Hard topics with Picture Books

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I have talked before about the power of picture books to get reluctant readers reading. Kids like picture books (less words) and they don’t seem to think it is work because there are only a few pages compared to a 200+ page novel. The thing is, in those few pages power lessons can be taught.

Sometimes there are topics that are very hard to address because maybe politics or demographics of your area make them very hard to connect with. I teach in a community that has a particularly one sided demographic regarding race. While there are students from other racial groups the majority are white. When we talk about world events things like the refugee crisis or racial tension south of the border are very hard to understand. There is no frame of reference beyond the news.

In Canada we have our own history of mistreatment based on race. Internment camps were set up for Asian Canadians during the war and residential schools caused immeasurable damage to the families of our First Nations in Canadas recent past. Again these issues have been difficult for the students to understand beyond “it was bad” the question of why it is bad did not really hit the heart reflections.

So we turn to picture books. There are many picture books that address controversial issues a few that really stuck out to me this year that I used were Baseball Saved Us, When I was Eight and Not My Girl. These texts had relatable connections to Canada’s history and so we focused on them.

Baseball Saved Us focuses on a boy growing up in an internment camp, his father creates a baseball field at the camp and while experiencing horrible treatment the boy builds his baseball skills, upon exiting the camp he still deals with racism and horrible treatment but he has something positive to focus on. Tough content but lead to great conversations.

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Not My Girl is the story of a girl that returns home after being at a Residential school. The students were given background information but were not having the heart reactions that I felt were important for such an important topic. We went through the story as the girl tries to relearn her families ways and earn back her mothers love. The reflections after were great. Questions as to why such programs existed and the discussion that followed in human rights was only possible because the pictures helped the students feel when the words were hard to connect with.

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When we are trying to get students to question their already formed thoughts and opinions we need to present them with something that shakes those opinions a bit. Using picture books we were able to come to conversations naturally without me just having to tell them everything I want them to think about. They had the opportunity to wonder on their own, work through there own confusions and perhaps even change how they approached these topics in the future.

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