Guest post by Lori Gaon, children's book author and PR consultant
We all know it's tough to distinguish what's real and what’s not on the Internet these days. As I read through my social media updates and glance at the hard-to-resist headlines just baiting me to click them, I repeatedly have to remind myself that not everything you read is true. That's a hard message for me to digest as an adult. It's that much harder to explain this to a child. As a parent, teaching life lessons is more of a challenge than ever.
I think it's time we as a society take a step back. Back to the land of children's books. Back to when the message was something we could take in, think about it for a moment and learn something, a teachable moment if you will.
I read to my three-year old son every night, and try to find a grain of wisdom in every book. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a classic children’s story of the evolution of a caterpillar from an egg to butterfly, demonstrating that Mother Nature can produce beauty and inspiring creations. It’s hard to argue with the truths of Mother Nature.
Another favorite of mine is Olivia by Ian Falconer. If I were in need of a friend, I would want to befriend this no-nonsense, stubborn, but fun-loving pig. With all her antics and outfit changes, it is hard for my son to not identify with her energetic ways. She exhausts herself and her family before finally settling down to dream about the day. Olivia dreams of being an onstage performer; my son says he becomes a fireman superhero each night. We chat about the importance of sleep, so he can wake up the next day to challenge us all again the next day.
I also have a daughter in seventh grade. Reading is part of who she is, and she says she’d rather read kids’ books than newspapers or online news because she likes the messages and education that she gets from books versus the “awful things that are reported on everyday.” She goes on to say that she cannot resist the ads and headlines on the computer screen when she researches something for school and claims to always get sucked into the “webiverse” and it wastes valuable homework time. She is in similar company—according to an NPR report from 2016, “More than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that 'sponsored content' was a real news story” and click.
One book she cited as a fav could definitely teach us a thing or two. The Truth About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, is an adolescent story of two friends who were very close as children, but then grew apart. Tragedy struck and one girl drowned. The surviving friend was fixated on the cause of her death because her friend was a strong swimmer, so she launched into a scientific study on jellyfish stings. Given the STEM push for girls, this book sends positivity messages all over the place.
I realize that life lessons cannot be taught solely through children’s books, but should come from a balance of reliable sources, family, school, etc. Most children's books are written with a message that is believable, simple and straightforward-- and until we remember this in our PR and media world, I think I’ll adopt my daughter’s view, and stick to children’s books for my development and life lessons these days. And, I think I’ll start a side business—educating kids (or really everyone) to read like fact checkers.