Helping Children Cope:
Mirrors, Windows, and Doors.
by Kat Yeh
Once upon a time, there was a child who could not (would not) speak of certain things. Terrible things. Things of which no child should have to speak. And the words to describe the terrible things were tied up inside the child like wet string pulled so tight into knots that the child could not even imagine picking out enough to loosen it. To let those words out.
So the child pretended there were no words (no knotted words) and practiced how to appear smooth of face and calm of manner and how not to flinch during certain conversations.
At least on the outside…
One day, a wise one came to the village where the child lived. A wise one who taught the villagers to point at the terrible things inside them and to say them aloud in a voice clear and true and brave. And if they did this, they would set free the tangled knots. The wise one walked through the kingdom with kind eyes and open arms and many chose to point and speak (true and clear, for they were brave). And the wise one saw a child, smooth of face and calm of manner and asked if that child, too, would like to point and speak. The child saw the kind eyes and open arms.
But the child could not
(would not) speak.
* * *
I wish I could write that the child spoke. For sometimes, if we are lucky, he or she does. But, this is not a fairy tale. And some knots are too tight.
Many of us have known this child. We may have even been this child. Someone who needs to speak, who needs to connect, but doesn't know how. We wish we knew what to do. We try to be that wise one with kind eyes and open arms, but it doesn’t always work. And sometimes, we feel a little helpless.
I have been feeling a little helpless myself.
I have been preparing to speak on a panel titled "Help Children Cope: Real Life, Real Issues" on Wednesday, April 15th at the annual TLA Conference. And, honestly, I have been feeling all the feelings.
The first being gratitude. I am so grateful that the organizers believe I am a good choice to add to this panel of children's book authors to discuss my protagonist's struggles and my story's take on them. I am grateful that they could see beyond the fun title and prettily adorned cover of my middle grade debut, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE — and that behind all the pink frosting and humor, are issues that are, perhaps, less pink. And not the least bit humorous.
And often those who need to be seen (and heard) the most are the ones with the most adorned covers of all.
"Help Children Cope: Real Life, Real Issues." I look at this topic and think of how I wish every child could respond when a wise one offers. I wish they could find the bravery to point to the thing that is hurting them and speak the words clear and true and, in that magic moment, see and feel hope. Begin to learn that they do not deserve this. That they will rise above. That though there are things that they cannot control, they can control how they respond. And they can control what they do from here.
I wish for this, but I know it doesn't always work out that way.
Offer and ask as we might. Offer and ask as we might.
Then one day, the child found a book
that was more than a book…
We already know this. As writers and teachers and librarians and caretakers, we know the power of finding a book — and not just any book, but the book that offers more. How often have we heard the story of the child who found comfort in a beloved story — perhaps reading and rereading dozens of times — seeing that essential version of themselves? Taking solace in knowing the outcome of a story — or perhaps seeing the possibility of an alternate outcome in their own?
What we may not know is that this child, like all children, needs to be offered many different stories and to see many different outcomes. Not just the ones that mimic his or her life. But entirely different lives, too, with vastly different protagonists in completely different situations. Getting books — as many books and as many different kinds of books — into the hands of children is the equivalent of offering wider and wider world views. Along with generating empathy and social skills, reading diversely has the power to change attitudes — and, thus, outlooks. And new outlooks can change lives.
A book that reflects a child is a mirror.
A diverse offering is a window.
Many diverse offerings become doors. The more doors we offer, the more chance there is that a child will reach to open one and, in doing so, reach for new ways of thinking. Seeing. Analyzing. Untangling those knots.
It's a beginning.
From here, we hopeful wise ones must continue the act of offering — by offering chances to express. And again, offering many, many kinds. Whether it is through the magical speaking aloud of a thing and taking ownership. Or through art. Or writing. Or dance. The possibilities are endless. It is up to the child. And what is made available to them.
Help Children Cope: Real Life, Real Issues.
O wise ones, with your kind eyes and open arms. Please continue to offer and to ask. Offer and ask. Even when there is no answer.
Especially, when there is no answer. Because sometimes that silence, in and of itself, is all the answer you need.
So offer. Offer and ask. Never stop.
* * *
The child did not find many mirrors, but there were many, many windows and many, many doors. Sometimes she was offered them, and sometimes, she sought them out on her own. She looked out the windows and walked through the doors.
But this is not a fairy tale.
And she has not stopped working hard to appear smooth of face and calm of manner. She rarely flinches. She keeps herself well adorned in pinks and frosting and all things humorous. And though she still cannot (will not) point to certain terrible things and say the words aloud, clear and true, she does consider herself brave. And on Wednesday, April 15th, though it won't be easy, I believe she will find that she can