Category: Books

May 20, 2022 by Winnie Cheung 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: Using Stories to Deepen and Broaden Children’s Perspectives

In a bustling elementary school hallway in Queens, NY, a fellow six-year-old asked me: “Are you Chinese?” 

“No. I’m ABC!” I replied. I was proud to be ABC, American-born Chinese. The term “ABC” is one I’ve heard other kids use and it was an important part of my identity. Growing up in a diverse neighborhood, there were a lot of Asian people in my life — Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Korean, Pakistani, Taiwanese, Toisanese, mixed-race Asian; the list goes on. I loved the term ABC because it encapsulated who I felt I was, both American and Chinese. To be honest, I didn’t want to be only Chinese, despite being surrounded by other Asian Americans like myself. 

The benefits of being considered American were clear to me. I learned about heroes in American history in school. I saw movies and TV shows with American people being class clowns, princesses, and superheroes. America was the country that provided opportunities for my grandmother and parents and they reminded me often how lucky I was to be American. We were living the American dream and culture. And yet, I didn’t see myself or the people that looked like me in American history or in the TV or movies I watched. 

Do Asian American Children See Themselves in Children's Media?

I’m now a proud mother of two young kids and am so excited to see the increase of representation in Asian American stories since I was a child. However, there is still work to be done. 

Affirming how I felt about representation, in Nickelodeon’s Shades of Us study, conducted from 2019 – 2021, focusing on understanding race, identity, and the American family, about half of Asian kids shared that it is important to be represented in media. But many (40%) disagree with how they’re portrayed in movies and TV shows currently. The research also found that across top performing shows in kids TV shows, Asian American characters are not frequently supporting characters and even less likely lead characters. This has an impact on Asian American kids. When asked who they would cast in a role of an Asian American character, they chose “nerd” or “sidekick” for themselves, casting white characters as a lead — showcasing an internalization of the stereotypes they see. 

There is an opportunity to tell more stories showcasing Asian American characters as complex and full of nuance, so all children can see those opportunities for themselves, outside of stereotypes. 

Michelle Sugihara, executive director of CAPE, writes in a recent Geena Davis Study: “For the past 30 years, we have fought for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) representation in film and television, because what we watch on our screens should reflect the world in which we live and project a better one.”

In another recent study, Nickelodeon gave kids free range to share stories about themselves, with a prompt to take their “culture” (whichever it may be) into consideration, and they shared beautiful stories centering themselves, sometimes doing mundane things (a Native Hawaiian preschooler wanted to create a show about garbage trucks) to intimate cultural moments (an Indian-Pakistani Muslim 12-year-old wanted an epic tale about celebrating an Islamic wedding and wearing salwar kameez). 

I want my children — and other American children — to read, watch, and experience these stories and more like them. 

We Need to Share Both Vertical AND Horizontal Stories

As I think about ways to honor AANHPI (Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, I am using stories to deepen and broaden my children’s perspectives. There are two main types of stories — and I am using both with my children this month: 

  1. Stories that provide an in-depth look into cultural experiences (these are called “vertical stories”) 
  2. Stories that incorporate characters into stories of daily life without overt cues or a sole focus on their ethnicity/cultural background (these are called “horizontal stories”) 

I love both types (and when they overlap) because, as a parent, I can show them to my children to give them a broad spectrum of Asian American stories. Learning stories about specific Asian American heroes and parts of Asian American cultures helps my children (and all children) gain context and imagine what they could accomplish. And seeing Asian Americans doing everyday things — going to school, playing in the park, etc. — normalizes the Asian American experiences to help Asian-American kids develop a sense of identity and belonging. For non-Asian kids, these stories illustrate a shared experience to build empathy.

How Can We Use Both Types of Stories With Young Children

Here are a few ways vertical and horizontal stories help:

  • Instilling pride: One of the things that connects Asian American culture and many other cultures is food. I love the series of books by Little Picnic Press that celebrate food, language, and cultural diversity. 
  • TV shows/movies with characters that normalize seeing Asian Americans as lead: A favorite show of my 4-year-old is Blue’s Clues and You with Josh Delacruz, a Filipino-American actor, dancer, musician, and singer. He loves finding clues as much as counting bananas to help Blue make Josh’s lola bibingka. Another example of “horizontal” stories is the book Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julie Kuo. This story conveys everyday experiences of a mom and daughter with beautifully illustrated scenarios, from climbing a snow-peaked mountain to lying in bed. The cultural nuances of zhuyin books and a rice cooker are in the background and subtle, but present enough for someone who has a similar lived experience to “feel seen.”
  • Stories that feature cross-cultural experiences: I’m always looking for stories that include mixed race/multicultural kids because that is what my family looks like today. My kids have so many mixed race/multicultural kids that are in their lives, either with friends, family, or in their school. I Love Us! is one I appreciate because it showcases all different types of families, getting ready for school, feeling sick, catching a train, and getting tucked into bed. I also seek out books, TV shows, and movies that are outside of Chinese American culture, so my children can get a glimpse of all of the amazing diversity that exists in our world. A great example of this is Noggin’s Celebrate Our Differences video featuring diverse kids.
  • Stories about trailblazing Asian Americans in American history: Analiza Wolf’s Asian Americans who Inspired Us is the “vertical story” I needed as a child to know that Asian American history is American history. It is just as important to learn about Neil Armstrong as it is to know Ellison Onizuka, the first Japanese Hawaiian to go into space and bring with him Kona coffee beans. Now, every time my son sees a spaceship he says “It’s Ellison!” 

As we continue to expose our kids to celebrate and honor Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in our history and our lives, we can also use media as jumping points to start conversations. 

I like to tell my kids they are completely Chinese and completely American. And maybe as they get older, they will  decide to identify as American-born Chinese like me.

December 28, 2021 by Dana Stewart 0 Comments

Mapa Global de los Cuentos

Haga clic en un continente para visitarlo, leer su cuento popular y jugar con las actividades.

Como maestra de preescolar y luego líder escolar, trabajé en una comunidad verdaderamente global. Un año, tuvimos siete idiomas diferentes representados en una clase de catorce estudiantes. Si bien esto presentó algunos desafíos de comunicación, la experiencia general fue una gran oportunidad de aprendizaje para todos. La mezcla de culturas, palabras, alimentos e ideas fue emocionante tanto para los niños como para los maestros.

La ciudadanía global es una GRAN idea para todos nosotros.

¿Cómo podemos hacer que estas ideas sean accesibles para nuestros hijos?

Los niños más pequeños, hasta aproximadamente los tres años, se concentran naturalmente en sí mismos. No tienen la capacidad cognitiva para reconocer que las personas pueden tener diferentes ideas, perspectivas, esperanzas y sueños. Incluso a esa tierna edad, y durante toda la niñez, exponer a los niños a personas y culturas de todo el mundo ayuda a cerrar esa brecha. Con el tiempo, los niños llegarán a comprender que existen múltiples formas de ver y experimentar el mundo, y que ninguna es la “correcta”.

Leer historias de todo el mundo es una forma de ayudar a los niños a comprender otros lugares, personas y culturas. Como parte de la unidad de Ciudadanía global de Big Heart World, hemos adaptado cuentos populares que se originaron en culturas de cada continente. Cada cuento nos enseña algo sobre las personas que contaron la historia originalmente. Léalos con su hijo, hable sobre los orígenes de la historia y disfrute de las actividades asociadas para ayudar a su hijo a convertirse en un ciudadano global.

December 14, 2021 by Dana Stewart 0 Comments

The Big Heart Global Story Map

Click on a continent to visit, read its folktale, and play the activities. 

For years, as a preschool teacher and then school leader, I was privileged to work in a truly global school community. One year, we had seven different languages represented in a class of fourteen students. While this presented some communication challenges, the overall experience was a tremendous learning opportunity for everyone. The mixing of cultures, words, foods, and ideas was exciting for children and teachers alike.

Global citizenship is a BIG idea for all of us. 

As adults, we are able to recognize ourselves as a part of a global community that needs to take steps to care for all of its members near and far. When we step out of our day-to-day routines and look at the bigger picture, we are able to see how we are all connected; living on the same planet, breathing the same air, and using resources from around the globe. But how can we make these ideas accessible to our children?

The youngest children, up until about the age of three, are naturally focused on themselves. They don’t have the cognitive ability to recognize that people can have different ideas, perspectives, hopes, and dreams. Even at that tender age, and continuing on through childhood, exposing children to people and cultures from around the world helps to bridge that gap. With time, children will grow to understand that there are multiple ways of viewing and experiencing the world, and that no one way is the “right” way. 

Reading stories from around the world is one way to help children to understand other places, people, and cultures. As part of Big Heart World’s Global Citizenship unit, we’ve adapted folk tales that originated with cultures from each continent. Each tale teaches us something about the people who told the story originally. Read them with your child, talk about the story’s origins,  and enjoy the associated activities to help your child become a global citizen.

October 4, 2021 by Bob McKinnon 0 Comments

What Story Will Our Children Tell About These Last 18 Months?

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”  This is the famous mantra at the heart of the classic children’s book, The Little Engine that Could.

If ever we needed to encourage our children to believe in themselves and work hard to “make it over the mountain,” it has been these last eighteen months.  

Teachers, parents, and, most of all, students, have been asked to overcome a myriad of unprecedented challenges. We don’t need to list them here as, unfortunately, we all know them all too well. 

Yet while all have had to work hard to overcome these barriers to learning, we also know that some have had more to overcome than others. It will be years before we can fully understand how far some have fallen behind others. 

I wrote Three Little Engines, an update of the classic, well before the pandemic hit, but its core messages seem prescient and instructive today. While the original asked children to believe in themselves (“I think I can…”), Three Little Engines also asks us all to also believe in AND help each other (“I think we can…”).

The Story Goes Like This

It’s graduation day. In order to graduate, three little engines have to make their first solo trip over the mountain, where friends and family wait to celebrate. The Little Blue Engine goes first and makes her way up the mountain, repeating to herself “I think I can” as she chugs up the slope. With clear skies and a positive spirit, she makes her way relatively easily to the other side. But her two friends are nowhere to be seen. 

Unbeknownst to her, they have traveled on different tracks with different challenges. The Yellow Engine was caught in a terrible storm, and the Red Engine was stopped by a fallen tree on her tracks. Neither can make it over the mountain to join her for their graduation celebration.  

Initially, the Little Blue Engine is confused and frustrated. Did her friends quit?  Did they not work as hard as she did?  

It is only when prompted by some questions from her teacher, the Rusty Old Engine, does she reflect on how their journey may have been different from her own. They did indeed work very hard and didn’t quit. Rather they just had more obstacles and needed a little more help. With this realization, she is determined to go back up the mountain to help her friends get to the celebration. 

Three Little Engines' Lessons

In the spirit of the Big Heart World framework, the book underscores three opportunities for parents, educators, and children:

  • Learning About Me — How do we help children understand their own journey these last eighteen months?  
  • Learning About You — How do we encourage children to see how others’ journeys may have been different from theirs? 
  • Learning About Us — How do we create the space for children to seek help for themselves or offer help for others?   

This first asks us to have an honest conversation about “attribution” — what internal or external factors have contributed to where we are right now? The second encourages curiosity and empathy. The final requires bravery and kindness. 

It has been inspiring to read this book to young children and hear their reaction. They talk about what “trees that have fallen on their track” and who helped to remove them (thank you teachers and parents!). When asked which engine they’d most like to be, most say the Little Blue Engine.  Not because her trip over the mountain was easier but because they want to be the one who goes back up the mountain to help their friends. They “get” that the other engines didn’t quit but just needed a little help — and, importantly, that it’s okay to ask for help. 

As most kids are back in school, there may be a sense that things are getting back to normal (masks notwithstanding).  Understandably, the majority of energy will be to move forward, to make up for lost learning and missed time.  

Yet we know how important stories are for our children. It is a primary way in which they make sense of their world.  Which story they tell about this challenging time may depend on what stories we help them create today.

July 4, 2021 by Becki Last 0 Comments

Friendship Starts with Kindness: 5 Books For Your Home or Classroom Library

Friends

Do you remember how you met your childhood best friend? Not where or when you met them, but how you met them?

Did you bond over a favorite crayon or say “hi” at the swings? Maybe they invited you to their lunch table in the cafeteria? As with any relationship, friendships start with kindness.

Where do children learn these important life lessons?

Children mimic what they see IRL, but books are also a great resource to help model important qualities of friendship like kindness, compassion, generosity, and self-esteem.

First Book’s mission focuses on educator support to provide equal access to education; however, many of our resources also support families. Our guides and resources support a variety of topics, including friendship and emotional development. These books would be a great addition to a classroom or home library.

First Book's Friendship Book Picks

To celebrate July’s Big Heart World Friendship theme, our title selection team has hand-picked five picture books that are ideal for children in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

Eligible educators, supporting Title I schools and organizations, can shop this collection on our Marketplace for brand-new books at a reduced cost. Families can shop these titles and support First Book through Bookshop.org.

Friendship Starts With Kindness!

Children Reading
June 2, 2021 by Becki Last 0 Comments

First Book Tips for Building a Diverse and Inclusive Home or Classroom Library

Reading Together

The end of the school year and the start of summer is a great time to spruce up your bookshelf and evaluate if your home or classroom library celebrates and explores different identities and lived experiences. 

Sprucing up the books on your shelves can create welcoming environments for learning. If you’re in a classroom, that means you’re welcoming ALL students to develop self-awareness, confidence, and pride. If you’re at home, you’ll help your child learn about the similarities, differences, and expand his or her appreciation of others. 

Britt Hawthorne, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator, writes that these questions can help to evaluate a library: “Who is being recognized, represented, and affirmed? Who is being ignored, silenced, and pushed out?” She says “library evaluation” is an important annual activity  that ensures titles are inclusive and represent ideas that help teachers, parents, and caregivers facilitate important conversations about similarities, differences, friendship, race, upstanding, and more. 

Evaluating Your Bookshelf

Many educators in First Book’s Network have shared how they turn bookshelf evaluation into a full classroom activity, allowing students to choose books that appeal to them. Parents can conduct the same activity and ask their children to find books that highlight similarities and differences between people.

When we listen to children, we can more easily spot gaps in the stories on our bookshelves and adjust to fill those gaps. 

For educators who are still in a primarily virtual classroom, you can evaluate your bookshelf independently using tips from FirstBook’s Empowering Educators: Guidebook on Race & Racism. On pages 29-31, you’ll find recommendations for using an anti-bias and antiracist approach to selecting books.

Explore the Storyline

Sprucing up your bookshelf is not a pass or fail test for a book collection. Of course, you should strongly consider removing books that perpetuate harmful stereotypes or invisibility. But there are many fine books that you might consider removing if they don’t contribute to the right overall mix of stories. 

  1. Here are some questions you might consider asking as you evaluate the books in your home or classroom library:Does a single story or narrative about a group dominate? For example, books that feature Indigenous or Native American people should include more than folktales from the past, and books that feature African Americans should include more than stories about overcoming oppression.
  2. Do we have stories that take place in different geographical settings?
  3. Do I have books that celebrate different religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, nonreligious traditions, etc.)?
  4. Do we have books with main characters from different countries?
  5. Do we have books about Black, Indigenous, or people of color that promote self-love and joy?
  6. Do we have books that include a variety of family structures, e.g., nuclear families, blended families, multigenerational families, single-parent families, same-sex-parent families, and childless families, etc.

Please note: If you’re at HOME and not at a school, it’s good to know your gaps so you can think about books to consider buying or checking out of the library in the future. 

Start Cleaning and Restocking Your Bookshelf

As with any sort of clean-up process, getting started is the hardest part. You can do it!

Once you’ve cleared your bookshelf and you’re ready to shop for new, more inclusive, anti-racist titles, eligible educators can visit the Marketplace to discover diversity and inclusion titles as part of FirstBook’s Stories for All Project™. To help you get started, we’ve identified five special edition books educators teaching in Title I schools and programs can add at a reduced cost. (Learn more about these on our list of book recommendations.) 

  1. Bilal Cooks Daal, written by Aisha Saeed and illustrated by Anoosha Syed
  2. Mommy’s Khimar, written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn
  3. Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
  4. Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat
  5. Alma and How She Got Her Name, written by Juana Martinez-Neal (also available in Spanish)

You can also shop by culture, religion, special needs, language, and more. FirstBook’s collection is designed to help educators engage students in effective, courageous conversations about race and social justice. 

If you aren’t an eligible educator teaching in a Title I school or program, you can still purchase these titles while supporting First Book through our Bookshop store, with 10% of your order donated directly to First Book. You can also explore more featured titles and collections via our other Bookshop collections.

FirstBook

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 500,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

For more information, visit firstbook.org or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.