Around the beginning of the year, I picked up a few books at the library for the kids, grabbing a couple about Martin Luther King, Jr. along with some Caldecott Winners. A few days later, I grabbed a couple of those picture books from our stack to read at the lunch table.
I started with The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, which is a beautifully illustrated book about the man who walked on a high wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center. My boys found the book fascinating, right up to the last few pages, where the author talks about those towers no longer standing. I found myself explaining the attacks on September 11, 2001. They didn’t have much response, other than offering concerned faces and several times asking, “Why?”
The next book I picked up to read? Martin’s Big Words, which talks about the power of Dr. King’s words, but the end of the book talks about how he was killed. My boys instantly felt concern and confusion. Why would someone want to kill this powerful man? He died? Someone shot him?
At first I felt like Mom of the Wet Blanket, worried I might have doused my children in too much sadness for the day. Explaining assassination and terrorism at one lunch is a bit ambitious. However, we talked through both books. I answered questions, and then I found speeches of Dr. King on YouTube. We listened and watched these while coloring, and I talked about how one man used his words to change the world.
I know as parents that we want to protect our children from the sadness of the world, but I also know that they need to know how other people live and feel. My children need to experience a range of emotions within a safe context, where good and evil is easy to see. I’ve never believed in glossing over the truth with my kids: People are mean. Pets die. People die. Because of my family history (my dad passed away when I was only 16), I’ve always said that I want my children to have a healthy view of death, to know how to face grief and death without being afraid of it.
Reading sad books provides opportunities to talk about real life happenings.
I want my children to experience sadness, just as much as I want them to experience happiness. Without the complexities of emotion, would they really be experiencing life to the fullest? Knowing about sadness leads to understanding joy.