Thirty-five years ago we bought a toy store. As we added books, we created a section that dealt with issues in children’s lives. A great example is On Mother’s Lap, written by a Friend, Ann Scott. In it she explores the displacement a toddler can feel when a new baby arrives, reassuring that there is always room on mother’s lap. We delighted in stocking issues titles. People would come in asking for a book about . . . adoption, bullying, death, depression, disabilities, divorce, gender, race, etc. This is where a sensitive bookseller or librarian finds the joy of connecting a person with just the right book.
Does your meeting library have a selection of “Issues for Children and Teens” books? Such books often speak to the needs of adults as well as children and can be useful for First-day school. They may not be the books everyone wants to read aloud over and over, but they serve as important conversation openers. The audience for these includes teachers, youth workers, grandparents, and any other adult who interacts with youth, so not having a First-day school shouldn’t excuse your meeting from doing this. Just having these books isn’t enough. Someone should know the collection and have the confidence to recommend titles. Meeting library managers can ask committees and families to suggest appropriate picture books and chapter books. Local librarians and independent booksellers can help you keep up with new publications.
Consider holding an adult education session on issues books in general or on a selected topic. We suggest the following format: Gather in worship with a stack of children’s issue books. Each person selects a book. Allow ten to fifteen minutes for reading and reflection. Ask each person to give a brief book review. People may also comment on their personal experience with these and similar books. Close by reshelving the books.
Recently we thought about children’s books that deal with death when we were offered to review a picture-story book titled The Story of the Bear by Lisa Scheller and illustrated by Linda Shaw, with a note from the young Friends book review editor that it might not be easy. The inner story speaks to a specific issue: the decision of a grandfather to choose when and how he will end his life. Children can feel hurt or responsible when this happens. Suicide can be hard to talk about, even among adults. This book provides a good opening to that conversation. Our favorite story about choosing when to die is Come Again in the Spring, by Richard Kennedy, where Old Hark’s childhood memories are key to outwitting Death. For a more realistic book about the aging and death of a bear, we recommend Old Mother Bear by Victoria Miles. Scheller, who attends Oread Meeting in Lawrence, Kans., has made her pivotal character an anthropomorphic grandfather bear who feels overwhelmed and has lost the will to live. This may give the story a more universal allegorical feel or a safer distance from the lives of children, but for us, that weakens the story. We did like the way she framed the story as a storyteller sharing it with children around a campfire, and the illustrations support the story well.
In addition to The Story of the Bear, a session on death and loss could also include the following titles: Annie and the Old One, Badger’s Parting Gifts, Come Again in the Spring, Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth, Old Mother Bear, Samsara Dog, Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India, Snowflakes Fall, A Taste of Blackberries, Tear Soup, and The Tenth Good Thing about Barney.