Like many this week, I’ve been gutted by the news of the 215 unmarked graves discovered at a Kamloops residential school. The experts believe that Indigenous children as young as three are buried there. Children who were taken from their families, neglected, abused, and then hidden from history.
It must have been a small group of massively determined people in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation who — despite the government’s denial of funding and despite the lack of public attention — refused to rest until the children were found. That kind of commitment is what shifts the world. Indeed, the federal government today pledged to support efforts to search other residential school grounds.
In an ideal world, the activism shown by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation wouldn’t be necessary. But in our far-from-ideal world, I’m grateful for their work.
If you’re discussing the news with your students or your children, look to this book list by David A. Robertson for resources. There are also recommendations on 49th Kids.
You can donate to support residential school survivors here. And survivors who need support are encouraged to call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.
It was a little odd speaking to myself in my family room and assuming — in other rooms in other places around the continent — there were people laughing at my jokes. But it was also fun to talk about my newest book, This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes. And apparently, 1200 people tuned in. (Thank goodness no one told me that until after my presentation!)
This is Your Brain on Stereotypes is officially on store shelves this week (in real life and virtually). It’s all about the ways bias works inside our brains, sometimes without us consciously realizing.
I was talking to my mom a while ago about tennis (my favourite) and golf (hers). The games have one similarity: they involve getting intensely frustrated with a small, round, inanimate object.
“But I always try to remember that I’m paying for the privilege of chasing a little white ball around a field,” Mom told me.
She’s quite clever, my mom.
Since I choose to play tennis, there’s no sense throwing my racquet at the net. (I only do that in my imagination, even at the worst of times.) Likewise, I choose to write, so there’s no sense tearing up my notebook or tearing out my hair.
I wouldn’t say this has been the easiest writing season ever. It seems like approximately a hundred years since I was last alone in the house. The world outside is on fire. It’s hard to write a scene about a group of middle-grade students cheating on a math test, and believe the scene has any purpose or worth.
I’ve taken to carrying my notebook, my coffee, and a blanket to the far corner of the back deck and closing the door behind me. If I’m lucky, no one finds me for twenty minutes or so. Then I mutter the words “choice” and “privilege” and try to fill a page or two.
You might think I’m all about serious issues these days, since I’ve been posting about Black Lives Matter and stereotypes and pandemics.
Well, rest assured, my life is just as ridiculous as ever.
About five days ago, we got a puppy. His name is Coby (short for Cobra Kyi, for those of you who are martial arts nerds like my family members). He is small, cute, and very demanding.
My house is now carpeted in pee pads and dog toys. My days are spent wrestling over sock ownership. And my nights are spent shlepping the little guy outside every few hours, whenever he starts to whine.
A couple nights ago, I carried him downstairs at 3 a.m. I pointed him toward a safe place to pee. Then I sat down — in my nightgown — on the threshold of my house.
On top of a bee.
That’s right. I sat on a bee at 3 a.m.
And it hurt! I haven’t been stung in years, and I forgot how much it… well… stings!
“What was a bee doing on your doorstep?” my friend said, when I told her the story.
Presumably, he was sleeping. Which is something I hope Coby and I manage to do, too, sometime soon.
As protests continue over systemic racism and the death of George Floyd, there has been a flurry of social media posts listing children’s books by diverse authors.
It can be easy to give these posts an eye-roll. What good can book lists do in the face of centuries of oppression?
Often, when we talk about children’s books with diverse characters, we talk about how important it is for all readers to see themselves and their lives reflected in the stories they read. I know I was always thrilled to find books with Asian protagonists, so I could share them with my Burmese-Canadian kids. I didn’t want Silence and Violence growing up feeling like books were only about white kids.
But books can do much, much more than reflect one’s own experiences. And books with diverse characters are not only for readers of colour. They’re for all of us.
First, because they keep us from repeating the mistakes of history. For a few years now, my daughter has been suggesting that schools replace their current eighth-grade English curriculum with The Hate You Give, Moxie, and Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda. (This would definitely be an improvement on The Red Pony, which is what I remember reading in high school.)
The police officers who are reacting so violently to protesters… would their reactions be different if they had spent eighth grade on a deep reading of The Hate You Give? One can certainly hope so.
The diverse books on our reading lists don’t all have to focus on big issues, either. They don’t have to be political. We should give our kids books about Black characters playing instruments, about Indigenous characters solving mysteries, about people of color falling in love for the first time.
Let me put on my science hat here.
Way back in 1954, a guy named Gordon Allport published The Nature of Prejudice. He made a suggestion: if people hang out together as equals, they discover they have things in common. They learn that everyone’s human. They grow less likely to stereotype.
Researchers have since taken Gordon’s guess and turned it into science. First, they gave it a fancy name: the contact hypothesis. Next, they designed experiments to see if it was true. They did more than 200 studies in twenty-five countries. They probed the biases and reactions of 90,000 people. What they found: 94 percent of the time, contact between groups reduced prejudice.
But maybe you live in a tiny town, with a homogeneous population. Maybe your school isn’t diverse. Well, good news. Researchers at Canada’s McGill University found that reading books about friends who have different ethnicities can also help reduce prejudice.
When my social media feeds are full of pandemic news, and my TV reflects a world on fire, and it seems impossible for any one person to make a difference, reading serves as my refuge, gives me windows to new ways of thinking, and allows me hope for the future.
I’m so happy to think of kids finding all of these things in their books. And if I were to give advice to a young person overwhelmed by the recent changes in the world, I would say, “Disappear into a book for a while. See what you discover there.”
We’ve launched a newsletter, and our second edition is coming out within the next few days. You can sign up here.
AND, we have an online writing workshop coming up! Kallie George will be hosting on Sunday, May 3rd, as we delve into the writing and editing of picture books. There’s still time to register, and lots more information at Ink Well Vancouver.
My friend Stacey sent me an email the other day. I know this is late, she wrote, but time is a social construct.
So true, especially these days! I always tease my husband for planning his life in eight-minute increments. Suddenly, he’s home for hours at a time. (At this moment, he’s practicing with his speedbag in the garage. Let’s blame any typos on the fact the house is shaking, shall we?)
My kids actually seem happier without the daily routine of school. Yesterday, my daughter wrote an essay, finished a project, made lemon tarts, sewed some masks, and trounced us in Settlers of Catan. My son has been doing 3D modelling tutorials. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know he turned my Me and Banksy cover into this squirrel…
… which James McCann then 3D printed for us, creating this…
I love the layers of creativity happening!
I always think I’m going to be more productive when I have acres of undistributed time, but often — as is now proving the case — I get more accomplished when my writing hours are limited. I’ve been working on a picture book, I’m almost finished a proposal, and I have a manuscript due in a couple months.
I’m assuming everything will get done, somehow. Because work, like time, is a social concept. Right? It’s just all happening a bit differently these days!