Previous posts this week have focused on the ways that Censorship Divides Us. That phrase is one half of this year’s Banned Books Week theme. The other is Books Unite Us and that got me thinking about the ways that books can, indeed, connect us to others, as well as about some organizations focused on community building (and, not so incidentally, literacy).
In some cases, the effort to offer affirming ideas is obvious. Just Help: How to Build a Better World by Sonia Sotomayor and Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World by Nikki Tate were written for children. Allies: Real Talk about Showing up, Screwing up, and Trying Again, edited by Shakirah Bourne and Dana Levy and Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community, were created for teens. All four titles offer explicit advice about how to create connections between individuals to improve the lives of all.
Sometimes, the message is clear but the presentation is more nuanced. One of my favorite books of the last few years, The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, fits into this category. A teal-colored, amorphously-shaped stranger encounters three animals whose initial response is suspicion and distrust.
Readers may be surprised and heartened by the animals’ reactions once they have taken the time to learn a bit more about the new resident. And they just might also absorb a gentle lesson about how to be welcoming in real life. (This title is available on hoopla as well as in libraries.) Another picture book that highlights friendliness and generosity is Oge Mora’s Thank You, Omu!
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds are story collections for older readers that highlight relationships, close as well as tangential, among kids and between kids and the adults in their communities.
Flying Lessons and Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh, a co-founder of We Need Diverse Books likewise offers glimpses into children’s lives that will leave readers with a richer understanding of themselves and others.
But what about us grown-ups? Not to worry, there are plentiful ways for books and stories to knit us together. Check out Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting & Building Community One Dish at a Time by Janet Elsbach or Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World by Jennie Allen.
And if your reading (or watching or listening) inspires you to action, consider volunteering for one of these amazing local organizations:
- Hello Neighbor – “a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization founded in 2017 committed to supporting recently resettled refugee and immigrant families.”
- Immigrant Services & Connections (ISAC) – “a five agency partnership headed by Jewish Family and Community Services, and all agencies are experts in serving the growing immigrant community. Partners include Casa San Jose (a program of the Sisters of St. Joseph), Literacy Pittsburgh, Family and Immigrant Connections of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, and South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM).”
- Literacy Pittsburgh – “Since 1982, Literacy Pittsburgh has been creating better lives through learning in the greater Pittsburgh area. With the generous support of our local community, students gain economic self-sufficiency and a brighter future for themselves and their families.”
Whatever you choose to read, cook, do or explore, we look forward to helping you find the resources that you need to make the connections that will enrich all of our lives.
See you at the library (one way or another).