Storytime for Social Justice


    🕮    Storytime Underground, a blog and Facebook group for children's librarians, challenged participants to use their storytimes to make the world a fairer place. As the organizers said, "Take a moment to think about what you can do to help teach empathy and inclusiveness in your programming." These goals are represented by the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedakah (justice). The hashtag #storytimejusticewarrior helps us find examples from storytime providers everywhere.

During the week following Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my storytime theme was skin, its functions and colors. I particularly enjoy using puppets to teach this concept. This pair of puppets from Sunny and Co. offer a great Venn diagram of intersecting comparisons and contrasts. Their hair is the same color but different styles. Their clothing both includes denim but for different items. I love it that the boy puppet is the one who has jewelry on, flipping gender expectations. Having these puppets lead a discussion about "same and different" puts skin in perspective as one of many things that makes us each unique yet unifies us too. After puppet time, we read Shades of People by Shelley Rotner, so we could see real skin tones of real people. We followed up with My Nose, Your Nose by Melanie Walsh and The Belly Book by Fran Manushkin, which both combine a celebration of diversity and universality.

I work with mostly white, affluent preschool children in a synagogue setting, and I struggle with how to introduce social justice concepts to them in a relatable way. I hope that by making them aware of skin's function, and by celebrating its many forms, I can lay the groundwork for them to become fair-minded and unbiased people as they grow up. It's an uphill battle, because the backdrop of this well-intended lesson is systemic racism, and I fear that my efforts may do little in that context. This article, "For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids" urges us to confront the issue of race more directly. I have not yet found the courage to do so with other people's 2-5 year olds. I'd love to hear from other storytime providers who have found a way to have a truly substantive conversation with children about race and racism.