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article imageChildren’s books teach important lessons on accepting differences

A variety of children's books, from The Juicy Adventures to And Tango Makes Three, impart these lessons in children from a young age.
Children form ideas about themselves and others early in life, which means its never too early to begin teaching critical anti-bias lessons. As Kristen Howerton notes in the Parents section of The Huffington Post, "At a certain age, all kids are prone to leaving others out based on external factors. This can be gender, race, disability, etc. I think kids need help to overcome this natural tendency to seek out 'sameness.'"
Books are one way to help introduce children to the concepts of diversity and accepting differences. Common differences that most of us, both children and adults, see on a daily basis involve family composition, skin color, religious affiliations, sexual orientation, and the outward appearance of people in general.
These realities are addressed subtly or directly in a variety of classic and contemporary books written for kids. A.A. Milne, for example, brought a diverse set of characters together in The Hundred Acre Wood. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) features a good-natured bear (Pooh), a gloomy donkey named Eeyore, a boy named Christopher Robin, and a number of other friends who learn to value their differences and love each other as they make their way in life.
Fast-forward to 1952 and a farm that is home to a pig named Wilbur. E.B. White's Charlotte's Web covers a number of themes including how unlikely friendships, like one with a spider named Charlotte, can save a pig's life.
Animals are also the subject of a more contemporary children's book titled And Tango Makes Three (2005). Authors Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell tell the true story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who hatched a chick together at New York's Central Park Zoo. A zookeeper named the new addition to the family Tango. As the Publishers Weekly Review stated, "This tender story can also serve as a gentle jumping-off point for discussions about same-sex partnerships in human society."
When asked what inspired him to bring contemporary issues into children's literature, Arthur Perez, author of the recently-published children's book The Juicy Adventures: The Banana Bandits (2014), said, "The inspiration for the book really comes from my daughter. My daughter suffers from a few problems, and I think I based the story largely around her and how she was suffering from skin disorders, alopecia, asthma, and her favorite fruit was pears. So the main character of the book is a pear who takes a positive approach to rotting and going bad. He is really working to take a positive approach to his life as it stands today."
What inspires people to write children's books greatly differs from writer to writer. Milne was inspired by a collection of his son?s, Christopher Robin's, stuffed toys. White's inspiration began with a walk into a barn, where he saw a spider web. Theodor Geisel - that is to say, Dr. Seuss - was inspired to write his all-time classic The Cat in the Hat by a 1954 article in Life magazine that "bemoaned the fact that the terminally dull Dick-and-Jane-style books used in classrooms at the time were so boring that they were undermining attempts to teach kids to read." Dr. Seuss went on to write a great number of children's books including The Sneetches and Other Stories, which is among those featured in a NY Metro Parents Magazine list of books that teach children about diversity and tolerance.
In The Juicy Adventures, Perez introduces readers to the characters of Pogo, a rotting pear, and his sidekick, Lightspeed Ninja Pea, who set out on an adventure to return Pogo to his previous pear splendor. In this case, Perez was inspired to write the book because his daughter suffered from alopecia, a hair-loss condition. The focus of the book is on the value of friendship for individuals who perceive themselves as s best friend, a pea, is with him through the first 46 attempts to fix Pogo￿s rotting issues. What young readers will find in The Juicy Adventures: The Banana Bandits is that optimism is truly, truly great, but loyal friendship is even better.
Children's books having an educational element is something that Perez feels is fundamental, and this principle is directly related to his inspiration for writing The Juicy Adventures.
"I think it's absolutely important for children's books to have some sort of educational aspect to them," said Perez. "I started the idea of the book to convey to my daughter that everyone is unique, and being different is okay, just like all the fruits and vegetables in my story are unique and different."
As with And Tango Makes Three, the stories in other children's books can serve as a "gentle jumping-off point for discussions." If the subject is multi-racial families, Mixed Blessing: A Children's Book About a Multi-Racial Family (2012) might be the appropriate starting point. Talking with children about divorce is the theme of Was It the Chocolate Pudding?: A Story for Little Kids about Divorce (2005). A longer list of books concerning how to teach kids about race and racism can be found here.
In the end, as Kid World Citizen states, "teaching tolerance to kids will help raise compassionate adults." Using children's books filled with valuable lessons is one of many ways to start the discussion.
More about Literature, Children, Reading, the juicy adventures, arthur perez
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