Tolerance. It's a quality that often seems in short supply in our modern world. As we hear about events playing out on a national and international scale, it frequently feels like there's a lot more hate in the world than there is tolerance, doesn't it? One reason we elected not to have cable in our home during Sprout's early years is that we don't especially want his impression of the world to be colored by the types of events that make the news. You know what I mean here, because when was the last time a story about kindness or friendship was the most prominent story on everyone's mind?
And to be honest, I'm not sure that tolerance is an instinctive human reaction. We all know babies are selfish, and that's not a bad thing; in order to learn about the world, they must first experience it, and that's done through the lens of their own perspective. So as parents, teachers, friends and loved ones, it's up to us to help kids learn about acceptance through our own actions first, as well as the stories and examples with which we surround them.
A terrific book I recently stumbled across seems like a natural for any classroom or library needing some titles about tolerance. Jan Wahl's Candy Shop is perfect because it's never preachy or didactic. Take a look at that cover - does that scream "Heavy-duty lesson ahead?" No way. Instead it looks like exactly what it is, a fun story about a spunky little cowboy who just happens to run across an opportunity to show love to someone who desperately needs it. And there's your tolerance lesson, all wrapped up in a cute picture book. Sneaky, right?
Daniel, our narrator, is the cowboy in question, and he's excited to be heading to the Mrs Chu's candy shop with his Aunt Thelma. Early in the story we discover that Daniel lives in a somewhat depressed urban area; though his street is well-manicured, that's not the case for the whole neighborhood. Daniel and Aunt Thelma head off to get some candy, but first they have a number of stops to make. Daniel bears most of this good-naturedly, with only a bit of the expected little-boy grumbling. Soon enough they make their way to Mrs. Chu's, only to see a huge crowd gathered outside. Daniel discovers that someone has written a nasty word on the pavement, something hurtful about Mrs. Chu, who is from Taiwan. And right then and there our little cowboy decides he's going to show Mrs. Chu just what a great friend she is, and takes it on himself to clean up the graffiti and shoo away the gawkers. A brave boy indeed!
Kids will love this one for the candy and for the familiar emotions of being dragged along on errands with an adult. But scratch the surface and we'll see the real message, about standing up in the face of prejudice and not remaining silent when someone you love is hurt in a very unjust fashion. Nicole Wong illustrates Candy Shop, and she does a remarkable job of capturing Daniel's emotions, not just on his face but in his body language too. The spread of Daniel scrubbing the pavement while Aunt Thelma hustles away the onlookers is a powerful one, and it demonstrates that tolerance is more than a silent emotion - instead, tolerance is action, putting feet on your feelings for someone and standing up even when it's hard.
If you're looking for a way to start talking about prejudice and tolerance with your little ones, Candy Shop is the perfect book to do so. And as you read it, begin to think about the ways you can show your kids how critical acceptance is. Because, as the saying goes, we all can be the change in someone's reality, right now.
Candy Shop by Jan Wahl, published by Charlesbridge Press
Sample: "On the sidewalk a lot of people are gatherine. Do they all want candy, I wonder? No -- they stare at something written on the sidewalk. / I can't see it but it makes Miz Chu cry."