We all know it’s tough to distinguish what’s real and what’s not on the Internet these days. As I read through my social media updates and glance at the alluring headlines just baiting me to click, I have to remind myself that not everything I read is truth. That’s a hard message for me to digest as an adult. It’s that much harder to explain this to a child. As a parent, teaching life lessons is more challenging than ever.
I think it’s time we as a society take a step back — to the land of children’s books. Back to when the message was something we could take in, think about for a moment and learn from, a teachable moment if you will.
I read to my three-year old son every night, and try to find a grain of wisdom in every book. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a classic children’s story of the beauty and creativity Mother Nature reveals in the evolution of a caterpillar from egg to butterfly. If “seeing is believing,” it’s hard to argue with the truths of Mother Nature.
Another favorite of mine is Olivia by Ian Falconer. If I were in need of a friend, I would choose this no-nonsense, stubborn, but fun-loving pig. With all her antics and outfit changes, she exhausts herself and her family before finally settling down to dream. My son identifies with her energy: Olivia dreams of being an onstage performer; my son says he becomes a fireman superhero each night. We chat about the importance of sleep, so he can wake up tomorrow to challenge us all over again.
I also have a daughter, a seventh grader and an avid reader. She says she’d rather read kids’ books than newspapers or online news because she prefers the education she gets from books to the “awful things that are reported every day.” She says she cannot resist the ads and headlines on the computer screen when doing school research, and claims she gets sucked into the “webiverse,” wasting valuable homework time. She has plenty of company—according to an NPR report from 2016, “More than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that ‘sponsored content’ was a real news story,” and clicked.
One book my daughter lists as a fav could definitely teach us a thing or two. The Truth About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, is an adolescent story of two friends who were very close as children, but then grew apart. Tragedy struck and one girl drowned. The surviving friend was fixated on the cause of death because her friend was a strong swimmer, so she launched into a scientific study of jellyfish stings. Given the current push advocating STEM for girls, this book ranks high in “positivity” messages.
I realize life lessons cannot be taught solely through children’s books, rather, they should come from a balance of reliable sources: family, school, etc. Still, most children’s books do deliver a message that is believable, simple and straightforward– and until this standard is consistently met in PR and the media, I think I’ll adopt my daughter’s view, and stick to children’s books for life lessons.
And maybe I’ll start a side business educating kids – or better yet, everyone – to read like fact checkers.