Helping Kids Embrace Their Differences

This article caught our attention as we sit here, hurt and raging over the atrocious mass shooting in Las Vega: Illustrated Books to Help Children Embrace Their Differences, from the New York Times’s Match Book series. The article responds to a mother’s letter asking for books to offer her 4-year-old, on-the-spectrum son. She writes,

He’s just beginning to realize he’s a little different. He has always loved reading, so I’ve begun to use books to help him find comfort in this world.

The content is gentle and focused on the comforting fact that a picture book can help put little people a bit more at ease in the world. We also love that it starts with The Story of Ferdinand; one of us had a beloved doggie named after the gentle Spanish bull.

Writer Nicole Lamy’s response is reprinted below (original is here). We’ve added hyperlinks to the books she mentions.

“The serene, misunderstood bull who stars in The Story of Ferdinand, the 1936 classic written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, prefers sniffing flowers in the shade of a cork tree to butting heads with others in his herd or sparring with the banderilleros and picadores in the ring. The perceptive hero of James Marshall’s Snake, His Story (part of his droll, intimate 1970s-era quartet, “Four Little Troubles”) — whose ability to hear sets him apart from his slithery classmates and causes his parents much consternation — learns to appreciate his unique abilities after he thwarts a pair of criminal bulldogs. A fuzzy teddy bear named Tah Tah is the source of social anxiety for a hesitant boy in Bernard Waber’s conversationally on-the-nose picture book from 1972, Ira Sleeps Over. Embracing difference has long been a hallmark of children’s stories.

Contemporary picture-book authors carry on the tradition started by authors of classics; they’re champions of uniqueness, artfully celebrating the qualities of fictional children — and quite a few anthropomorphized animals, some crayons and even a piece of cutlery — while also tackling tricky social situations. The best among them sneakily construct bridges to real-life children struggling with understanding and self-acceptance.

Object Lessons—The dejected utensil in Spoon, the adorably punning tale written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon, longs to cut and spread like Knife or twirl pasta like his friend, Fork; little does he know that his flatware friends envy him too. Spoon’s mother comes through in the end, comforting her little guy by gently reminding him of the sweetest parts of his life. (You may have read Krouse Rosenthal’s essay in the New York Times this spring, You May Want to Marry My Husband –SmSt eds.)

More inanimate empathy arrives in Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Story. Though his wrapper reads “Red,” the book’s hero is an erroneously labeled blue crayon who can’t color a fire engine or a stoplight with any kind of verisimilitude. When a new purple friend asks for his help with an art project, Red’s friends and family finally see his true color.

I’m O.K., You’re O.K.—Jewel tones and childlike drawings add to the joy quotient in The Okay Book, Todd Parr’s relentlessly affirmative, warmly oddball book. “It’s okay to have no hair,” reads one page. “It’s okay to wear what you like,” reads another. I wish my favorite line from the book, “It’s okay to put a fish in your hair,” could replace the banal phrase, “It takes all kinds,” as an offbeat expression of acceptance. (We wrote about another of Parr’s books, The Goodbye Book, here –SmSt eds.)

It’s All Relative—Two books about families tell stories about belonging, in very different styles. The flying squirrel in Zachariah OHora’s antic My Cousin Momo doesn’t fit in with the cousins he’s visiting: He thinks hide-and-seek is an opportunity to find mushrooms; he wears a giant muffin costume when his cousins dress as more recognizable superheroes. Heartache comes before acceptance for the saucer-eyed Momo. An interspecies separated-at-birth story with plot twists and a happy ending, Stellaluna by Janell Cannon shows the joy and freedom felt when someone—in this case a bat raised by a family of birds—is allowed to be herself.

Class Acts—Hidden talents are uncovered in two empowering school stories. In I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard, Jennifer K. Mann’s sympathetic and stellar portrait of Rose, who struggles in school yet longs for recognition, reveals a girl who feels like a misfit yet eventually discovers herself as an artist. The cleverly rhyming The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade written by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson tells the story of the unobtrusive, uncommonly observant Sally McCabe who finds her voice when she speaks up for compassion and unites her school.

Friend Requests—Two sensitive books about outsiders learning to make friends show kids the way in. Dennis, a silent boy who mimes in Be a Friend by Salina Yoon, prefers pretending to tangible play. His style is smart and creative, but it can be lonely when other children climb trees while you prefer to act like one. One day, though, Dennis kicks an imaginary ball. When a girl named Joy catches it, a friendship takes shape. In Jack and Michael Foreman’s simple, spare story Say Hello, a lonely, disconsolate boy on the sidelines is unsure how to break into a game. A serendipitous moment with a dog and red ball helps the boy to join in the fun and understand that he is not alone.”

Thanks for reading with us, friends.

Welcome back, teachers! We love you all.

A back-to-school roundup of posts and readings.

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Here’s to all teachers and educators returning to the classroom, wherever that might be for you. And what a first week it’s been. Below are some of our most popular posts that may be helpful as the new school year begins.

If you, like us, live in a place where far-right and white-supremacist groups have been coming to visit, check out “Students and Civil Disobedience: Lesson Plans and Activities” and its sister-post, “Students and Civil Disobedience: A Reading List” for ideas on how to contextualize this moment in US history. For those who might have students participating in marches and counter-protests, we have some tips.

Teaching climate change? We will post information as soon as we have it on how to help Houston-area educators and students as they recover from massive flooding. (If this is you, and you have the bandwidth, please let us know what would be helpful, and we will amplify!) If you are currently on dry ground, here are resources for helping students encounter the basic science and impacts of climate change in the classroom.

In the spirit of resistance, we wanted to highlight one of our lesser-read but best-loved roundups: our post on the history of several US and Canadian general strikes. Seattle, Winnipeg, and Oakland all hold history that we never encountered in school. Don’t let your students be like us.

Best of luck to all in the new school year, and watch this space for more Small Stones Interviews. And if you have your own story to tell, please get in touch!

#Charlottesville Resources

Here are some things we’ve been reading amidst the onslaught of daily news. As always, our goal is providing resources that may be useful to teachers and/or students, whether in the classroom or in the larger world.

Common Sense Media has updated a previously-published article, “Explaining the News to Our Kids,” in light of the events in Charlottesville. The article includes tips and strategies for discussing difficult news with children by age-range, which we found particularly helpful.

With the nation still stunned from the horrific display of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, families are once again faced with explaining difficult subjects to kids and teens. And as if hate speech, racism, and oppression weren’t enough, the president’s controversial remarks casting blame on “many sides” puts the burden on parents to educate their kids on the importance of tolerance.

In the meantime, technology is doing the heavy lifting — sending updates, tweets, posts, and breaking news alerts directly to our kids’ phones — long before parents have had a chance to digest the news themselves or discuss it thoughtfully with their kids. In many cases, kids aren’t at an age where they can make sense of these current events and are being thrust into a political debate that can seem scary or overwhelming. Often parents aren’t around to immediately help their kids make sense of challenging, upsetting situations.

The bottom line is that elementary school-aged kids and some middle schoolers have trouble fully understanding news events and their contexts. And though older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion — or misinformation.

From Chalkbeat.org, an excellent snapshot of the developing #CharlottesvilleCurriculum. Since doing this work, we’ve fallen in love with curricula like these, generated by careful curators and excellent crowdsourcing on twitter. Chalkbeat’s summary is worthwhile if you’re pressed for time, but we seriously encourage those who can to delve into the developing document itself.

From Chalkbeat:

Looking for help addressing Charlottesville in class? Dozens of other educators have your back.

In the wake of the racist violence in Virginia that left one protester dead this weekend, teachers took to Twitter with #CharlottesvilleCurriculum to share resources for addressing racism, hate, and history.

From the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum itself (a publicly-viewable Google doc):

This is inspired by the thread created by Melinda D. Anderson#CharlottesvilleCurriculum on Twitterin response to the White Supremacist/NAZI rally, violence and murder that took place in Charlottesville.

As educators, our job is to protect, support, love and educate all of our students. Anyone can add to this document.  Please feel free to add & make your own copy. This is a working document.

Facing History is another excellent place; they suggest a couple of their already-existing resources as appropriate for our time and place today. First up, Holocaust and Human Behavior, a multi-media collection that can also be used as a printable book. The Table of Contents is a great entry point.

Also from Facing History, we recommend The Reconstruction Era and Fragility of Democracy.

Facing History has produced a series of videos and accompanying lessons that will introduce a rigorous study of the Reconstruction era into American history classrooms. Our video series includes interviews with scholars of the Reconstruction era who provide insight into this complex history and address questions of freedom, justice, equality, and citizenship that are at the heart of the Reconstruction.

We have also developed a complete unit that offers 16 lessons and many primary source documents. The unit, available in print, ebook, and free PDF, will guide students through a deep exploration of the Reconstruction era while enhancing their ethical decision-making and capacity for emotional growth.

More to come from us. If you have suggestions or additional material, please don’t hesitate to pass it along. And huge thanks to Claudia of Mindful Digital Life (among many other projects) for flagging these resources.

Our Inspiration: Voice of Witness

An organization at the root of ethical storytelling

Emily Breunig, one of our co-founders, taught community college composition for years, often using a text called the Voice of Witness Reader. So of course Voice of Witness was on her mind when she created Small Stones. That’s why we were so excited a few weeks ago when our other co-founder, Eva Kaye-Zwiebel, attended Voice of Witness’s four-day oral history workshop in San Francisco.

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Dragon in front of San Francisco Asian Art Museum, which kindly hosted the VOW workshop

Voice of Witness (VOW) is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing the stories of people who have experienced injustice but are largely unheard in the public square. In fact, VOW’s tag line is “amplifying unheard voices.” They describe their mission like this:

“Our work is driven by the transformative power of the story, and by a strong belief that an understanding of crucial issues is incomplete without deep listening and learning from people who have experienced injustice firsthand. Through our oral history book series and education program, we amplify the voices of people impacted by injustice, teach ethics-driven storytelling, and partner with human rights advocates.”

If you’ve read or heard about Dave Eggers’s book What Is the What, about Valentino Achak Deng, a “Lost Boy” of Sudan, you might recognize it as part of VOW’s origin story. Eggers’s experience of working with Deng was instrumental to his inspiration to found Voice of Witness, along with Lola Vollen and Mimi Lok. VOW now publishes oral history collections and creates resources to help teachers, activists, and youth create oral history, too.

At this year’s training, Eva and 25 or so classmates participated in discussions, brainstorms, and role-playing with oral history teacher-practitioners. Then, everyone buddied-up to go through the process of telling a personal story and recording a partner’s story. (You can read part of Eva’s story here. VOW’s blog about this year’s workshop is here.) It was a very intimate and emotional experience: there’s a feeling of “nakedness” to sharing a private experience with another person, but also a feeling of strength in seeing that story written down, as well as its impact on others when it’s read aloud.

Our interview process is directly inspired by VOW’s work. If you think you might want to speak to us—or introduce us to someone who might—please do get in touch at smallstonesedu@gmail.com.

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Last day of class: Group photo at the Voice of Witness 2017 “Amplifying Unheard Voices” workshop

The Voices Behind Studs Terkel’s “Working”

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If you’re like we are and you find oral histories fascinating, you’ve probably encountered Studs Terkel’s WorkingIf not, you have a major treat in store. Terkel went around the country in the early 1970s, interviewing people about what they did all day. The result was an incredible collection, one that gave insight into the lives of a wide range of ordinary people. We can attest that it’s excellent for high school or college classroom use, whether in full or as excerpts.

Radio Diaries, in partnership with Project&, has now done one better and made some of Terkel’s audio tapes (via  available for online listening. Check them out if you’ve ever been interested in hearing the voices that Terkel preserved so well.

You can find the feature, Working: Then & Now, at Radio Diaries.

ICYMI: Oral History Resources

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Here’s a quick catch-up post for anyone who’s been following our series on Oral History and how to use these powerful tools with students. More to come soon!

Oral History: An Introduction:

We often think of history as big events—think battles, coronations, explorations—that’s observed impartially, recorded faithfully, and carefully preserved in libraries and universities for later generations. But history is as much about the lives of every day people as so-called great events, and we all can play an important part in preserving our own, and our community’s, history.

And these days, it’s hard not to feel as though we are all in the process of making our own contributions to history….

Oral History: Students are Historians, Too!:

Here at Small Stones, we LOVE hearing about students collecting oral histories from people in their communities. For this second installment in our Oral Histories Series, here’s a quick who/what/where/when/why/how explainer to help students understand to how powerful oral history can be–and to see themselves as historians….

Oral History: A Community College Assignment:

During the second half of the quarter, you and your group will be completing an oral history project. Since we’ve begun this quarter by reading, writing, and discussing issues of immigration, you’ll continue with this theme and interview an immigrant to California. You’ll choose a subject, conduct background research, conduct the interview, preserve the interview, and get it in shape to share with the world….

And deeper dives into two of our favorite resources:

Oral History Resources: Voice of Witness:

First up: a webinar series on conducting oral history projects with students. Registration is required, but resources are available to check out now. We particularly like the resource guide “Listen Up: How to Plan Your Oral History Project.” At the top of the PDF is a list of excellent examples of other projects, notably some from high school students….

Oral History Resources: Story Corps:

For educators, the site is a treasure trove of materials. From a community college perspective, when Emily was helping students conduct oral history projects, a few resources in particular were invaluable.

  1. Great Questions. There are pages upon pages of questions here, organized by general subject area, that you might want to ask as you conduct an interview. Categories include “Growing Up,” “School,” “Family Heritage,” “War,” and “Great Questions for Anyone.” Not doing an oral history project with your own students? These may very well be useful in the classroom in a lot of different contexts, whether in ice breaker games or as a way to “interview” a fictional character….

 

ICYMI: Taking Care of Students

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So as we’ve been mentioning, we are gearing up for the next phase in our blog-life. As we’re doing that behind-the-scenes work, we thought we’d take today to feature some of our favorite Small Stones posts to date, with an emphasis on supporting your students emotionally during turbulent times.

First, our tips on ways to discuss violence with students, with resources from Colorín Colorado, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and UNICEF.

It’s been quite the half-week in news. US strikes in Syria, terrorist attacks in Stockholm and then Cairo, and now a shooting at a school in San Bernadino, California.

Chances are your students may be feeling a bit on edge.

Here are some resources that we’ve found to help process violence with students, whether that violence takes place in schools, in the community, or in the world at large.

Next, student stress: what it is, what it can do, and how we can help students mitigate it in their lives, whether in the classroom or out in the world.

How do we deal with this? There are certainly times when taking direct action is the way to go, as Eva can attest. But what can we do when the burnout creeps in, life throws a few more stressors your way, and your entire family gets sick all at once (see: Emily)?

We’ve collected some resources that may be helpful in those burnout moments–some that can be done with students, and others that might be helpful to take on yourself.

Finally, talking politics and how educators can support students in both strong, analytical discussions while also helping them strengthen their empathy.

From the CS Monitor, here’s an article about teachers addressing politics in the classroom. Entitled, Teachers’ new Catch-22: Students want to talk politics, but their parents don’t, it offers anecdotes from teachers about what they’re encountering right now, and profiles two resources for building empathy in students.