Friday, May 25, 2018

Book Nook: Catalina and the King's Wall

I recently had a chance to review Catalina and the King's Wall, a cute little book about a prejudiced king and his inventive cook. Catalina's family lives in a country far away. The king decides he doesn't like people he doesn't knows, and orders a wall built. Catalina is distraught - her family can't come to visit if there's a wall. So she suggests all sorts of unsuitable materials for the wall, sprinkles that blow away and sweets that melt in the rain. Then she suggests cookie dough - and unfortunately it holds tight! Until she comes up with a plan....

It's a great book to introduce ideas of curiosity over prejudice, as well as creative thinking. I had a chance to interview the author to learn more.
  • Why did you decide to write this book?
I was inspired to write this book after I took my son to my local women’s march in January 2017 following the combative U.S. presidential election. I stood with him on that cold and snowy day and wondered: What kind of world was he born into? How will he learn to always be kind? I was deeply concerned, yet hopeful because of the turnout at the march. I wrote my book to help parents discuss these questions with their kids in a fun story format that children can relate to.
  • Why is it so important to break down walls early?
As a neuroscientist who studies implicit cognition, or unconscious influences of knowledge, perception, and memory on our social judgments and actions, I am well aware of the research on both implicit and explicit biases. Implicit bias means that you may have an unconscious bias toward something that you don’t explicitly believe (i.e., you may be associate Black with something bad and White with something good or you may associate female with homemaking and male with a career). Explicit bias means that you overtly are biased against a group of people that are different from you and may stereotype or discriminate. What is interesting is that implicit biases show up in children as young as three years old, and their patterns of implicit bias responses are statistically indistinguishable from adults. Researchers believe that this is due to an automatic preference from a very young age for our own “in group” as well as an implicit preference for the higher-status group. A lot of research studies have also demonstrated that kids see race very early on. They are not “colorblind” as many parents would like to believe. Kids see age, size, gender … why wouldn’t they see race?

Therefore, I believe that it’s important to break down “walls” that may separate us from people who are different from us, whether that’s race, religion, gender preference, etc. 
  • How can parents use this book to encourage curiosity about people who are different?
Parents can have a conversation with their kids about the family that is in my book (they are Muslim, and Catalina’s mom wears a Hijab). Parents can point out different people in storybooks in general and discuss what that means; parents can both affirm and answer children’s questions about race, which makes it less of a scary topic for them. Parents should encourage their children to ask questions (well, a lot of kids don’t need encouragement, which is a good thing, but it can be daunting for parents to talk about race).
Dana and Lindsey of suggest:
  • Treat talking bout race the same way you do boy-girl stereotypes. Just like we point out women who are doctors, astronauts, construction workers, we can tell children that people of any skin color can be those things too.  Enforce this message often.
  • Don’t shush kids when they say embarrassing or racist things. Their brains are prone to categorization.  When we shush them or shut down the conversation, we are telling them that race is a scary topic.  Instead, engage them in a conversation and directly explain their fallacy.
  • Help children of color develop a sense of ethnic pride.  Studies have found improved self-confidence when this occurs. White children will “naturally decipher that they belong to the race that has more power, wealth, and control in society…so a pride message would not just be abhorrent – it’d be redundant.”
Some other resources for talking to kids about race:

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