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Challenge: Back to School 2021

Back to School Means Teaching Diversity

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In our globally-connected world, it's never too early to teach children about inclusion and the challenges, rewards, and emotions that come with it. Even for adults, it isn't always an easy subject to talk about. Many times, it's the adults that get in the way of children's natural ability to make friends across racial, socio-economic, and cultural boundaries.

Kathy Oh's children's book My Favorite Colors are Black and Yellow tackles these issues with illustrations from her son Joseph Bae DeBaets. Inspired by their own pursuit of peace in the American Dream and tales from Joseph's grandfather about growing up in North Korea, this duo paints a realistic portrait of two children overcoming their parents' prejudices, spreading love, and dealing with difficult emotions.

A Realistic Setting for Kids

Kathy Oh artfully weaves a story with an all-too-real backdrop: different cultures living side-by-side yet almost completely isolated from each other.

In the story, young Hyong Bae Oh has just moved to New York City from North Korea. When his mother, called Oma, opens a Harlem grocery store, they become part of a diverse community.

One day, Hyong Bae Oh meets a black girl named Zoey that's the same age as him. They become quick friends in spite of their differences, but Oma forbids her son from playing with her because of the stark cultural contrasts. For months, Hyong Bae Oh feels sad and isolated. One day, his mother becomes very ill and he reaches out to Zoey and her mother for help.

Empowering Children to Foster Inclusion

As Zoey, her mother, and Hyong Bae Oh work together to open Oma's eyes and heart to their loving community, Kathy Oh teaches children that they can improve their world. This book shows children how change comes from compassion. The characters approach Oma from a place of love for her, each other, and their community.

By framing larger issues of racial unity in a story that children can relate to and understand, My Favorite Colors are Black and Yellow gives them a realistic goal, one that starts at home. With help from friends, they can build a better future for themselves.

Managing Emotions

Some of the biggest lessons from this children's book about diversity come from emotions. Hyong Bae Oh deals with isolation, but there is always hope for peace. Instead of staying angry, the characters channel their energy into tough yet productive kindness. Through this, the adults that become obstacles to inclusion aren't enemies, but people whose lives can be enriched with a child's point of view.

A New Children's Literature Classic

As our world becomes more connected, the need for children's books about diversity increases. Look to Kathy Oh's and Joseph Bae DeBaets' My Favorite Colors are Black and Yellow to make the subject more accessible for your students and children. With such a personal story, you can start the conversation yourself and even learn from the perspectives only offered by youth.

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