Unity and Tolerance Blossom through Unlikely Friendships

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Our world is bubbling over with prejudice and skewed perceptions, pouring out through clashes between opposing groups on a daily basis.  Who hasn’t struggled with concepts of unity and tolerance?   So how can young children develop compassion, kindness and love for others who are different?  Check out a few picture books that explore new perspectives on friendship that chip away at misguided mindsets.

Splat the Cat, by Rob Scotton (2008), chronicles Splat’s first day of school.  Tagging along in his lunch box is best friend, Seymour…..the mouse.  When the teacher proclaims, “Cats chase mice,” Splat is confused.  At lunch, Seymour tries to join the cat corp but is frightened when they chase him. Later, the cupboard door is stuck so there’s no milk for the felines.  Seymour crawls through the keyhole and opens the cupboard.  Cats’ mindsets switch from chasing to cheers.

In John Himmelman’s, Katie Loves the Kittens (2008), Sara Ann brings home three new kittens to Katie, the dog.  Her howling and leaping scares them and she’s scolded.  Finding three bowls of food the next morning, Katie gobbles it up not understanding it for the kittens.   Once more she’s sent to her bed.   Feeling sad at her failure to show her love for them, Katie falls asleep.  That’s when the kittens curl up with Katie.  Restraining her desire to bark for joy, Katie quietly licks her tiny friends.  This new approach steals their hearts and a “Good girl” from Sara Ann.

Nugget and Fang (Tammi Sauer, 2013) are ocean besties! They do everything together. Then Nugget goes to school and learns sharks are dangerous.  Yikes!  Fang is a shark.    Nugget chooses to hang with fish that look like him, ignoring Fang’s attempts to prove his loyalty.  Without warning, a giant net traps the school of fish.  Fang hears his BFF calling for help and comes to the rescue.  His heroics open the doors to the exclusive “little fish” club.  Finally, Fang becomes one of the in-crowd and reunites with Nugget.

With buddy Splat sticking by his side, Seymour is able to sway the naysayers about the status of mice.  His willingness to help those who want to hurt him is a great reminder to be kind even when others are not.  Katie must learn that her perception of love looks different from the kittens’ perspective.  Adjusting her responses allow love to shine through in ways tiny kittens can understand.   Despite Nugget’s exclusion from the “little fish” club, he’s willing to help those who shunned him.  That compassionate act changes opinions about dangerous sharks, reuniting Fang with his bestie… nine more.

Although human prejudice cuts much deeper, Splat’s cat friends and Nugget’s fish friends display prejudice that children can clearly see.  Perceptions build walls between friends and segregate animal characters in each book.  The courage of Seymour, Katie and Fang allow compassion and love to prevail, breaking down prejudice and correcting misguided perceptions.  Maybe these books should be required reading for adults, too.

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