At a recent workshop in Chicago I was talking about the picture book Unlovable by Dan Yaccarino, which is about Alfred, a pug who is made to feel inferior by a cat, a parrot, and the other neighborhood dogs. When a new dog moves in next door, he helps Alfred realize he is fine just the way he is. The best of books are always about more than one subject and some of the subjects this story explores are: being true to yourself, boasting, bullies, friendship, lying, sense of self, and a “shaky” self-esteem. In the course of the conversation a participant said that she didn’t think a book for children should include topics such as lying and judging people on outward appearances—she didn’t want a book to plant those negative ideas. She wanted books that were sweet and showed the world in a positive light. My response is that I want books that reflect all aspects of life—the good and the not so good. Lying and judging people unfairly are part of childhood and to have those topics in a story which sets up the opportunity to have a conversation to explore those issues is a gift for parents. Stories that offer a glimpse of both the best and the worst of human nature put events in a larger context, allowing parents and children to have more meaningful conversations.
Parents want their children to feel safe, but traumas, natural disasters, wars, and racism are all part of the world. The urge is not to talk with children about subjects that are difficult, but the reality is that your children will learn about these subjects, and if not from you, then from someone else. And that “someone else” is not going to have the conversations you want to have with your child.
You can only protect your children from reality for so long and even then you don’t protect them from life’s more unpleasant sides. I am a big believer that information is power and I think most parents want to have conversations with their children about what matters.
I am from the school of Reb Nachman who said: “Others might tell stories to put you to sleep, but I tell stories to wake you up.