By Daniele Berman, Community Partnerships Manager
What does Book Harvest have to say—or even more importantly, to do—that makes our voice important among all the voices calling for equality and justice and mercy?
At Book Harvest, our currency is children’s books: words and pictures designed to instruct and entertain and enlighten. Most often, we focus on books as tools for developing literacy, specifically the limited definition of literacy that is “the ability to read.” Anyone at Book Harvest can recite statistics about the correlation between test scores and book ownership, between summer learning loss and book deserts. But as anyone who has ever read a children’s book knows, there is so much more to be gleaned from reading them than the simple mechanics of letters and punctuation marks, so much more to be valued in them than the keys to good grades and better academic outcomes.
Can you read The Runaway Bunny without being touched by the description of the sheltering love of a mother? Can you read Harold and the Purple Crayon without remembering what it was like to be a child who really wished she could draw her window around the moon when she was ready to drift off to sleep? Can you imagine the wild rumpus starting without remembering what it felt like to be sent to your room without any supper?
Because children and the adults who read to them find themselves in the books they read, recognize their own experiences of snuggling with their mother or drawing the things they imagine or being sent to their rooms for acting like wild things. They find their friends there, too: every child who identifies with the eagerness of Frog has a friend who reminds him at least a little of Toad in all his reticence; every big sister who has a little sister can sympathize at least every so often with Frances’s frustration with tagalong Gloria; every rainy-day-bored child wishes the Cat in the Hat would appear and help him while away the day with some adventure or other.
Now more than ever at Book Harvest we want to make sure we are providing children with books in which they recognize themselves and their neighbors. More than ever, we want to make sure that children see the beautiful colors of themselves and their families in the pictures they look at as they learn to decode words and as they drift off to sleep. More than ever, we want to make sure that the stories our children hear teach them the stories of their classmates and their neighbors, about what it means to be a classmate or a neighbor to someone whose story may be very different from their own. More than ever, we know that the lessons in cultural literacy offered by our children’s books are just as important as their lessons in reading.
For my own daughter, a kindergartner in Durham Public Schools, I want to make sure that she’s reading books that help her know the girl who sits next to her at her table, the one who is a recent refugee from Syria who didn’t know a word of English or a soul in her new day-to-day world when she arrived. And for that classmate of my daughter’s, I want her to be able to open a book and see that she’s not the only one, that her story belongs on the pages of a beautiful book, too.
At Book Harvest, we often talk about our very simple mission: to ensure all children are growing up in homes filled with books. Behind that simple mission is the powerful belief that all children have the right to and deserve to live up to their full potential—and that it is our responsibility and our privilege to fight for those rights of children and their families, no matter where they are from or what their story is. Indeed, without the stories of generations and generations of families from all over the world, there is no story of our country as it is now.
And so we invite you to join us in our mission. Join us in saying that the story of our country, a country of immigrants with myriad stories to share, is the story we want our all of our children to read. Join us in ensuring that children know their stories matter regardless of where they started or what colors adorn their illustrations. Join us in making sure that the children in our community—all of them—can see themselves and their stories in the books that they read. While we can’t give every child a magical purple crayon, we can give them books in which they can imagine themselves and their classmates and their neighbors.
Click here to access a list of books we recommend if you want to help the children in your life understand their classmates’ and their neighbors’ stories better. Print out the list, and take it with you to your local library or your favorite bookstore, and share your favorites with your own neighbors and friends. If you’d like to, you can also purchase these books online and have them shipped directly to Book Harvest. We’ll make sure they get to children who need to know that their families’ stories matter, that they belong in those beautiful illustrations, that books are the tools for breaking down walls and building bridges in their place.
Photo credits: Catriona Moore, ESL teacher at Forest View Elementary School in Durham, who made sure students and families who are recent immigrants had access to lots of Book Harvest books at family night this past fall.