Looking to books to talk about race with kids
If you want to learn how to talk about race, check out a children's book.
That's the sentiment that Tasha Nins, a children's librarian for the Ramsey County Library, has offered to adult patrons seeking help on how to talk to children about race and social justice in the months since the nationwide unrest after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis in May.
The uptick in requests for such books hasn't surprised her and when the library was open pre-pandemic, she loved overhearing adult patrons recommending children's books to other adults for them to read or for their children to read.
Before Floyd's death there was a slow shift happening "with families coming in and saying, 'I would like something other than Winnie-the-Pooh' " to broaden their children's experiences. Nins said all she can do is hope people are checking out these books for learning and not just posting on Instagram.
"We do hope that there are parents reading these books with their children, because I think a lot of times parents and caregivers don't have the answers and they're scared to broach the subject," Nins said. "Even if they don't have the answers, children's books can start those conversations and can lead to more learning for the adults and the children."
Nins pointed out that librarians are navigating this moment as their employers, often deemed an ultimate community haven, are trying to do anti-racism work to address the lack of diversity in the field. They also are doing work on which books librarians are recommending, what kind of books are they buying, being more cautious about how they're treating their patrons and researching what policies have different effects on people of different ages and races.
Nins said she and other Black librarians have not pivoted from the books they were typically recommending before Floyd's death.
In her own household, with her husband and three children, reading has continued to be important.
Her oldest son just finished "Stamped" by Jason Reynolds, and her daughter is reading "The Bridge Home" by Padma Venkatraman. Her youngest son is learning to read, and Nins said as she's gone out to buy books to help him with reading, she has made a point to find ones with Black children in them. Most children's bookshelves feature animals or white children.
She said that as the pandemic has continued, parents have filled out a special form on what books they are looking for and the requests have included books on race but also on dealing with emotions.
Part of the job for Nins and other librarians in recent months has included doing the important but delicate dance with parents and caregivers about children's books to potentially recommend. She pointed out that sometimes they gently but pointedly ask parents: "Is your kid not reading, or are they not reading things you want them to read?"
The requests for books on race and social justice for children have slowed since the summer — something Nins was not surprised by. She said she'll be more surprised if people maintain their commitment to seeking and reading these books.
"Checking out a book doesn't mean you're going to solve racism," Nins said. "What I am hoping is that more people hold each other accountable for this further learning. I'm hoping more and more people do the reading and more and more people have this conversation with their children about race so there aren't such big gaps as a society."
Marissa Evans • 612-673-4280