By Marivir R. Montebon
As parents and educators, we need to push for books and reading materials that mold the consciousness of the youth to be independent and at the same time loving, respectful and courageous. This is done in our daily efforts at reading to them valuable material in the night, before putting them to bed, or guiding them with the kind of TV shows that they watch.
This consciousness molding is undeniably overwhelming. But this can also be exciting. As the adults in today’s world, we need to step up to look for materials that ensure that our children grow up to be smart, strong, and compassionate.
I will not go too far. I will share my experience as a mother to an only child, my daughter Nikki. In the Philippines, English is our second language. We speak English in school and at work. This is our colonial legacy from America. My ethnic background is Cebuano, and my mother tongue therefore is Cebuano.
My parenting was a conscious effort of instilling a consciousness of fairness, courage, and compassion. Although my friends had gifted her with Disney collection of princess stories – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and Snow White – our bedtime reading was, by my own choosing, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
Belle of The Beauty and Beast was feisty and loved to read. Lion King was kind of tough for a young child and for me, the storyteller – to handle a betrayal story of a brother against his own brother.
But as we close the book, the lesson would always be, fight for what is right, in the case of Simba claiming his right as new king. In the sequel, Kiara, Simba’s daughter, becomes the leader of the pack.
Since Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, Disney has evolved into writing about women characters that are feisty and questioning. I found solace in that. We read Frozen and Maleficent, for example.
The victim syndrome is too ingrained in the popular children’s books. I was the one who listened to all these from my mother. My grandmother, on the other hand, told me more Filipino traditional myths and all the superstitions in my culture.
When it was time for Nikki to learn how to read – my project was to let her read before she goes to school. I was looking for a book that would have a positive, winning message for her young mind and at the same time, easy to read for a first timer.
I found Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen.
I had to check on the words – the syllables where a child can just easily and consistently connect with corresponding sounds. I concluded, this was easy and fun for her to connect sounds of the letters from the alphabet.
The Thumbelina message was empowering too. Here is a tiny creature who had to survive nature because despite her size, and refusing and leaving a toad who wanted to marry her. Those were fine messages for me.
So Nikki’s first book to successfully read was Thumbelina. And as a mom, I clapped at every single word that she figured out reading. What joyous nights were those.
We all share a desire to raise our children who will work for a more just and peaceful world. We want our children to question why is there so much inequality. So much war and hatred. So much division and lack of empathy for others.
I believe we must raise a new generation of children who treasure the old traditions of respect and love and who believe in themselves to be able to change what should be changed. We must raise children who see people fairly, regardless of color, and are committed to caring and saving the planet from destructive practices. We must raise children who embrace that the values of love, fairness, and respect are the ones that bring peace and harmony.
So where do we begin? We begin with the kind of books we read to them when they are young.
You may be surprised to learn there are many, many children’s books on the market that have positive themes. You can check out Teaching for Change, The Union Communication Services, and The Hard Ball Press, which has published my first children’s book, Hats off for Gabbie which will be out soon.
When we change the mindset of people in the world to bring about peace, fairness, and love, we begin with ourselves, and then on to our children. I believe the journey is exciting and refreshing, as well as empowering.
(This is an excerpt of my presentation in the New York Conference of Teachers Teaching English as Second Language in Syracuse in November 2016.
The feature photo is part of the book Hats Off for Gabbie, illustrated by Yana Murashko.)