Pediatrician suggests these titles to her patients
Host Amber Smith: Here's some expert advice from Dr. Jaclyn Sisskind, from Upstate Medical University. What books are you recommending to your patients lately?
Jaclyn Sisskind, MD: There are so many different books that I've recommended to my patients. I never recommend a book to my patients that I haven't read first, and this time of year is really exciting for me, reading-wise and recommending-wise because the American Library Association Youth Media Awards came out just at the end of January. That includes the Newbery (for children's literature) and the Caldecott (for children's picture book), and then a lot of others that people are not as familiar with. And so for me, February and March is really just reading through that list and getting excited about all of the great books that came out last year.
I think the three books that I'm probably talking about the most with my patients right now: one is called "Different Kinds of Fruit," and that's by Kyle Lukoff, one is called "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo, and the other is "Starfish" by Lisa Fipps. These are three books that I've. been recommending a lot recently because they deal with issues that my patients have been coming to me with recently.
" Starfish" is about body image and bullying. "Different Kinds of Fruit" is about a student who is struggling with their own sexual identity and learning about how they fit in with their group of friends, one of whom happens to come out as nonbinary. And "The Poet X" is a novel in verse that has won every possible award a children's book can win, and it is about a girl who's in a difficult relationship with her mom and is trying to find her way. And the way she finds herself is through poetry and spoken word.
i tend to recommend those a lot, and what really warms my heart is recently, as I've been talking about some of those books, my patients have said, "Oh, I heard about that one already," either through school or through a friend, and so it's really exciting to me that these titles are getting the traction that they deserve.
I hate to call out one particular book over another because there's so many I recommend, and I don't want anyone to be left out, but I think those are the three that I'm recommending the most recently. And it's worth noting that "Different Kinds of Fruit" and "The Poet X" are on the list of some of the most challenged titles in school districts right now, and not just in school districts, but also public libraries. And so, as much as it warms my heart that when I recommend them, people have heard about it, it really makes me sad to know that the access to these books is being limited across the country.
They're lovely, important books, and I think what is objectional about them is that they feature characters who have not traditionally been featured in the literature that came before. So there are characters that are not white, characters that are queer, characters that have traditionally been bullied.
You know, it's not often that an overweight child is the main protagonist in a book. Often they're the sidekick, or they're treated as someone who's not intelligent, or they're the butt of the joke. And so, to put those characters that have often been marginalized in the spotlight and say, "This is my story, this is what's happening to me," I think that's the problem that people have with a lot of these books.
And, I think it's a problem that has two prongs. The first is that it denies kids the chance -- and I'm just talking about children's literature right now; certainly adults can find themselves in these books too, right? -- but it takes kids that might see themselves in that book, and it decreases their opportunity for them to see themselves on the page, to see their experience represented. And that could make them feel ashamed for who they are, especially if they're being told that book is not available because it is "inappropriate," right? That's telling the child, you are inappropriate.
Jaclyn Sisskind, MD: It's also going to make the child feel erased. It may make them feel less apt to speak up about an experience that they've had because they think that it's not acceptable to others. So that's a big problem.
And I think that the second problem is that it denies any child the opportunity to see the experience of others through a book, right? So there are some people who perhaps are white, perhaps are cisgendered, perhaps consider themselves to be straight, but could certainly benefit from reading about the experience of someone else their age who is not those things. In a very idealistic way, I think that could make us a more accepting, peaceful society if we all listened to each other's experiences more. And what better opportunity to do that than in childhood, in adolescence, when your brain is so open to learning and being accepting to other people's experiences.
Host Amber Smith: You've been listening to pediatrician Jaclyn Sisskind, from Upstate Medical University.