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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

And After the Unthinkable, What Do We Read?


Cover artwork from “When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry,” by Molly Bang


By Daniele Berman, Community Partnerships Manager

On Tuesday night at dinner, my 14-year-old son shared that there had been a lockdown drill at his school that day, and my six-year-old daughter said her school had had one recently, too. And then she asked what lockdown drills were for, and I explained in sanitized and theoretical and very safe-sounding terms why she had to learn to hide at school.


Just one day later, I had to answer her questions about what she had overheard of the day’s tragedy, the one we will forever know simply as “Parkland,” just as we do Columbine and Sandy Hook and too many others, questions like, “If 17 people died, do you think that was just one student per class? Do you think there are 17 classes at that school?” and “I hope those people weren’t anybody’s best friends.”

Yesterday, I was visiting a middle school to talk with a class about their literacy project when a lockdown drill was announced. And I crouched in the corner with a group of eighth graders who were asking their teacher whether they were far enough away from the windows and where they should run to if they ever had to flee the school in a real emergency.


And then this morning, my well-informed and generally very empathetic son told me the principal at his high school came over the loudspeaker yesterday to scold the student body for not taking previous lockdown drills seriously enough. And he said that of course they don’t take them seriously: they happen all the time and they’re a joke. And he declared the principal a hypocrite for only just now insisting they take them seriously “because some kids died.”

So much is so wrong with every bit of this thread to my week, most of all the fact that 14 brilliant keys to our future and 3 incredibly brave educators are no longer part of the community at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the now-infamous town of Parkland, Florida. As a mother and a former teacher and someone who works with children and books all day every day, I found myself desperate for something to say to my own children and those eighth graders and every other child who woke up Thursday morning with a new understanding of those lockdown drills — and wondering, of course, what books are out there for all of us to read as we wrestle with the unthinkable. So here’s a place to start.

Our friends at Scholastic have compiled a “Violence, Tragedy and Loss” booklist, which includes these titles for children:

  1. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death, by Marc Brown and Laurie Krasny Brown; for pre-k through second grade

  2. When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry, by Molly Bang; for pre-k through second grade

  3. Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship, by Peter Greste, Craig Hatkoff, and Isabella Hatkoff; for pre-k through fifth grade

  4. The Memory String, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand; for pre-k through second grade

  5. Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again, by Craig Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and David Yates; for pre-k through fifth grade

  6. Words of Stone, by Kevin Henkes; for third through fifth grade

  7. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park; for third through eighth grade

  8. Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli; for third through twelfth grade

  9. One-Eyed Cat, by Paul Fox; for sixth through eighth grade

  10. Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice, by Anti-Defamation League; for sixth through eighth grade

  11. I Will Remember You, by Laura Dower; for sixth through eighth grade

  12. The Start of Me and You, by Emery Lord; for sixth through twelfth grade

The Child Witness to Violence Project has also compiled an extensive list of books for children who have experienced various types of violence, including a section on “Community Violence.”

The New York Times has  created a space for teens to share their thoughts about the tragedy in an article inviting their comments: “What Is Your Reaction to the Deadly Shooting at a Florida High School?

For adults, the L.A. Times published a helpful reading list in response to the shooting in Las Vegas in October: “9 books to help us understand mass shootings.”

Have you found other books or booklists that have been helpful to you in talking with your children about the recent school shootings? Please share them with me via email: daniele@bookharvestnc.org.

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