I was lucky enough to attend this year’s national White Privilege Conference, which was held in Seattle. (Really, I can’t say enough good things about how the organization I work for, Arts Corps, sent our entire staff to this conference.) I was excited to see that the illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien was going to be speaking about using picture books to talk with kids about class. What a rare intersection of my interests in children’s books, social justice and education!
The workshop was rough. A lot of participants spoke up right from the beginning to voice their discomfort and there was tension in the room. But Anne Sibley O’Brien was clear that this work was like walking on thin ice and she fully expects to make mistakes and fall through that ice again and again.
I find it to be a stark contrast as I’m looking forward to the SCBWI conference next weekend. I know it will be comfortable, it will be polite, but there will also be invisible complexities of race and class and privilege that, more often than not, will never be mentioned. I really appreciate how Anne Sibley O’Brien is working to break this silence in the world of picture books.
I’ll just leave you with my favorite take away from the workshop.
This book, A Chair For My Mother, by Vera B. Williams, is about a little girl whose mother works very hard as a waitress in a diner. After a fire in their apartment that destroyed all of their belongings, they are saving up to buy a soft, comfortable armchair.
When you are reading a book like this one with a child, rather than bringing your agenda to the conversation, why not ask, “What do you see? What do you notice?” and then follow up with “Why do you think that?” You’ll probably be surprised at their level honesty and empathy.
Apparently 75% of families fail to talk to kids about race and class, and a book like this might be a place to start.