Mar 26, 2012

As the Song Says...They've Got To Be Carefully Taught

I'm back this week to give a shout-out to another Nerdy Book Club post, this one by Sherry Hall on March 23. From the count of comments, Twitter, and Facebook forwards it generated, I'm not the only one who was touched by her moving story of the power of reading to and with our children.

Parents (and teachers) often question our individual decisions, but it is the message delivered by our day-to-day examples, encouragements, and even casual comments that filter into young lives and shape them, for better or for worse.

With that in mind, and in honor of March Madness, I'll illustrate my point with a picture book from the year 2000- SALT IN HIS SHOES: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream, by his mother, Deloris Jordan and sister Rosalyn M. Jordan, illustrated by the incomparable Kadir Nelson. If you don't know this title and share my automatic skepticism when it comes to the quality of "celebrity" publications, let me assure you this one is worth a closer look.

It's likely the current generation's Michael Jordan can be seen among the many amazing athletes we are witnessing on the journey from the initial 64 to the final four face-offs during March Madness. If so, he has no doubt devoted his young life to the love and practice of basketball, but also was born with physical gifts far beyond the norm.
This was true for young Michael as well. If you read the acknowledgements in this book you'll find among them his mother's appreciation for Michael's own efforts and his siblings' support, all of which contributed to his success.

This is the story of Michael's frustration at being shorter than the older kids on his brothers' team. The beauty of this episode is not in his mother's advice, but in the success generated by practice, faith, his mother's encouragement, his father's confidence, and his siblings' trust. Detailed reviews of the book can be found at Miss Ladybug's blog and Excellent Kids' Books blog.

Much like the message in Sherry Hall's post, Michael absorbed the rich benefits of his family's support not in a single episode, but over the course of his lifetime.

Since this is still Women's History month, I'll dip back into my bookshelves and take a look at WILMA UNLIMITED: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by the also incomparable David Diaz. Born the twentieth child of a poor black family in Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilma was sickly, struggling, then stricken with polio. Her innate independence was bolstered by a mother who never gave up and siblings who recognized and appreciated her strength. Once again, not a single incident but a lifetime of love supported Wilma as she learned to play basketball by watching, won a track scholarship by playing basketball, and became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.

Beneath the weakness of her early years Wilma, like Michael, no doubt had a genetic package that allowed her efforts to reach that high achievement. But, oh, imagine the invaluable contribution to her success that can be attributed to her family's love and values.

At the risk of becoming preachy (which none of the above references do) I'll share the lyrics of a song from South Pacific. I do so with one eye toward Sherry's reminder about reading with children, and another aimed at the current and upcoming political venom that fills the airwaves, social media, and our conversations. Let's remain aware of young listeners in our families and classes who are learning by the way we read, speak, act, and react.

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Please, read to and with children every day, every age. See in them our future. And stay mindful of the seeds we plant day by day.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.