels like a caveman has been thawed out and given a microphone. The fear-based, quick judgements that ensured survival in those days are no longer a functional way to view today's world and her people.
So what is the modern way forward? At the risk of sounding like a hippie, my feeling is that encouraging children to have compassion, to dig deeper to understand the unfamiliar, will yield a generation of the respectfully inquisitive. That is a far better than grooming a generation of the fearfully hateful. As makers of books for children, we have the ability to build this hopeful world in their imaginations. Which of course, can then become reality.
Let's collectively take the microphone away from the caveman, and maybe even ask compassionately why he is the way he is. After all, he's unfamiliar and different to me.
Written by Barbara DiLorenzo
(On her iPhone because every computer in the house is broken right now-please forgive misspellings!)
Author & Illustrator of RENATO & THE LION
Viking, Summer 2017