Share a Future

An ongoing reading list for kids and caretakers in quarantine

By Bella Bravo

Thousands of daycares, preschools, and schools across the US have closed. Officially most are out until next year, but who knows what life will look like in five days much less five months. Parents must be considering that every other quarantine order has been extended so far. Someone has to stay home with the kids. Only the rare household is equipped with the finances, sick time, or sources of free childcare necessary to endure the indefinite shutdown spreading with the COVID-19 outbreak. For the rest of us, the possibility to endure only becomes clear when we reconfigure how we live.

For the next few months of the crisis, I’ll be assembling a list of children’s and YA books for folks who want to help with childcare and who want to imagine, together with kids, a future in common.

When I was small, my mom and I read together every night before bed. (For several years, she was a single parent living below the poverty line and working full-time. How did she have patience at the end of the day to calm down a troublemaker like me?) She and I took turns picking out books and reading out loud. Before I could read, she would ask me to make up the words on the page. She taught me that books were created to be shared. (And they’re easy to clean. We always wiped off ones from the library.)

Today the world has become – on a compressed timeline – a small, strange, and threatening place. The playground at the park is cordoned off with caution tape. Every night, someone in a mask and gloves comes to take your dog for a walk. For a friend’s third birthday, your parent opens the laptop and you sing ‘happy birthday’ into the screen. You wave to your grandma through the window at her nursing home.

On top of that, school is out. Children no longer have a place to hang out with their friends, fight with the rich kids, and not answer to their parents. At school, kindergartners got to doodle together on the same paper and create an underwater world, instead of silent reading. Friends synced up their bathroom breaks because they had separate (and boring) home rooms. Preteens from the same neighborhood sat together on the ride home and decided to ditch their homework on the floor of the bus.

Instead of these moments of collective freedom, many children now experience 24/7 parental supervision and little social activity outside of their immediate household – that is, unless those of us without kids decide that their care should not only be the duty of the family.

The time of isolated life is over. We all have friends, siblings, cousins, neighbors, and (former) coworkers with children. Under quarantine, they may be exhausted. They may feel disheartened by lost wages. They may be accustomed to reluctance when they reach out for help with childcare. We have to ask, “How do we take care of each other?” The answers will come with a bit of struggle. From my perspective, a little reading will help.


The Antlered Ship

Written by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Terry and Eric Fan 
Picture book for ages 4-8

A curious fox embarks on a seafaring adventure with a crew of deer and pigeons, in hopes of finding friends who can help him answer life’s big questions. 

Consider reading this one a few times. Once let the kid rename the animals. Another time substitute names for animal sounds. Another time ask the kid to act out the story as you read. Encourage props.


X-Men

Created by Stan Lee 
Comic book series for ages 8-14

The X-Men are a band of mutant superheroes, social and species outcasts. A man made of ice, a white-haired weather goddess, and a teleporting blue demon. The series celebrates the lives and worldviews of those most excluded from the American social order.

Consider reading aloud and asking who were these people? What binds them together? What dream do they share? Draw the answers.


How to Set a Fire and Why

Written by Jesse Ball
A novel that I recommend for ages 14-18

Lucia is a 14-year-old anarchist living with her elderly aunt in a garage. In a one-part mystery, two-parts coming-of-age story, she joins an arson club at her new high school, writes a pamphlet, and gets revenge on an evil landlord. 

Consider having a small book club. Takes notes on paper. Bring candles to the discussion and burn all the notes afterwards.


Some thoughts on protective cleanliness & kids. The CDC has guidance for daycares. This is what I've gleaned from them: Before, intermittently throughout, and after playing with kids, wash your hands and ask them to wash theirs. Maintain distance when possible. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Wear a mask to avoid touching your mouth and nose. Wash it and all of your clothes as soon as you get home.