Cherish summer in Santa Fe with good books, lush gardens, buzzing bees, a trip to the zoo, a science project or two, and the restorative balm of children's creativity.
The silky soft gypsum of White Sands are the perfect place to make some sand angels.
Photo by Tira Howard.
By Zoey Barnes
A new crop of children’s books provides inspiration and tools for action.
During the times I am overwhelmed and immobilized with the realness of our struggle as humans on this planet — environmental dangers, prejudice, racism, intolerance — I look down and see my 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter’s freckled face and her mischievous grin. Her whole being is primed to be a “helper,” to know the world and to love it. She smiles when I smile, laughs when I laugh. I try to cultivate empathy in her and to support her natural, strong-willed spirit. I hope to lead her in the direction of standing tall in a world that needs her, and to make change with her by my side.
After the verdict came down in the George Floyd case in May, I tried to share with her what had happened, but I couldn’t find the words. “I’m not sure how to say this,” I told her. She had no idea what I was alluding to, but what she said next made me speechless. “It’s OK, Mama,” she said. “We’ll figure it out together.”
Fortunately, we have found many books with tools for action and for figuring it out together. While there are many new books with action-packed directives for changing the world (see the list below), I am most inspired by and drawn to the books that cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. Christian Robinson, author of You Matter, reviewed here, has said that he wanted to share life “through different perspectives and experiences and to show that we’re all connected.” In that sense, all these books inspire me to action. What is more stirring than the connection to others and the world to aspire children to make the world a better place for all?
Here are a few books to figure out how to bring social justice and activism into the world with your little (and not so little) ones.
We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Roaring Books Press, 2020).
This book is the winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal for good reason. The illustrations are gorgeous and luminescent. They reveal the journey of a powerful young girl who has learned from Nokomis that water is medicine and sacred and who rallies to protect the water. There is a black snake that “courses through the water, making it unfit to drink.” And there are all the reasons to protect the water: “The four-legged, The two-legged, The plants, trees, rivers, lakes, The Earth.” The book invites you to breathe deeply the spirit of the earth and water and to directly manifest awe for the natural world into action. Vibrant energy exudes from Goade’s bright, sparkling illustrations, which reflect symbols or teachings from Anishinaabe/Ojibwe tradition and honor Lindstrom, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. Lindstrom writes that she felt “compelled to speak for the water through this story” after Standing Rock, and so she does. Your child (and you!) can take a pledge at the end to be a “steward of the Earth and a protector of the water.”
The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021).
From the moment you open this book, be prepared for your heart to expand with joy. The apples of a child’s cheek mirror an apple radiant on a tree. Apple becomes fruit pie. Pie is eaten by children in all their joy. You might even feel it glowing inside your heart. You might see it stirring in another’s eyes. Bright pink fruit and flowers, a striking yellow sun and deep black trees are swept suddenly away by a wash of bright blue rain. Luyken’s book is a poem. Her theme is connection. It is, perhaps, the perfect book for a toddler who loves to ask “Why?” Why is there no light underground, only tree roots? Why is there darkness in the forest and light outside it? The book lends itself to explore and expand thinking. Why are the apples of our cheeks lit up from the inside? At the end, you know it is because the main character sees and is seen by others. What a beautiful gift to offer to your child and to yourself!
You Matter by Christian Robinson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020).
I love all the books that Christian Robinson writes and illustrates. You might know him best from Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (G.P. Putnam & Son’s Books, 2015) or When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano (Roaring Book Press, 2017), one of my daughter’s absolute favorites. His illustrations are precise, simple, moving, exciting and joyful. They depict diverse, true representations of young children in the world. This book in particular shows that no matter how small you are, or where you are, or what you are like, “You matter.” Near a drawing of an incandescent sun, “Even if you are really gassy, you matter.” Near some spiky odd phytoplankton, “Those who swim with the tide, and those who don’t.” With a wink, the book says “I love you” to those doing their own thing and to those hanging with the crowd. I invite you to watch Robinson read the book on PBS Kids and think about what it means to matter. If we all matter, then we must do what we can to make this world a just place where everyone can thrive.
Here are a few other notable books to check out (thanks to Bee Hive Books and the friends who offered recommendations):
Look for these titles at your local library, your favorite local independent bookstore, or bookshop.org.