Caroline Brewer’s New Children’s Book Is About the Violence of Love

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At Adams Morgan’s Potter’s House Community Center, an audience gathered recently to hear children’s book author Caroline Brewer read her latest book, “Say Their Names.” The book is a poem about Aliya, a fictional 7-year-old girl who leads a demonstration against violence, including police shootings, in her community.

Brewer asked listeners to read the book aloud after her. The kids responded enthusiastically.

It makes me want to say their names.

Most of the names they recited were familiar to adults: Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, for example. All of those mentioned were killed by police in cases involving the improper use of force. But Brewer’s book doesn’t detail their deaths, or even mention the police.

“It’s for parents to explain when the kids are ready,” Brewer told me. Brewer is a DC resident and a literacy consultant. The idea for “Say Their Names” came to her after visiting a Black Lives Matter plaza in 2020. That memorial space near the White House was created after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minnesota that same year.

This picture book is richly illustrated by artist Adrian Brandon. Among the drawings is a sidewalk memorial that shows the image of a black boy on a poster labeled RIP, taped to an iron fence and surrounded by flowers. For a young reader, a death could be caused by anything—a traffic accident, a police shooting, or a shootout between rival community workers.

Even for the youngest readers, the point is that they are people and have names—their lives matter.

During the reading, Brewer advises children to “notice those moments when you see hope, courage, and love.” Read the poem to continue:

Broken, battered.

Despised, tattered.

Because these lives matter.

Brewer was asked if she was concerned that her book might be banned from libraries or classrooms because of subject matter. In some parts of the country, calls for more candid conversations about race and gender have led to backlash, including a ban on books dealing with such topics.

“So far, no one has come to me and said, ‘Oh, I think this is too heavy for the kids,'” said Brewer, who currently attends Potter’s House, Mahogany Books and Simon Elementary School in D.C. Books” Instead, people snatched books from my arms and said, “I want this. ” “

She added: “If we are going to live full and enriching lives, we must know how to deal with these terrible things happening in the world today. I believe we must equip our children with the language skills, mental and emotional stamina to Deal with the hard stuff. If we don’t do that, we’re doing them a huge disservice.”

D.C. seminarian Donovan Anderson, his wife, and four children — a 4-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old twin daughters — participated in Porter’s Tour home recitation. He appreciates the subtlety with which Breuer handles the subject in the book and during the reading.

“At their age, the most important thing is to plant the seed,” Anderson said. “I can look back at this book when I’m ready to talk to my daughters about the kinds of violence we’ve had in this country. That’s why I read the Bible to them. Hopefully, when the tough conversations come, The subject has been presented in some introductory fashion. There are parents who can’t wait to tell the unvarnished truth. Personally, I will do everything in my power to keep my daughter innocent.”

Chanceé Lundy Russell brought her 6-year-old son, Amari, to study. She, too, found Breuer’s book to be sublime in its subject matter and well-placed in its tone.

“Living in this area, it seems like every day you hear about a young man being murdered,” Russell said. “It almost feels like you’re putting your kid in a bubble. But how can we give him the best possible life possible while being truthful about the society we live in? His father and I Hope he believes he can be whoever he wants to be, but we also want him to know the truth – the black history that the people behind these banned books are trying to hide from him. So, I make sure we have something like Say Their Names books so we can talk about these things at home.”

During the reading, Brewer and the audience named more: Charlene Lyles, Eleanor Bumpers, Sandra Bland, India Kager, Freddie · Gray, Philando Castile, Travon Martin, Colin Gaines, Michelle Couseau.

She leads them back to the poem:

After finishing, some children continued to raise their fists high.

Brewer’s reading also brings up another point: It is possible for children to begin to understand the most difficult subjects — given the right teachers, parents, students, and books.

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