by Leslie Robertson
Our 5 year-old twins have been reading these books with their mamas for months now but it’s time to return them to the library. All three feature diverse characters and are overt in tackling broader social issues of either class or racism.
Last Stop on Market Street is a very sweet story of a young black boy and his Nana that starts with the boy asking why he has to take the bus when all of his friends have cars. Nana’s answer is ‘”Boy, what do you need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” Over the course of their bus ride the boy and his Nana interact with a variety of characters including the bus driver, a blind musician and a couple of teenagers. The boy does come to experience the beauty of the bus and all of the people he meets on his way to the soup kitchen.
Our kids are really interested in all the people on the bus and this book gets them talking about who we know that don’t have cars and why. It’s also just a great bed time book because it is full with calm and poetic descriptions of beautiful sites and sounds.
A Bike Like Sergio’s is on its face a lesson about how stealing is wrong, but it is more importantly a story about how some kids can afford fancy things while others can’t. The main character longs for a new bike like his friend has but understands that his family can’t afford expensive things. He then finds a $100 bill on the floor of a store, and takes it even though he knows who it belongs to. He plans to use it to buy himself a bike like Sergio’s but later he returns the money to the woman who lost it after realizing that his own mother struggles to pay for groceries every week herself.
Our kids really get into the relatable plot arch of this story, and are relieved that the money is returned in the end, but their mamas appreciate the book for how it addresses class and differing economic positions.
Something Happened in Our Town. This is a hard but important read that deals directly with police violence and the police killing of a young black man. The story centres around how both a black and a white family talk to their kids about the killing that took place in their town. Both families talk about how some people do bad things based on a wider societal misconception that black people are bad, there is even a brief explanation of slavery and its historical impact on how some people mistreat black people today. The black family goes on to explain to their kids that despite the ongoing mistreatment of black people that being black is good and something they are proud of.
The following day both kids end up defending a kid in their class who is picked on at recess for being different. The kids apply the lessons they learned from their parents about treating others with respect and being kind to one another.
This book is a great reminder that we need to have real and forthright talks with our kids about the impacts of racism and how they can apply these lessons throughout their lives. This story prompted our 2 kids to both ask a lot of questions about police and to think about the people in their lives who might be unfairly subjected to racism. This story left our 5-year-olds with a clear sense that racism exists, even at the hands of police, and that they have a responsibility to speak out against it.