How Diverse Are Our Books?

This summer our program for children is Rainbow Readers, a celebration of reading and sharing books we love.

Last Sunday the intersection between that program and our planned White Supremacy Teach-In took us to the true story of Marley Dias and #1000blackgirlbooks. Taking our cue from Marley, we then set out to sort and determine how diverse our own OUUC children’s book collection is.

 

The sorting process meant kids looked through books, and debated what diversity they saw in the books. Is a book about an African American girl right for the Gender pile or the Black People pile? The system we were using was imperfect!

Nonetheless, we found some interesting results:

  • The biggest pile by far was of books that didn’t have people in them! Books that were either about nature or had animal characters or completely made up imaginary beings form the majority of our collection.
  • We have a lot of books about religion/s for kids. That’s probably not surprising.
  • While we do have many books showing diverse skin colors, we still have a very tall pile of books that only have white people in them. Asian and Latino people were the least represented in our collection.
  • We do not have anywhere near enough books that feature diversity in ability, sexual orientation, or gender.

 

I’ll be shopping/accepting donations with those results in mind as I add more books to the collection.

Home Resources

Want to bring more diversity into your home library and reading?

Children’s Social Justice Work: Homelessness

Last year we introduced a new focus for the very end of the church year in the elementary class: a service project. After exploring our UU tradition and other religions all year, we end with Acting on our Faith: Nature in April and Service in May.

The service project was proposed and voted upon at the Children’s Annual Meeting, and this year the kids chose to do a service project to help EGYHOP. This means we will be exploring the issue of homelessness this month, and taking actions to assist people experiencing homelessness.

At the congregation we will pack care packages that kids can deliver themselves, run a supply drive for items on EGYHOP’s wishlist, and hold a Bake Sale to raise $ that will all be donated to EGYHOP. You can follow along at home as well:

  1. Learn more about homelessness:

Some lovely recommendations of picture books about hunger, homelessness, and poverty here. There is also a good list of books about people without homes and animals without homes at The Institute for Humane Education.

2. Talk about how you can respond to homelessness as a family. The issue of how to respond to panhandlers is especially acute for children … it presents an immediate dilemma and opportunity to practice compassion and yet they see so many adults look the other way. You may have good reasons to choose not to give money to panhandlers, but talk to your kids about why you’ve chosen that action.

3. Get Involved in the effort to aid people experiencing homelessness and reduce the number of people who become homeless. Locally there are many ways to get involved:

SideWalk

Tiny House Justice

Interfaith Works Emergency Shelter

and of course, EGYHOP

There are many additional options if you want to tackle poverty or hunger or medical care … all related issues for people experiencing homelessness

Ministerial Transition and Children

Our congregation is going through an unexpected ministerial transition right now, throwing many of us into a state of uncertainty, sadness, and confusion.

For the most part, our children and youth are less affected. But that doesn’t mean they are not affected at all, or that we should not talk about this departure with our youngest members.

Children were invited to write a farewell card to the Reverend and his wife last Sunday, just as the adults in our congregation were. It is important to get to say goodbye and to express both appreciation and gratitude for a person and grief at their absence.

We also released and said goodbye to our butterflies that we have been raising here at the congregation. The butterfly remains, while a clichéd symbol, a powerful symbol of transformation and new possibilities. We watched our caterpillars grow, go into a chrysalis and seem almost dead, and then emerge completely transformed into butterflies. We enjoyed our butterflies for a week, then knew that it was time to let them go, and watch them fly away.

This is a metaphor for change that children can understand, as they will if you share the book Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller. Farfallina is a caterpillar and a great friend to Marcel, a duckling, but one day Farfallina is gone. When she returns, Marcel doesn’t recognize her, but they become friends again all the same … here we have a gentle story about friendship enduring transformation and change.

Another story about change, loss, grief and death for young children is Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. Badger is a good friend to many, and when he dies peacefully one night, all his friends are sad. But when they gather to share their stories of Badger, they celebrate the gifts he left behind, and the precious ways he still lives on in their memories.

Neither of these books is a perfect match for what we are experiencing in the congregation right now, and we will not always find the perfect story for every possible occasion. But I believe that we need to explore stories like these with our children because they open a door of possibility for the children to tell their own stories … the story of how they are feeling, what they are wondering, what they have noticed and seen.

Share a story with your children, and then listen for their own. Don’t be afraid to wade out into deeper emotional waters … children have a depth of feeling and experience and just as much need to talk about it as adults do.

May we all find our way, through transition and transformation. Blessed Be.

 

The Story of Our Butterflies:

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Eggs were hatched into caterpillars who were gathered up and sent through the mail to our Director of Religious Education’s home (so they wouldn’t get too cold in case the church building was closed when they arrived). There were 33 caterpillars, all in one cup full of food. They were tiny!

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Each of those caterpillars needed to have its own space and its own food, much like we all need enough room and nurture in order to grow. We carefully moved them each into their own cup, with their own food.

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The caterpillars got larger and larger, while we checked on them every Sunday (and the DRE checked on them all week long), and then when they had eaten enough and were ready, they clung to the lid of the little home and formed a chrysalis. We took all the lids and put them into the butterfly net, so they would have more room when it was time to come out of those hard pods. We watched, and we waited, and we even began to worry because it was taking longer than we thought it would!

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And then the butterflies emerged! One by one they squirmed free of their chrysalides, unfolded their wings, and twitched and flapped them to get them dry and strong.

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We enjoyed watching our butterflies, and feeding them orange slices and sugar water.

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But butterflies can’t live in a net forever … they need to fly and find flowers and live their lives. So it was time to release our butterflies.

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One by one, they flew away. Goodbye butterflies!

Taking it Home: Sufism, Refugees, Confronting Islamophobia

Taking it Home:
 
1. With the “Muslim Ban” in the news right now, your kids have probably heard about it either from the media, from adults, or from other kids. Have you taken time to talk to them about it? What are their questions, thoughts, possibly fears?
2. Find some good books to help your kids understand the experience of being a refugee, or an immigrant.
3. Light a chalice as a family this week, with words inspired by the poet Rumi. Or sing together hymn #188, “Come, Come, Whoever You Are“.
4. Show your support of refugees and religious freedom, through the UUSC, the ACLU, or other organizations of your choice.
Try a Faith Adventure:
 
Sufism is a mystical tradition of Islam, in which practitioners seek to have a direct personal of experience of Allah as divine love.
How do you directly experience the divine/wonder-filled/transcendent/awesome? As Unitarian Universalists, we do not inherit certain practices, but can instead craft our own personally meaningful UU practice, as described in the curriculum Spirit in Practice. There are many possible practices: silent meditation, sacred dance, creating artconnecting to nature, and more!
This week, as a family, explore one or more spiritual practices. And then talk about it: how did it feel?, did it change how you experienced your day?, what was challenging?, would you want to continue with a practice?

Confronting Islamophobia

This month our children’s religious education classes are learning about Islam, and as part of that learning it is important that we discuss the rise of Islamophobia in our country. Here are some ideas and resources for beginning that work at home:

Taking it Home:
 
1. As a parent/guardian, consider how you respond to Islamophobia. This article from Teaching Tolerance may get you thinking about it.
3. When you notice depictions of Islam or Muslims that you disagree with (in popular media, the news, or political speech) speak up! The UUSC has gathered facts and tips for confronting hate speech.
Try a Faith Adventure:
 
Muslims pray five times a day, and we discussed prayer in class on Sunday. What is a Unitarian Universalist understanding of prayer? What is prayer? Who/what are we praying to? Why and how do we pray?
Explore prayer together this week!
A toolkit for your adventure:
Now, try praying as a family. Perhaps try a morning prayer as you all get ready to scatter and start your days, or an evening prayer at bedtime. Just try it out, for a week, and see how it feels. Talk about it: what was awkward, what was profound, how did you feel, what were the effects?

Preparing Your Children to Take Place in a March or Large Event

With the Women’s March approaching, there is a lot more discussion about how to include children in these large events, rallies, and marches. I encourage parents to take their children to engage in public witness and demonstration, but bring prepared will help!
Resources that already say it better than I can:
This article from Parent Map gives some helpful tips on preparing your kids for a large crowd event: https://www.parentmap.com/article/how-kids-political-marches-crowd
It also helps kids feel more prepared for an event if they have a sign to hold. Taking the time to discuss what the event is about and to create a sign that expresses the child’s own words will enrich their experience and the event.

 

Then – Have Fun and Be Safe!

Volunteering for Children and Youth

This month our middle and high school groups have each worked to help make this a community where no one goes hungry.
Our High School youth joined with adult members of OUUC to serve dinner at the Community Kitchen. This is a fantastic way to directly serve and welcome folks in for a warm meal.
Our Middle School youth volunteered at the Food Bank, helping to sort and pack the food for the Thanksgiving boxes. We were given the job of produce, and spent two hours working as fast as we could to put apples, potatoes, and onions in bags – it was a workout!
This was our way of sharing our abundance this month.
Interested in volunteering with your kids?
 
1. Here are some good tips about volunteering with children, from PBS Kids.
2. Many local organizations have age restrictions, but families can sometimes volunteer together. If you volunteer anywhere, ask if your kids could come along with you.
3. My favorite local organization for kid-friendly volunteering is Stream Team. Also, remember that kids can volunteer at church!
4. If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity for a certain age group or interest-area, Volunteer Match is a very useful tool.
The effort you make now to sow the seeds of compassion and caring in your kids can make a big difference in their lives!

Children and Youth Respond to the Election

Like the adults in our congregation and community, the children and youth were also very concerned about the election results last week, and what they mean for our country going forward. In our middle school group, we let go of the planned lesson for that week, and instead focused on the election and how everyone was feeling about it. We went down to the Division street sidewalk and wrote some community messages of hope and love, as well.
It’s just a start. There is much still to do, and there is still a lot of fear, sadness and anger for our children and youth to process (you adults too!).
Here are a few things you can do right now with your kids:
 
1. Talk about how you can respond to everyday bigotry when you encounter it. I highly recommend the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry guide for helpful ideas about how to speak up in a variety of different situations (with family, neighbors, etc.).
2. Consider wearing a safety pin, as a sign you are a “safe” person for marginalized people. If you are going to do that, be really intentional about it. There’s a great essay about what it really means to take on that symbol, which you should read. https://isobeldebrujah.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/so-you-want-to-wear-a-safety-pin/
3. Write a letter (they are more effective than emails) to let our legislators know how you feel about a specific issue you are worried about right now (Health Care, Immigration Justice, the Paris climate change agreement, etc).
4. Talk about what citizenship means between elections. Voting matters, but it’s not the only time we speak up for what is important to us. How can we continue to be active citizens and have our voices be heard? Start by reading Teaching Tolerance’s What to Say to Kids on November 10th and the Days After.

RE Sunday

Another year in our religious education program has come to a close. We celebrated the children, youth, and volunteers last Sunday with a worship service full of song, story, testimonials, and fun.

A Huge Thank You to the team of 20 volunteers and 5 staff who made this year a great success!