I never know how to respond when there are horrors in the news. I’m a picture book author. What can I say about a terrorist attack in New Zealand?
I am sure that Mister Rogers would have known what to say. He wouldn’t have tried to hide the horrors from the children. Instead, he would have redirected them. He would have told the children that, when they saw scary things, they should look for the helpers.
It’s pretty much the same thing that G.K. Chesterton said. He understood that children know that horrors exist. Children know that there are dragons. He said that children needed stories that would teach them that, when they face dragons, they will find St. George beside them.
The dragon that ravaged New Zealand on Friday was hate. Hate for anything that was unlike its dragonish self. Hate that seethed with fire until it spewed out death and destruction.
It’s our job to be St. George for our children. It’s our job to face hate, to destroy its power. It’s our job to replace hate with love.
The power of stories
And how do we do that? Chesterton believed in the power of fairy tales and stories. He thought that stories were how children learned that it was possible to face dragons with faith. Stories are where we learn that we can conquer evil with love.
And who is it that we need to learn to love? Jesus was pretty clear on that. It’s not enough to love the people who love us, and to be friendly with the people who are like us. We have to love everyone, and to be good to everyone, with the same fierce indiscriminate love that God pours on everyone.
But we can’t we love people that we don’t know. To love other people, we have to spend time with them. We have to learn their habits and their customs and their quirks. We have to share what they eat and read what they read until we can begin to dream their dreams with them.
This is why I write picture books – because, like Chesterton, I believe in the power of stories.
Stories introduce us to people we might not otherwise get a chance to know. And the joy that children have in stories spills over into the people those stories are about.
When Orthodox Christian children read stories about Orthodox Christian children like Catherine and Elizabeth celebrating Pascha, they are overjoyed to see people like themselves in stories. And that’s important. But it’s even more important that our children read stories about children that aren’t like themselves, and find joy in those stories, too. Because those stories will help them learn to love and cherish people who aren’t like themselves.
Stories about people who aren’t like us
Where do we start in reading stories about people who aren’t like us? Given that the dragon in New Zealand poured hate onto Muslim people, it seems like a good time to read stories about Muslim people with your children. Of course you want to read stories about Orthodox Christians with your children. I’ve got a whole list of them. And during Lent, you’ll want to read stories about people celebrating Easter. I have a list of Easter books, too.
But you should also make it a point to read books about Muslim people. While your children are fasting, they can learn about the way that their Muslim neighbors fast. Zachariah’s Perfect Day is a delightful and relatable story to start with. And here’s a list of more Ramadan books from the Colours of Us blog.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A review: When war and sorrow come to the city of Herat in Afghanistan, Nasreen feels like she’s lost everything. But she hasn’t lost her grandmother’s strength, or her grandmother’s love.
How to love strangers: Lessons in philoxenia: To overcome hate, we are called to cultivate the virtue that our Church calls philoxenia — love of the stranger. Hospitality. Welcome.
Teaching children with children’s books: Angela Isaacs, author of the board book I Pray Today, explains how she uses children’s books to teach her children the names of colors and animals and harder-to-teach things like love and compassion and dealing with bullies.