Reading for Joy…and for Cross-Racial Understanding: How My Daughter and I Are Learning Together in a Parent-Child Book Club
How comfortable are you with people whose backgrounds differ from yours? Are you confident that you can engage respectfully with people from different identity groups?
In the last few years, many of us—especially White folks—have woken up to the limits of our own cultural competence. Maybe we’ve been called out for something we’ve said or done that caused harm to a friend or a colleague. Maybe we’ve witnessed someone else get called out for a microaggression or learned about microaggressions at a diversity training, and realized that we have done the same exact thing. Maybe we have discovered that a word that we commonly use is considered offensive.
Those of us who are parents may be wondering how we can help our children do and be better than we are. We want our children to respond to diversity with respect and empathy, yet we fear that they will unintentionally say or do something that causes harm. How can we help our children navigate a diverse society, when we ourselves still have so much to learn?
Over the past 18 months, my daughter and I have been growing our cross-racial and cross-cultural understanding side by side. It has been a joyful experience.
In the spring of 2021 Kids for Racial Justice sponsored a parent workshop on “Reading for Joy: Using Books to Promote Children’s Cross-Racial Understanding.” We were honored to have Dr. Renata Love Jones and Dr. Nicholl Montgomery—brilliant, Black, language and literacy scholars, and educators— share their wisdom about the importance of centering joy rather than trauma when learning about other communities. They taught us that searching out joy allows us to see a people’s full complexity, beauty, genius, and humanity.
Inspired by their message, as well as their delight in discussing children’s books by authors of color, I organized a “Reading for Joy” Parent/Child book club in my community. My 11-year old daughter and I have been joined by four of her friends and their parents. Over the course of our first year, I selected four books for the group to read. The books varied in genre including realistic fiction, fantasy, and humor. One was a graphic novel. All were written by authors of color and all centered joy.
The book club meets on leisurely Sunday afternoons, usually in person, once on Zoom. We share food, we catch up, we laugh, we play, and we discuss the books that we have read.
Our book discussions cover a lot of territory. There is time for the children and parents to raise the questions on their minds and time for me to bring up topics that will help us build empathy, respect, and connection across differences. We delve into both the characters and their contexts with the goal of deepening cross-racial understanding. We talk about the characters that we relate to, how we are similar and dissimilar from them, and what motivates their actions. We explore cultural, political, and historical contexts through conversations about and quick Google research into language, culture, and history.
In May, we gathered to discuss New Kid, a graphic novel by Jerry Craft that uses humor, even as it illustrates the many microaggressions that its young protagonist experiences as one of only a few Black students at an elite prep school. Our conversation included much laughter about the comedic parts of the book, as well as serious discussion about the stereotyping and other microaggressions that Jordan endures. The children practiced recognizing, questioning, and standing up to microaggressions. The adults reflected on times when we ourselves have committed microaggressions similar to those in the books, and thought about how we can do better ourselves and how we can speak up when we witness microaggressions.
We learned. We laughed. We loved our time together. And we started planning for another year of joyful reading.
What are you going to do?
As the winter holidays approach, are you going to add joyful books by authors from a community other than your own to your holiday shopping list? Our Reading for Joy resources, developed by Dr. Jones and Dr. Montgomery, include book suggestions for Pre K–8th graders. We also have helpful guidelines for selecting books about communities other than your own and for engaging your child in conversation about these books.
Are you curious about starting a Reading for Joy book club in your own community? If so, get in touch to learn more about the model.