Cierra Anthony has one goal: to instill values through children’s books to her 1-year-old daughter, Legacy, before it’s too late.
The Southfield mom has been dedicated to reading to her daughter since before she was born. During her pregnancy, she put portable speakers near her growing stomach and read books aloud, including Brown Sugar Babe by Charlotte Watson Sherman and Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry. It was Anthony’s way of introducing her child to her culture and pouring self-love into her through reading books.
“As a mom of a Black baby girl I already knew that this was one of the many things I wanted to instill in my daughter and that was confidence,” Anthony says. “I remember being told my hair wasn’t the right texture or my skin wasn’t light enough growing up, so I focused on self-love books to teach my daughter.”
Kimberly Schaaf, director of Oak Park Public Library, agrees that books can provide tools and resources for kids to use to cope with a situations and even encourage moral values.
“Books can definitely serve as good conversation starters that parents can use to help kids cope with a variety of issues,” she says. “Sometimes kids are able to discuss a book character’s feelings easier than their own. For example, if kids are exposed to a book about bullying, they could be given an idea of how to handle that situation if they encounter it themselves.”
Or, for example, “if a child reads a book about a pet’s death, it may help them deal with the difficult feelings that it brings up, and if they don’t have a pet, it may help them be more supportive and understanding to a friend who loses a pet.”
A research study by Rowan University found children’s books can easily be used as models for appropriate social behavior. Not only do story books help children relate to characters and experiences on their intellectual and maturity level, but they also provide excellent examples to learn from, whether it is conflict resolution, sharing or daily activities.
Beyond broadening kids’ understanding of our world, books add to their vocabulary and give them information, too, Schaaf says.
“Books can help kids experience topics or situations they may not otherwise experience in their own lives, and conversely, may help them feel less alienated when they read about situations they are experiencing,” she says.
Picking out a book
Finding the right books has not always been an easy task for Anthony. For Legacy, Anthony aims to discover books based on her own personal experience and life lessons.
“Legacy has a really big collection of books but my three favorite books for her are Brown Sugar Babe, Hair Love and Dr. Seuss’s You Are Kind. These books focus on self-love and kindness,” she says.
“The difficult part about finding books for my baby is getting some that focuses on issues that she could personally encounter, for example having short curly textured hair,” says Anthony.
When Legacy’s hair fell out due to cradle cap, negative comments on social media made Anthony relive her own childhood nightmare. Yet, once Anthony decided to start reading confidence-building books to her daughter, the fear of her daughter having low-self-esteem went away.
Schaaf is certain that it is possible to spot a ‘good’ children’s book among the dizzying variety of titles and genres when trying to provide value in a child’s life.
“Individuals who have a goal in mind for their child’s reading experience may judge whether a book is “good” or not based on how well it achieves that goal,” Schaaf says. “If the goal is enjoyment, then the book is deemed good when the child enthusiastically wants to read another. If the goal is education on a particular subject, then the book is deemed good if it accomplishes that task.”
It does not have to be difficult when selecting a book to instill values in children, whether it’s generosity, kindness, honesty or individuality.
“It’s good to keep in mind that almost any book can help instill values if the parent converses with their child about the book’s content,” Schaaf says. “Asking questions such as, ‘What do you think about the book so far?’ opens the door for conversation where a parent can then explain what they think about the topic or plot.”
Parents Nikki Bruster and Alicia Chunn say they believe in allowing their children to select books on their own and make their own judgment on what values that they want to learn that day.
Bruster is mom to Ronin, 10, and Lilly, 6, and Chunn has one daughter, Navy, 5. These days their children are reading positive affirming books during story time at home.
“We do enjoy our classics, however I think it’s very important for children to see themselves as the hero,” says Bruster. “Until recently, there haven’t been too many stories that showed minority children illustrated as the protagonist, or girls, ones that feature stories of children who look like my littles.”
Bruster’s children look for stories of people who have overcome adversity or short biographies of men and women who have done great things. For Chunn’s daughter, she looks for stories more about people or children (or animals) who stand up and embrace being themselves.
“It’s a hard balance between finding a story that caters to your child’s creativity and preaching at kids,” Bruster says. “You want there to be a lesson, but not force a thought when it comes to values.”
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