Does a book earn a thumbs-down if it makes a child cry? Perhaps book characters offer young readers a chance to feel seen and comforted by the thought “I’m not the only one…”, or feelings of empathy for experiences such as bullying, racial or gender profiling, mental or physical challenges, or poverty.
You might be thinking an examination of sad stories is untimely during the holiday season. Some children experience visions of cheer, warm hearths, twinkling lights, sweet treats, and precious family time during the holidays. For other kids, these joyful visions are not their truth at all.
It’s important for children lucky enough to have a childhood filled with security and happiness to understand the circumstances which other children live in and deal with. For children with tough realities, it’s critical to feel seen. In the wake of #MeToo and #OwnVoices (or “natural tongue”, as described by author Jason Reynolds), children need to gain insight into the world as it really is, and historically, as it really was. How else is change going to happen?
The announcements for the best children’s books of the year (Youth Media Awards) is right around the corner: January 27, 2020. Many of the top, unforgettable works of children’s literature published in 2019 have heartbreaking themes. They are also authentic and they are necessary.
Two of the most important things we can do to help to set children on a path to success is to develop resilience and empathy. Reading and listening to authentic stories to learn more about themselves and the world around them is a great way to improve perspective-taking, inspire reflection, and offer an open door for conversation.
Authentic stories can ease the sting of sadness, fear, and anxiety from the realities of the world today. The salient narratives help to normalize emotions as being okay.
You can’t fully appreciate happiness without experience of sadness – feelings are part of the human condition. If your reader reaches for a tissue, smile. There is vital social and emotional learning and development in progress!
A few unforgettable examples for middle graders
“All I want kids to know is that I see them for who they are and not who everyone thinks they are,” he says. He is committed, he says, to getting their stories right — “and putting that on the page with integrity and balance, to acknowledge the glory and the brokenness. That’s all I want to do. It’s a lot, but so are they.” ~Jason Reynolds, author
De la Pena, Matt. (2018, January 9). Why we shouldn’t shield children from darkness. Time.com [website]
DiCamillo, Kate. (2018, January 12). Why Children’s Books Should Be a Little Sad. Time.com [online article]
Krug, Nora. (2017, October 23). How a kid who didn’t read a book until he was 17 grew up to become a literary star. The Washington Post [online article]
Snyder, Laurel. (2019, November/December). Uneasy Reading: On Keeping Company with Very Sad Books. The Horn Book Magazine, p 39-41.
Photo courtesy of JerryCraft.com