Helping Kids Embrace Their Differences

 This article caught our attention as we sit here, hurt and raging over the atrocious mass shooting in Las Vegas: 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.

Continue reading “Helping Kids Embrace Their Differences”

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.

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

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

Going It Alone, by Rahawa Haile

“Perspective is everything.” Hiking the Appalachian trail, by @rahawahaile.

From Outside Magazine:

“What happens when an African American woman decides to solo-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine during a summer of bitter political upheaval? Everything you can imagine, from scary moments of racism to new friendships to soaring epiphanies about the timeless value of America’s most storied trekking route.”

It’s the spring of 2016, and I’m ten miles south of Damascus, Virginia, where an annual celebration called Trail Days has just wrapped up. Last night, temperatures plummeted into the thirties. Today, long-distance Appalachian Trail hikers who’d slept in hammocks and mailed their underquilts home too soon were groaning into their morning coffee. A few small fires shot woodsmoke at the sun as thousands of tent stakes were dislodged. Over the next 24 hours, most of the hikers in attendance would pack up and hit the 554-mile stretch of the AT that runs north through Virginia.

I’ve used the Trail Days layover as an opportunity to stash most of my belongings with friends and complete a short section of the AT I’d missed, near the Tennessee-Virginia border. As I’m moving along, a day hiker heading in the opposite direction stops me for a chat. He’s affable and inquisitive. He asks what many have asked before: “Where are you from?” I tell him Miami.

He laughs and says, “No, but really. Where are you from from?” He mentions something about my features, my thin nose, and then trails off. I tell him my family is from Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa, next to Ethiopia. He looks relieved.

“I knew it,” he says. “You’re not black.”

I say that of course I am. “None more black,” I weakly joke.

“Not really,” he says. “You’re African, not black-black. Blacks don’t hike.”

I’m tired of this man. His from-froms and black-blacks. He wishes me good luck and leaves. He means it, too; he isn’t malicious. To him there’s nothing abnormal about our conversation. He has categorized me, and the world makes sense again. Not black-black. I hike the remaining miles back to my tent and don’t emerge for hours.

Continue reading here.


We’ve been musing about the direction Small Stones should take and one avenue we’re pursuing and deepening is storytelling. By that, we mean first-person narratives with a focus on the topics and themes we’ve been blogging about: discrimination, bias, racism, prejudice, and also the tools available to confront these.

Frequent readers will remember some of our oral history posts, including Oral History: An Introduction and Oral History: A Community College Assignment.

As we start developing interviews, we’ll share some resources pertaining to the storytelling process.

Today’s are from The Moth, a storytelling program that’s one of our favorite podcasts. First, three values The Moth promotes, which we offer in the spirit of “food for thought”.

  • We believe that processing experience through narrative can provide insight and agency
  • We believe that listening to stories can widen our perspective and help us realize what we have in common.
  • We believe that a community is strengthened when its members share stories with one another.

And next, some concrete tips for storytelling from The Moth. Keep in mind that The Moth is interested in oral story telling with a particular format, so some of the tips are specific to the genre.

“What to do

“Have some stakes: Stakes are essential in live storytelling. What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage.
Start in the action.

“Have a great first line that sets up the stakes and grabs attention: No: “So I was thinking about climbing this mountain. But then I watched a little TV and made a snack and took a nap and my mom called and vented about her psoriasis then I did a little laundry (a whites load) (I lost another sock, darn it!) and then I thought about it again and decided I’d climb the mountain the next morning.” Yes: “The mountain loomed before me. I had my hunting knife, some trail mix and snow boots. I had to make it to the little cabin and start a fire before sundown or freeze to death for sure.”

“Know your story well enough so you can have fun!: Watching you panic to think of the next memorized line is harrowing for the audience. Make an outline, memorize your bullet points and play with the details. Enjoy yourself. Imagine you are at a dinner party, not a deposition.”

“…and what not to do

“Steer clear of meandering endings: They kill a story! Your last line should be clear in your head before you start. Yes, bring the audience along with you as you contemplate what transpires in your story, but remember, you are driving the story, and must know the final destination. Keep your hands on the wheel!

“No standup routines please: The Moth loves funny people but requires that all funny people tell funny stories.

“No rants: Take up this anger issue with your therapist, or skip therapy and shape your anger into a story with some sort of resolution. (Stories = therapy!)

“No essays: Your eloquent musings are beautiful and look pretty on the page but unless you can make them gripping and set up stakes, they won’t work on stage.

“About that (fake) accent: If your story doesn’t work in your own voice, or that of your people of origin, please consider another story. In our experience, imitating accents from another culture or race rarely works and often offends.”

By way of a bonus, here’s a recent broadcast from The Moth: Pam Burrell’s “My Unlikely Brothers“. Click the story name to re-direct to the story, which doesn’t have embed capability.


(P. Burrell image by Jessica Taves courtesy of The Moth; featured moth image from“[Planches enluminées d’histoire naturelle” (1765) via Flickr.)

Weekend Reading: So You Want to Raise an Activist…


As we often say about running this blog, you can’t do it alone. The same holds true for raising a socially-conscious, motivated kid. Here’s some help for those of you engaged in that endeavor.

The Washington Post has a lovely list of children’s books in their On Parenting blog focused on activism:

As protests and marches continue to sweep the country, parents can use books to help them broach complex topics with their kids. Many kids recently attended protests for the first time and these budding activists often have tough questions.

Here is a list of books that can introduce even the youngest children to the idea of rebellion in an age-appropriate and inspiring way. Give the princesses and pirates a rest and try these inspiring reads — just don’t be surprised if bedtime negotiations rise to a new level. Every activist has to start somewhere!

Want more? Check out Teaching for Change’s online store. There are some incredible bargains to be had, and if you need to order 500 copies or more, some titles are free, save for shipping.

And if you need a reminder about the power of reading when it comes to sparking social change, take a look at these testimonials from the Zinn Education Project. Back in March, when there was a proposed ban on books by Howard Zinn in Arkansas schools, people coordinated to send those very books to teachers and libraries in protest. The response was incredible, and some of the stories about why people donated are here.




Opportunities, Plants, and One Last Push: Come on over and tell us what you think!


It’s live for just a few more days…come on over and take our survey!

A HUGE thank you to those who have already stopped by. Responses are already helping us figure out what we’ll be working on next, how to bring you more of what’s been helpful, and what you might like to see that we haven’t done quite yet.

We are also about to begin a project preserving stories from educators in this national moment. If you’d like to talk with us, anonymously or otherwise, about how things are for you and your students, right here and now, we’d love to hear from you. (And you can indicate that on our survey.)

Now for opportunity! If you are a Bay Area teacher working with students in grades 8-12, you just might be interested in KQED Learning’s new Student Inquiry and Publishing pilot program.

We are looking for 40 Bay Area English, science, social studies or VAPA educators who teach grades 8-12 to pilot a new project starting this summer and continuing into fall of 2017.

The project will feature curriculum, media-making resources and professional development for teachers to support students in investigating questions and creating media about their findings. Using an online publishing platform, students will be able to work with peers both in their own classroom and other classrooms in a safe space where they can seek authentic feedback, support and inspiration. Students will access this platform through their teacher (similar to Google Classroom), and student work will not be visible to anyone not participating in the project.

Head on over to the link above to read more and apply. Get moving–applications close 3/24!

And plants: we recently discovered the Smithsonian’s Botany and Art and Their Roles in Conservation. Aside from being gorgeous to look at, these resources for primary and middle grade students can help provide in-depth interdisciplinary content for a science or art classroom.

This teaching guide includes a lesson plan originally published as “Smithsonian in Your Classroom.” It introduces students to the work of botanists and botanical illustrators, specifically their race to make records of endangered plant species around the world. The students try their own hands at botanical illustration, following the methods of a Smithsonian artist. Also included here are additional resources on the topic, a one-hour webinar and a website.

Thanks again for stopping by and responding to any and all of our survey questions!


Weekend Reading, 3/12


It’s been a busy week for us here (please take our survey!), so it’s time to grab a drink, some reading material, and relax. Here are a few things we’ve been reading, though fair warning, unlike surveys, they’re not all conducive to relaxation.

First, watch this space! The Academic Expat is creating a Get Out Syllabus, centered around the incredibly acclaimed (both by critics and viewers) movie by the same name. Right now you’ll find the beginning of this work by Crystal Boson, PhD, here. If you’re not familiar with the film, this is material probably best suited for high school, college, and adult learners. Here’s her introduction:

The “Get Out” Syllabus focuses intently on the conversations surrounding White violence, the consumption of Black Bodies, and the erasure of Black Women that the movie elicits. The syllabus is divided into two parts; the first  closely examines the historical and cultural violences that made the movie possible. The second section examines the absences and erasures that make sections of the film explicitly more horrifying. My “Get Out” syllabus is in no way meant to be exhaustive or complete. Rather, it is an entry to point to key conversations that must be continued after the movie falls from theatres and our current popular culture attention span.

Rolling Stone has a deep dive into Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education, and how her religious and cultural background may impact her agenda in this position.

Neither Betsy DeVos, who is 59, nor any of her children have ever attended a public school; her Cabinet post also marks her first full-time job in the education system. Even before her nomination, she was a controversial figure in education circles, a leading advocate of “school choice” through student vouchers, which give parents public dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools. During her Senate confirmation hearing in January, DeVos struggled to grasp some of the most basic fundamentals of education terminology, student-loan policy and federal provisions mandating public schools provide free and appropriate education to people with disabilities. At one point, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, who represents the families of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, asked DeVos if she believed schools should be gun-free zones. She responded that in states like Wyoming “there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

If you are interested in learning more about the broader vision DeVos and those she’s worked with share, this is an article well worth your time.

For the English teachers, here’s Margaret Atwood in The New York Times opining on what everyone else has been talking about: the parallels between our current reality and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Yes, women will gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook: We see that very publicly in the age of social media, which enables group swarmings. Yes, they will gladly take positions of power over other women, even — and, possibly, especially — in systems in which women as a whole have scant power: All power is relative, and in tough times any amount is seen as better than none. Some of the controlling Aunts are true believers, and think they are doing the Handmaids a favor: At least they haven’t been sent to clean up toxic waste, and at least in this brave new world they won’t get raped, not as such, not by strangers. Some of the Aunts are sadists. Some are opportunists. And they are adept at taking some of the stated aims of 1984 feminism — like the anti-porn campaign and greater safety from sexual assault — and turning them to their own advantage. As I say: real life.

And finally, some humor that we sincerely hope stays funny:

On the Origins of the Civil War: “Refusing to recognize the rights of Southern small business owners to help the documented immigrants in their care obtain their dreams, Dishonest Abe Lincoln, who never had a birth certificate, waged an illegal war using the machinery of big government.”

On the Massacre at Wounded Knee: “Not to be confused with actual massacres like the one at Bowling Green over a century later, this so-called tragedy in 1890 was nothing more than the feds taking out some bad hombres and undocumented natives hiding out from authorities in South Dakota.”

See you next week–and share our survey!

Series Catch-Up!


We’ve been working on a couple of series lately, and since we editors are slammed in our ordinary lives, it seems like a good day to collect both of those in one giant in-case-you-missed-it post. Enjoy!

Oral History:

The Music of Social Movements:

Oral History: A Community College Assignment


Next up in our Oral History series, an example of a project assignment for community college students working in groups to conduct oral histories. This is student-facing content; we’ll address teacher-specific content and tips soon!

This assignment was used in a community college setting, but with tweaks, it could easily be used with high school students or other adult learners.

Next up: strategies for helping students conduct respectful interviews and act as responsible historians.

Oral History Project

We often think of history as big events—think battles, coronations, explorations—that’s observed impartially, recorded, 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.

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.

Your group will be responsible for the following portions of the project:

  1. Create and submit a group Oral Histories Project plan.
    • Meet with your group, review the project requirements, and assign the work to individuals. Be sure to divide work as equally as possible and keep in mind each group member’s strengths and weaknesses. You are required to turn this in to Emily. Use this list to help you anticipate the work that you’ll be responsible for doing.
    • This plan can, and probably will, change over the course of the project. You’ll note that in your final self/group project evaluation.
  2. Identifying an interview subject and coordinating the interview. YOUR SUBJECT CANNOT BE A MEMBER OF THIS CLASS. Beyond that, anyone with an immigration story to tell is qualified.
    • Approaching the subject to request an interview
    • Setting up meeting times and places that work for everyone
    • Getting the basic facts about the interviewee’s story in order to conduct background research (ie where they immigrated from, when, etc.)
    • Having a backup plan!
  3. Preparing and submitting a formal group work distribution plan.
  4. Conducting background research both before and after the interview
    • Before the interview: use research to help formulate questions. You should know a little bit about the interviewee’s homeland and immigration situation. Were many other people making the same journey at the same time? Was immigration driven by world events?
    • Before the presentation and essay portion: Follow up on anything the interviewee mentioned that you don’t know much about. This will help you put this particular story in context.
  5. Generating interview questions
    • Create a list, longer than you think you need, of potential questions to ask. Storycorps is a great place to begin.
    • Prioritize and prepare your potential questions for easy access during the interview
    • Coordinate the interview! Choose an appropriate and comfortable time and place for the interviewee. Be sure to consider the needs of the interviewers for recording purposes.
    • Know everyone’s roles.
      1. Who will make sure that the interviewee and interviewers know when and where to meet?
      2. Who will ask questions?
      3. Who will manage the recording (audio required; video optional)
      4. Who will provide any other necessary support?
  • Find out whether interviewee is open to follow up questions after the official interview, whether via phone, email, or any other method.
  • Be sure to have a backup plan and contact information for everyone.
  1. After the interview
    • Send the interviewee prompt thank yous and an invitation to presentations.
    • Group review and recap ASAP to be sure you’re on track with all the project work and requirements.
    • Identify further areas to research.
    • Any follow up questions for the interviewee? Ask!
  2. Presentations, location TBA
    • Your audience: classmates, community members, and your interviewees, if they can make it.
    • Five-ten minutes to present background, summary of interview, and why/how this story is important. You are required to incorporate both audio and visual elements (ie voice recordings, photos or maps, props, and any other material that can help the audience appreciate the history that you’ve taken).
    • Sharing more broadly: preservation techniques. We’ll discuss options in class.
  3. Written requirement: Oral History Essay
    • Each group member is responsible for his/her own final essay on the interview
    • Your essay will incorporate some of your background research and the interview material and will make an argument about why this story is important to preserve. We’ll discuss how this will work more as we get closer to the deadline.
  4. Self and Group Evaluation
    • You’ll complete an evaluation for both your own role and that of your group in completing this project.



History (and Fiction) in Context

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 10.12.15 AM.png

Reading has been shown, over and over, to help readers of all ages develop empathy. Here are a couple of things we’ve been reading lately that may help students face the current situation.

As reported by The Atlantic, teachers are using historical fiction to help students put the current moment, and its impacts on various groups of people, in context. “Using Historical Fiction to Connect Past and Present” is worth a read, if only for the titles sprinkled throughout that may come in handy. There’s also a nice take on how teachers can help students make comparisons even if politics is a touchy subject in their classrooms.

And while teachers must obviously be wary of making false equivalencies or grand generalizations, understanding history more thoroughly than what’s offered in, for example, a textbook leads students to an educated examination of current events. For example, referring to possible comparisons with the treatment of Japanese Americans during the internment, Levstik explains the need for teachers to ask: “When somebody says they’re going to lock up people on the basis of their religion, their ethnic background, their point of origin, what does that look like in our history?”

And from New York Magazine, a curated list of books about immigration and refugees. Go check it out.

Soon after Donald Trump enacted his travel ban, the Upper West Side’s Bank Street Book Store posted a photo of front-facing titles to its Facebook page. “Don’t be at a loss for words when explaining to children that the heart and soul of America is to welcome others to our country who need a safe place to make a home,” the caption read. “Books like these help.”