A book club with diverse texts can help kids be curious enough to ask honest questions about a neighbor's culture without judging it.
Having grown up in a Ghanaian family in England, I know all too well how not seeing realistic images of one's life can create a sense of isolation in a kid. Moreover, kids love hearing stories they've never heard before—they're often excited and inspired by hearing something new. For those two reasons, I founded Awesome Little Beings, a series of storytime sessions for kids up to five-years-old that feature stories from all over the world, but mainly from the Global South—Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
I was inspired to start Awesome Little Beings because I was struck by how much my baby daughter and her friends loved being read to by our local librarian. As a result of being read to regularly, she gets excited every time she sees a book. She doesn't have to read the book, she just loves pulling books from shelves, picking one she likes the look of, and turning the pages. Then she'll point at the pictures and babble away. I have no idea what she's saying, but I know she's telling me something.
Knowing how quickly children pick up on things, I was also struck by how few of the stories chosen during these sessions reflected the cultural diversity of my community. This isn't a critique of librarians—I know how committed they are to encouraging a love of reading. However, literacy encompasses more than reading a book. There's is another objective: to promote cultural literacy. I see cultural literacy as having the ability to see that all cultures have equal value. It means being curious enough to ask honest questions about your neighbor's culture without judging it. It means being respectful with the fact that your neighbor lives life like you do, just with a different flavor.
We work with various organizations across Los Angeles and often collaborate with Message Media Ed, a social enterprise professional development training organization that promotes media literacy in the African American community. They're hosting our next session on Saturday, July 27 and we'll be heading to a toy store on Los Angeles' Miracle Mile for our August 24 meet-up.
So far the reaction to Awesome Little Beings has been great and it's been journey of discovery for all involved. I've enjoyed seeking out new stories, songs and games. Our sessions are lively and fun—I always get the adults singing along and the kids love discovering the new stories too. In the middle of one session, a boy turned to his mom and asked if she could get him a cardboard box. He wanted to make his own cardboard box plan and car, just like the protagonist in Deborah Bruss' book Big Box for Ben.
As for the parents? I've been thanked and I've even been told that what I'm doing is an act of love. I guess it is—I love seeing kids realize that they can participate, be creative, and most of all, realize that someone sees them. I'm committed to sharing these stories as much as I can.
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