Using books to discuss current events

The human experience is characterized by a wide range of emotions, which writers and illustrators have long sought to capture in books. Recent natural disasters and gun violence have caused many children to experience feelings of helplessness, confusion and even fear as they try to come to grips with these events.   

Parents and caregivers may be wondering how to talk to their children about the news in a way that does not make them feel frightened or confused. Books provide great opportunities for parents to start meaningful conversations with their children.     

Starting dialogue through stories    

Books are filled with emotions and experiences that children can relate to in their everyday lives. Parents can guide children in this process. When sharing a book, caregivers should try to connect what they are reading with what is familiar to their child. Good stories transport young children beyond their immediate home and neighborhood.  Sharing stories allows children to experience new places, people and events, whether they exist in real life or not. This is an opportunity for parents to start conversations about the nature of the world around them.   

The visual elements, or illustrations, in a storybook also give children unique perspectives that spark their imaginations. Most of all, these images help build emotional literacy. It’s often useful to walk children through the images in a picture book. Asking a variety of open-ended questions about what a child notices on the page helps encourage two-way conversation.   

Choosing the right stories to share  

There are many resources, both nationally and in the Pittsburgh community, that help parents choose the most appropriate books to share.     

When selecting books, consider booklists and suggestions from the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association. Talking with a librarian can also provide parents with fantastic new resources for finding free books to read with children.   

For instance, a group of local librarians collaborates each year to put together a series of booklists called Here to Help. An easily accessible online resource, Here to Help includes 35 lists on topics ranging from acceptance and feelings to safety and separation. Each list contains several books with engaging illustrations, relatable characters and plots designed to appeal to preschoolers and kindergartners.   

Seeing the diverse experiences represented in each book on the Here to Help lists allows young children to explore their own identities and, in the process, come to terms with feelings they may be experiencing. As parents share these stories with their children, they will gain new opportunities to talk about feelings – especially those children may have developed due to recent events. Local librarians created each booklist in response to questions from families regarding age-appropriate reading material.   

It’s perfectly normal for children to show concern over the recent tragedies that have gripped our country. Fortunately, resources in the community are helping parents start the right conversations through books.   

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