Beyond FUN: BENJAMIN AND THE WORD by Daniel Olivas and THE NEW BEAR ON THE BLOCK by Staci Schwartz, M.D.
Benjamin and the Word by Daniel Olivas fits in this special category. When Benjamin becomes upset after a friend calls him a particular word, he finds solace by talking with his dad. Benjamin’s dad encourages his son to be proud of his heritage of Mexican as well as Russian-Jewish descent. He also encourages Benjamin to talk to his friend about what was said and why such words upset him so much. A simple story that explores complex issues of “bigotry, racial dualities, and cultural difference,” Benjamin and the Word also features watercolor illustrations that complement the soothing, encouraging words of Benjamin’s wise father.
Daniel Olivas is a poet, lawyer, and dad whose writings appear regularly in the Los Angeles Times’ Kids Reading Room section and on La Bloga. He’s written various books and most recently edited Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature. (Yes, one for the TBR list! The cover alone is amazing.)
Philadelphia physician, parent, and children’s author Staci Schwartz uses friendly forest animals to tell the story of a small bear who’s not only new to his neighborhood, but has broken his glasses in The New Bear on the Block. Misunderstandings arise when neighbors consider the bear rude due to his odd behavior (caused not because he’s impolite but simply because he can’t see well; boy do I know that feeling!) and shun him. Luckily the town optician is also a wise turtle who discovers in his new neighbor a kind friend deserving of all the town animals’ understanding and forgiveness.
The risk of incorrect first impressions, damaging assumptions, and misread reactions of a new person in a neighborhood or school setting are examined in this tale of tolerance and kindness. Staci Schwartz notes that she often reads The New Bear on the Block to children in grades pre-K through third grade, while older children use it to facilitate discussions about making judgments about other people. “So many children…switch schools several times in grade school,” Staci notes. “Some of the helpful discussions I have had with the kids in the classrooms are about how they can make a new kid in the class or community feel welcome.”
Isn’t that one of the most important things kids ought to learn in school?