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Kansas City librarians say books can help tackle tough subjects

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While children might be learning about Black History Month in school, experts said that is a great starting point to continue those conversations at home.

And talk to children about racism and racial injustice in an age-appropriate manner can be as simple as sitting down with the right books, according to local librarians.

Molly Doroba, an early learning librarian at the Kansas City Public Library, said for children 5 years old and younger, the focus should be on teaching empathy.

“So, keeping books in your house or checking books out of the library that has kids of different races,” she said. “So, especially this month celebrating Black children and Black parents.”

However, she said that is important year-round, not just in February.

Regardless of race, Doroba said reading about other children performing everyday tasks helps younger children see similarities rather than different skin tones. For minorities, it’s especially important to find representation in their reading material, she said, specifically noting “I am Every Good Thing” by Derrick Barnes.

“The goal of this book is just to celebrate how incredible young Black boys are,” Doroba said.

Melanie Fuemmeler, Johnson County Library Elementary Coordinator, said that is equally important for older elementary and junior high age children. When it comes to race, books can service windows, mirrors, or sliding glass doors, according to Fuemmeler.

“Thinking about windows, how can we see other perspectives through books? Mirrors, how do I see myself in literature?” she said. “And the sliding glass doors, being those books that you have to take us to different places.”

Johnson County Library offers a community matters book club where parents and children read the same book then come together for library-led discussions. The Johnson County Library also will host a race webinar in March, which will include “This Book is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell.

“It’s great because it does a lot of the educating about what the experience is for Brown and Black people in our communities and then asks you to reflect alongside it,” Fuemmeler said.

She also said it’s important to talk about these subjects in safe spaces with guidance. And, as her fellow Johnson County librarian Tiffiany Rinne points out, children will read, see and hear about these issues on their own as they get older.

“To deny them the ability to look into a book and see a window or a mirror, it’s really a disservice for teens,” Rinne said, adding that at this age students are able to tackle difficult topics, from gun violence to shootings.

Rinne said fiction and nonfiction works can help teens process their feelings surrounding race and racial injustice.

And for Black teenagers, she said, it’s important for them to find Black authors.

“I know a lot of writers we’re reading today say they’re writing because they didn’t see anybody like themselves, they had to read books about white protagonists, which they enjoyed. But, it wasn’t someone like them,” Rinne said.

Meanwhile, it’s just as important for white teens to read stories written by someone with a different perspective, according to Rinne.

This story was first published by Caitlin Knute at KSHB.

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