My copy of Little House on the Prairie is so well-loved that two entire sections of the book have fallen out. No matter; the words are all there. I wouldn’t trade that book for anything. When I finish reading each day, I stand up and go to each child on their nap mat and show them any illustrations. As careful as I am, those two sections often fall out onto the lap of a child. The children seem to understand that they represent the many years of children before them who heard the same words and reveled in the story. I think they feel included in that special group.
Chapter reading is more than the words we read. In our last chapter, Laura continues to ask about wanting to see a papoose. Ma talks about Indians. Her words clearly indicate that she does not like Indians. This is what happened:
Allie: “Jennie, what’s an Indian?”
Lincoln: “It’s somebody from another country.”
Me: “Yes. That’s true. Jaina’s family is from another country, from India. Jaina, please come here.”
Jaina stood up and came over to me. I smiled at her and pulled her close.
Me: “Jaina has beautiful black hair and dark skin, just like people from India. Ella does, too. And, just like the Indians in the story. But the Indians Ma talks about are Native American Indians, not Indians from India. Did you know that Native Americans were the first people in America? That is something!”
Long pause. Children were processing all of this. Jaina and Ella had families from India, but they were not the same Indians in the story.
Me: “Sometimes people are scared of somebody that looks different. Maybe that’s why Ma doesn’t like Indians.
Lucca: “Like Gloria! Just because she looks like a witch, it’s not okay to call her that. That’s mean.”
Me: “Yes, Lucca. You’re absolutely right. Gloria likes to wear black, has wrinkly skin and gray hair. She wears a pointy hat, too. But we all know she’s not a witch. Lucca, that is so nice. Come, so I can give you a hug.”
Lucca, wrapped in a big hug: “She’s shy, too.”
Low and behold, today’s chapter was “Indians in the House” and it helped to cement yesterday’s conversation. Two Indians came into Laura’s house, and she was scared. They were different, with darker skin and feathers in their hair. Yet, their eyes sparkled at Laura. The illustration, like Gloria, helped children to see the differences. Don’t judge a book (or person) by its cover.
And so it went. I knew this spontaneous conversation was far more important than any planned lesson in diversity or acceptance. You see, the real learning begins with the child. We just have to be aware and seize those moments. This happens all the time during chapter reading. It is wonderful!