One of the best parts about literature is that you can spend the afternoon safely snuggled under a blanket with a cookie and a cup of tea, and still visit new worlds and experience far away triumphs and tragedies. I like to think that I have gained at least a little bit of life experience by living through stories created by the wisest authors and thinkers of yesteryear.
There are so many tough and ugly issues in this world that we have to help our kids face up to. There are so many important stories that NEED to be told to help children become empathetic and informed individuals in this modern age. A few issues in particular that come to mind are:
These can be tough issues, but never fear... A book list is here! All these books deal tastefully with important issues facing today's kids.
Hitler Youth - Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow
Maybe I'm an overreacting history geek, but I strongly believe that WWII is a period of history teeming with lessons to be learned and stories that need to be told. You know, it is kind of easy to over simplify the situation and say: "Yeah well, Hitler was a insane and evil. Evil people pop into history every once in a while. Good thing he is dead now." When we are mentally coping with the idea of 6 million+ innocent people being murdered, it is nice to be able to blame it on a single megalomaniac. It is a comfortable solution, I mean we are all familiar with Disney villains and such... it could happen.
Unfortunately Hitler did not personally slaughter 6 million innocent people. Thousands of guards, "doctors" and "nurses", citizens of Germany and other occupied countries, even German children went along with him. Some disagreed with his programs, but plugged their ears and covered their eyes from the truth so that they wouldn't have to do anything about it. Some went above and beyond their orders to inflict extra pain and suffering on the doomed lives of their victims.
Where did Hitler find thousands of ordinary people willing to help him with his heinous crimes? That is something historians are still debating on. Unfortunately the answer can be a little scary.
I'm not saying that another Hitler is going to pop up in the next few years ( although that could happen). But kids need to learn the story of WWII. It is a story of passive acceptance and following cruel orders with the justification that they were given by an authority. Hopefully, children who are familiar with this story will be able to develop their own moral compass to guide them through life. Hopefully they will learn to listen to this compass, not only under cruel dictatorships, but amongst office drama in the workplace and even bullying drama at school.
Sorry for the long rant. But I believe that this book is a great way to present propaganda, passive acceptance, and resistance to young readers. It follows ten or twelve children involved in the Hitler youth. Some followed Hitler to his death (and later regret it), others resist him (some giving up their lives for the sake of their morals). Although the formatting can be a little confusing, as it switches frequently from child to child in the stories it tells, the message is clear and it deserves a read.
The Giver - Lois Lowry
There are a lot of dystopian novels out there. Dystopian novels ( when done correctly ) serve a purpose. They take an aspect of our current society/culture and follow it to its slippery slope conclusion. By taking this extreme approach, they are able to uncover the subtle evils and dangers in a current political or social trend.
But Dystopian novels can also be thrilling and violent. This has lead many modern authors to create exhilarating dystopian adventures with absolutely no moral value (*cough*HungerGames-don'tkillmeforsayingthat*cough*). The Giver, like most novels in this category, can be a little crude, a little edgy. But it has important points that children can appreciate: 1. Pain, even though it can hurt, does serve a good purpose. And 2. Individuality, even if it can be annoying, makes life interesting.
Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
This may be a delightful children's story, but it also contains strong lessons that kids ( and adults ) could certainly learn from. For one thing, the spider is an awesome way to show that your life will have more meaning when you use it to help others. Just delightful.
Number the Stars - Lois Lowry
There are a whole lot of great WWII historical fiction novels out there. But this has got to be one of my all time favorites. The main character doesn't have to go to another world or become a secret agent to have a great adventure. She just lives an ordinary life, but when the time comes her brave (though small) actions make her a true hero. I remember closing this book thinking: "Wow! We kids can be heroes too. When the time comes, I hope I could do what she did." You know what? The time comes quite often. At school, at home, there are thousands of tiny opportunities to practice those hero skills. Being a hero really just means having the courage to put the interests of others above your personal wants and needs. Though this is a historic book with a great historic story, it is its message about small heroes that really sets it apart.
Bridge to Terebithia - Katherine Patterson
This story is just great from beginning to end. From the weird kid, the bully, and friendship, to death and grieving, Patterson is able to tastefully deal with a host of hard issues that kids really care about.
Roll of Thunder hear my cry - Mildre
To me, this is a kid friendly version of "To Kill a Mockingbird". It helps kids understand and empathize with what African Americans in American History had to deal with. I would hope it would also encourage them to never passively stand by when they witness racist acts.
So there you have it. A few beautiful stories that desperately need to be told.