Xavier Riddle, Harriet Tubman, and Brad Meltzer

My children love Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum.  Xavier Riddle is important to me specifically because of its work in representation, which I’ll share about during another post.  Xavier Riddle was important to us as a family before Xavier existed, because of Brad Meltzer.  Episodes of this excellent show are designed with Meltzer’s “I am” books in mind.  Our oldest loves biographies, trivia, dates and names.  He asked Santa for a dictionary.  Meltzer’s I am Harriet Tubman was released several years back and reading it with my son aloud in a public library was enlightening to say the least.  The other white moms there with their kids left, especially after I answered questions regarding whippings and overseers on plantations.  By the time I finished reading it, the only person remaining near the children’s area was a librarian, watching from a distance.  This librarian is special for reasons I didn’t know then.  She was once a girl who attended this very same library when it was the only library in town she was allowed to go to.  Meltzer’s books are unique, because they share difficult facts about history in ways that are more accessible to children.  At least two of his books involving famous people of color have already been banned.  I knew I had done something important as I saw the librarian nod at me with approval.  It wasn’t until Meltzer’s books were under the microscope of current events and politics that I realized why it was important.  Instead of deterring my child from reading something painful, I helped him do it.  Instead of sugarcoating the answers regarding the abuse of slaves, I answered honestly.  When I became uncomfortable while reading and my son asked why, I told him that it is hard to talk about the ways humans hurt each other, but that we should still talk about it.  I didn’t know the librarian had been watching and listening, and maybe that’s why she knew my answers were genuine.  Since that day, this librarian has gone out of her way to include my family.  Two months into the beginning of the pandemic, she left a voicemail to see if we were ok.  She knows my kids’ names and she knows what they want to read.  When they tell her about their good grades, she heaps praise on them.  She was always a fantastic librarian, but when she caught me teaching my son the truth when I thought no one was looking, we became allies.  Validating the stories of other people is where working together begins in earnest.  You can say you’re behind racial equality as many times as you want, but if you leave during a children’s story about Harriet Tubman or prevent kids from reading about Rosa Parks, you’ve let everyone know that equality for you still means that you decide what is true or not.  I didn’t do anything remarkable that day in the library.  I read a book with my kid, like you do in a library.  I didn’t read or say anything that should have resulted in anyone leaving.  Implicit bias is a dangerous thing that hides in all sorts of places.  It easily takes the form of choosing that certain history is just too much to talk about.  The books in Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series have led to more and more biographies, more difficult questions, and more challenges over breakfast than probably any other series of illustrated books we’ve explored.  Over oatmeal, after reading a chapter to both boys about Abraham Lincoln from a different set of history books we also love and I’ll share later, my youngest asked if his peach colored skin meant he would have owned one of his friends with coffee colored skin, if they were kids back before the Civil War.  After I said, yes, you might have owned him, or he might have been owned by someone else, he quietly chewed several more bites of his peaches and cream.  After a while, he simply said, “I don’t like that.  No one should own anyone.”  This is why I tell my kids the facts I wish weren’t true.  They need to know the world they live in, because this is how they’ll learn to make it better.  

By chance of being in the right place at the right time, I’m learning more about which school districts in Georgia provide assistance to families in need. There are things the government will help pay for and things it won’t, but that doesn’t change that need still exists. Places like Sara Spano help with needs that can’t truly be addressed during the typical school day, but still drastically impact a child’s success and stability. The Sara Spano Clothing Bank focuses on providing clothing, as its name suggests, but it does need books.  This is not a public request they make, because they need clothing first.  When you offer, they absolutely want books.  If families are struggling to clothe their children, they probably don’t have the financial flexibility to buy books or spend the money to drive to and from the library.  In an ideal world, books wouldn’t be a luxury, but they are.  Please consider donating some books to Sara Spano through Amazon.  Your donation will provide some excellent history picture books to some families in need, help me with some coffee change since I’m an Amazon associate and do earn a little bit through qualifying purchases, and you’ll help Brad Meltzer continue to make amazing books.  These are not books that should be banned, and I’d like to show him support.  I firmly believe he would love it if his books were donated to kids in this manner or to Little Libraries all over the country, just as he helped the two women in the article I linked to earlier.  I’m sure he’d want kids everywhere to have a book they didn’t have to return, a book they could write their name in and read every day as many times as they wanted. You can also purchase the books and bring them to your favorite librarian and ask them if they know a child or children who needs books. I have no doubt that a librarian knows just who to give your donation too.

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