Yesterday I was talking with a school librarian friend in her office when a third grade teacher came by requesting a picture book about “inclusion.” It’s only the third week of school, and already a group of children were attempting to exclude other children. I kept thinking about how early that impulse starts. And also about how just the right book can get a terrific conversation going among children.
One by Kathryn Otoshi is a great conversation-starter. Not only does Otoshi explore the idea of bullying for very young children, she also reveals how bullies gain power. It’s not by brute force; it’s by subtle acts of cruelty that chip away at a child’s (or adult’s) self-esteem. Red, the bully, continues to insult Blue until he shrinks down to nearly nothing. The bystanders in this book (the other characters—Yellow, Green, Purple, Orange) become complicit in Red’s rise to power because they are silent. They do not stand up for Blue. How many atrocities can we attribute to this turn of events?
But Otoshi gives children a powerful truth: It only takes One. How much sweeping change has come from one person joining with another to take on the people of power? The conductors on the Underground Railroad, women laborers who went on strike after the Triangle Waist Factory fire, the families all over Europe who hid Jews during the Holocaust, the young people who staged sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. History is full of examples of brave people often acting alone with their own conscience.
Even for young children, one act of kindness can make a difference: sitting next to a child who's alone at the lunch table, inviting someone to join a game at recess, showing the ropes to a new student, opening the door for someone whose hands are full. That third-grade teacher was onto something. What a great way to begin the school year, to think about all the ways we can make each other feel included.