Finding Great Books

I know from my own life experiences that reading can be an excellent way to expand your worldview. Books provide limitless opportunities for children and adults to explore windows and mirrors. As a parent, I am grateful that my kids enjoy reading. I view each new book as a gift and an opportunity to learn. However, sometimes it can be challenging to find great books with positive messages.

Luckily, there are many resources available to help navigate the endless choices of books. Today, I want to share three websites that will help you find amazing books for your children and youth.

    1. Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media “is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.” If you visit their book review page, you can select topics such as: activism, great boy roles models, great girl roles models, and misfits and underdogs. Once you select a certain topic, the website will provide a list of books. Each suggestion includes the book title, a picture of the book cover, an age recommendation, a rating, and a synopsis of the book. For example, I selected “activism” on the topic checklist and 75 books were suggested. I used the book suggestions and sent multiple requests to our public library. I can’t wait to pick them up. I know the books have positive messages and I also know my kids will enjoy reading them. What a terrific resource!
    1. Scholastic. The mission of Scholastic is “to encourage the intellectual and personal growth of all children, beginning with literacy.” The resource, “How to Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books,”  highlights books that relate to 5 cultural groups, including Native American, Latino, African American, Jewish, and Asian American. The book selections range form pre-K to 8th grade. This helpful resource includes a short introductory paragraph about each cultural group, as well as a list of 10 great children’s books, including the title, author and a brief summary. In addition, there are 3 additional sections for each group:
      • A short interview with an author of that specific cultural group.
      • A “keep in mind” section that provides some additional tips for readers.
      • A list of additional authors that represent that particular cultural group.
    1. Teaching Tolerance. The mission of Teaching Tolerance is “to help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy.” They have a great resource called “What We’re Reading” that is published quarterly. Their book recommendations include the cover page, title, author, summary, and genre of each book (professional development, elementary school, middle school, or high school).  You can find their latest book recommendations here. If you want to see more of their book recommendations, you can type “What We’re Reading” in the search box and you’ll find an archived list of their recommendations.

I hope the next time you and your family head to the library or bookstore, you will utilize these resources to find great multicultural books. Enjoy!

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Lessons From Nature

For the past month or so, I have been actively seeking out and enjoying the stunning wildflowers that are in bloom throughout Southwestern Ohio. I have always enjoyed hiking and nature, but this year, I have made it a point to learn more about native wildflowers.

This Spring, I have spent hours walking along trails and creeks, throughout six different counties, learning about each wildflower that I happen to encounter. I have taken hundreds of photos and am slowly gaining more knowledge about these beautiful miracles that grow along the highway, in pastures and meadows, as well as in deep, cool woodlands.

Overall, I have to say that the whole experience encourages me to reflect on diversity in general. There are so many different wildflowers just in my little corner of the world. The diversity I have been experiencing with wildflowers doesn’t even take into account the wide variety of trees, butterflies, insects, fish, birds, and mammals that are occupying the same land. It is truly awe-inspiring to take time and reflect on the incredibly diverse nature world that surrounds us.

While I take in the rich diversity of the wildflowers I have encountered, I struggle to understand how anyone can believe that there is just one way to do anything. So much bigotry, prejudice, and hate are based on the idea that there is one, absolute, and right way to exist in the world. Only one way to look. Only one way to love. Only one way to worship. Only one way to believe. Only one way to live.

If you will humor me, I would like to share what I have learned from the official wildflower of Ohio, called the trillium. I have always known how to identify trillium because they are a unique, three-leaved plant with a single white flower found in the woods where I grew up. At least, that is what I have always thought. What I have learned recently, is that there are eight different types of trillium, just in Ohio. While some have white flowers, other have red flowers. Some are tall and some are short. Some have flowers that are upright, some are drooping. Some have solid leaves and some have speckles. Yet despite their differences, they are all trillium. (Click here to read more and see pictures of each kind).

The Brazilian author Paulo Coelho said, “In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” This sums up the belief I have, to the very core of my being, that diversity enriches our world and our lives. I believe that the same diversity that is reflected all around us in the natural world is a model or road map for what the human world should look like, as well. Despite our differences, we are all human.


P.S. Hate and violence have been in the national and international headlines, seemingly on a daily basis. I encourage you to read some blogs from our archives, such as After Darkness, There Will Be Light and Look For The Helpers.

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The Importance of Role Models

Social learning and modeling helps us understand that our children are constantly observing and imitating the values, beliefs, and behaviors they witness around them. Modeling occurs whether our actions are positive or negative, intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious.

In addition to the behavior of parents, it’s important to consider the other people who can serve as role models for our children. It’s important to realize that the possibilities are endless. Role models can be extended family members, siblings, teachers, coaches, peers, neighbors, television and movie characters, celebrities, professional athletes, and characters from a book (fiction and non-fiction).

Because role models can have a significant impact in the lives of children, researchers have tried to better understand why children imitate the behavior of certain role models. Social scientists have tried to understand if there are certain people that children are more likely to model? Not surprisingly, the answer is yes. Researchers have found that children are more likely to imitate the behavior of a role model who:

  • is nurturing, rewarding, and affectionate toward the child [1]
  • controls resources [2]
  • has prestige, power, and intelligence [3]
  • is like the observing child, particularly regarding sex [4]
  • is reinforced for his/her behavior in front of the child [5]

These characteristics point to the incredibly powerful role parents play in the lives of their children. Parents tend to be nurturing and affectionate, they control resources, have power, and tend to be viewed as intelligent (at least until the tween years). So, parents who model cultural competence tend to plant seeds of cultural competence, while parents who model prejudice, bias, and hate plant the seeds of cultural incompetence.

It is also important to point out the influence of the media. Children are increasingly exposed to models through the internet, television, movies, and social media. Most characters in the media are perceived as powerful, prestigious, and intelligent. In addition, television, movies, and social media often depict behaviors that are rewarded and praised.

As the media, and especially social media, continue to have an increasing impact on the lives of our children, parents and other traditional role models may be in danger of becoming less influential. Paying attention to the influence other role models have on our children is an important aspect of parenting.

In addition, we need to be mindful that our current President often voices opinions that are bigoted and fuel cultural intolerance. There is no question that the President of the United States fits the criteria for being a role model. He has prestige, power, and controls resources. But what happens when a role model behaves in a way that clashes with our values and beliefs? This is when we need to take an even more active role in the lives of our children and make a deliberate decision to not only model cultural competence, but also actively encourage it.

We will continually explore ways to actively promote cultural competence, but for now, what are some things you can do to make sure your children are being exposed to the values and beliefs that you hold dear?


[1] Bandura, A & Huston, A. (1961). Identification as a process of incidental learning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 311-318.

[2] Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S.A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 3-11.

[3] Bandura, A. (1969). Social-learning theory of identificatory processes.  In D.A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research (pp. 213-262). Chicago: Rand McNally.

[4] Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S.A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 3-11.

[5] Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of models’ reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 589-595.

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Making A Commitment

Happy New Year! Although I am not one who makes many New Year’s Resolutions, I did commit to write at least one article every month in 2019. One of the reasons I want to write more is due to the current climate in our country. It seems to me that we are living in difficult and dangerous times. Our responses to cultural differences are deeply dividing our nation. Since the presidential election, our country is witnessing a dramatic rise in hate crimes (Click here to read more) and teachers are reporting an increase in bullying (Click here to read more). It seems that overt prejudice is becoming more normative and socially acceptable with each passing day. I am deeply troubled and heartbroken by these trends. I want to help ease the tensions and increase the amount of respect we have for each other. In short, I believe that we need to talk about culture more than ever.

In the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, let’s talk about concrete actions you can take in 2019 that will help bring more understanding, respect, and love into the world. I encourage you to commit to doing at least one activity that will increase your cultural competence every month, if not every week. If you want to think about it another way, make a commitment to look out new windows in the New Year.

Below is a list of small steps you can take that will, hopefully, push you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to expand your understanding of your own culture, as well as other cultures. If you need a reminder, read Dimensions of Culture and Additional Cultural Dimensions to help you think about culture in a more inclusive and expansive way.

Action Steps to Begin or Continue on Your Cultural Competence Journey

  1. Read literature about and written by different cultural groups.
  2. Shop at ethnic stores and dine at ethnic restaurants.
  3. Watch foreign language movies or watch a movie with no sound and only use closed captions.
  4. Find a way to be in the minority. If you have the resources and opportunities, travel to areas where you can immerse yourself in another culture.
  5. Attend festivals and events that celebrate specific cultural groups, such as art galleries, theaters, dance companies, museums, libraries, music groups, and places of worship.
  6. Volunteer at a non-profit organization that serves a diverse population.
  7. Read newspapers, magazines, websites, and other educational resources that are dedicated to specific cultural groups.
  8. Get involved with an organization that works for social justice.
  9. Reach out to someone from a different cultural group.

It is better to think of these steps as a journey, rather than a destination. Doing any (or all) of these activities will not help you arrive at a fully-developed sense of cultural competence. Becoming culturally competent takes a lifetime. However, these action steps can get you started or help keep you moving.

As Lao Tzu wisely stated, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I look forward to embarking on this journey together and hearing how these activities helped change the way you see the world and others around you.

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Starting the Conversation

In my last post, I encouraged parents to break their silence and be proactive in the teaching of tolerance and respect. I use the word “tolerance” with reservation because I am looking for more than tolerance. I think we tolerate tooth aches and tolerate loud music. To me, being tolerant means you are just barely able to deal with something unpleasant. I want to push you to move way beyond tolerance. I want to push you to embrace and respect differences. Don’t just tolerate them. Value the differences and teach your children to value them too.

How do you do this? Many people, especially those who find themselves in the majority or ingroup, have very little experience talking about these issues. It’s one of the advantages you may have if you were born with light skin, straight, male, cisgender, or are part of a majority cultural or religious group.

When I first started learning about cultural differences, I was working in an international preschool on the campus of Cornell University. We had children in our program from across the globe. It was a fascinating and deeply enriching experience. I was working with children and their parents across language barriers, cultural differences, and religious beliefs. How do you make everyone in such a diverse environment feel respected and honored?

What I have learned over the years is that being respectful of differences involves the ability to adopt a worldview that is comprised of three separate, yet related, elements. These three elements include the ability to:

  1. Acknowledge cultural differences.
  2. Find similarities in spite of these differences.
  3. Respect the differences, without judgment.

These elements also need to be an integral part of the conversations you have with your children about diversity. For example, let’s imagine your child notices that the eyes of her Asian friend are a different shape than her eyes. She asks you, “Why does Shuji have funny-looking eyes?”

A culturally competent response needs to include all three elements described above. For example, your response may be:

“I don’t think Shuji has funny-looking eyes. He has eyes that are a different shape than yours (Element 1). Shuji’s eyes are almond-shaped just like his parents’ eyes. Your eyes are round, just like your parents’ eyes (Element 2). Both you and Shuji have beautiful eyes, even though they are different shapes (Element 3).”

Preparing your children to understand and respect differences is one of the best gifts you can give them as they enter a world that is increasingly diverse. It starts with the ability to talk about cultural differences in a healthy and respectful way. As long as you include all three elements in your conversations, you will send a healthy message about differences to your child. In doing so, you will help your children develop cultural competence, a beneficial and necessary asset to have in today’s world.

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Are We There Yet?

If you have children or have been around children, you know that every road trip involves the dreaded question: “Are we there yet?” Adults often moan and may eventually shout a response to the question depending on how frequently it is asked and how much more time it will take to reach the final destination.

I think the journey to become more culturally competent is somewhat similar. You might wonder if you are there yet. You’ve read some blogs, you have read some children’s books, and you think it’s important to talk about differences. Are you done? Are you there yet?

The answer is no. I’ve been on my journey for over 25 years and while I feel comfortable with cultural differences and am knowledgeable about issues like bias, privilege, and most of the -isms, I still have room for improvement. We all have room for improvement.

I want to give you an example of a recent stumble I made. About a month ago, I observed two men working on the telephone pole in our yard. One was white and one was black. I had a quick question so I went outside and approached the men. Without thinking, I found myself asking the white man my question. As the conversation started, I quickly realized my bias in addressing the white man and assuming he was in charge. Despite my commitment to cultural awareness and equality, I found myself perpetuating a common and subtle form of racism.

After this experience, I reflected on what I had done. We have talked about the need to be self-aware. That means being aware of your own culture and the biases and the blind spots that come with it. It means reflecting on your actions and attitudes and taking responsibility when you mess up. And you will.  It’s important to own your mistakes, learn from them, and continue on.

So am I there yet? Nope. But I know what I need to do to keep moving forward on my journey. If you have the desire to become more aware of cultural diversity and to feel more comfortable around differences, the research suggests that there are three distinct actions that you need to take. To begin your journey, you must:

  1. Practice cultural self-awareness.
  2. Gain knowledge and information about other cultures.
  3. Learn skills that enable successful interaction and communication.

Over time, we will look at all three of these actions in great depth and detail. So far, we have done a bit of self-reflection, but there is much more to do. We have also discussed the importance of windows in gaining knowledge and information about other cultures.

The journey towards cultural competence is on-going and never-ending. There is no finish line. There is not a final destination. This is a trip that is best done in fellowship with others and even better when done as a family. Are you ready for the trip of a lifetime? Are you ready to see where the journey takes you?

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Planting the Seeds

Since 1990, Search Institute has been conducting research to better understand what kids need to be successful and contributing adult members of society. They have identified 40 developmental assets that are based on skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors. The research indicates that the more developmental assets children and youth have, the more likely they are to succeed in life.

The developmental assets data is based on more than 5 million children and youth across the United States. The power of these assets is evident across all cultural and socioeconomic groups. Research suggests that developmental assets protect young people from many different problems, such as alcohol use, illicit drug use, sexual activity, and violence. In addition, the assets promote positive attitudes and behaviors, such as succeeding in school, maintaining good health, and valuing diversity.

Cultural competence is one of the 40 developmental assets identified by Search Institute. Their definition of cultural competence is “having knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.” I believe this definition can also be used to describe someone who is culturally proficient and you may notice that I use both phrases interchangeably.

Based on the most recent survey results, only 43% of young people (ages 11-18) in the U.S. possess the cultural competence asset. What about the other 57% of young people? Louise Derman-Sparks, a noted pioneer and leader in the area of early childhood education, stated:

“Children in the 21st century will not be able to function if they are psychologically bound by outdated and narrow assumptions about their neighbors. To thrive, even to survive, in this complicated world, we need to learn how to function in many different cultural contexts, to recognize and respect different histories and perspectives, and to know how to work together to create a more just world that can take care of all its people, its living creatures, and its land.”

If you think it’s important to pass developmental assets on to your children and you want your children to thrive in our culturally diverse world, then you must make a commitment to raising culturally competent children. Being culturally aware isn’t just a nice personality trait, it is actually an important life skill.

Although my goal is to help children become more culturally competent, I realize in order to do this, I need to first help parents become more culturally proficient. This means parents need to spend time reflecting on what culture means, learning about different dimensions of culture, and understanding the importance of windows and mirrors. So while the focus is on planting the seeds of cultural competence with our children, the truth is that we will also be planting seeds of our own.

In the end, I hope to help children, parents, and families embrace cultural competence. I hope you agree that it is a necessary life skill for all children. Are you committed to planting the seeds of cultural competence and doing what is necessary to help the seeds grow, take root, and flourish in your family?

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Finding Your Way

Writing about skin color reminded me of an experience I had many years ago. Not surprisingly, it involves making a mistake. As a result, I learned two great lessons. One, words can cause harm even without intending to do so. Two, it is important to have teachers and mentors on your personal journey. (Trigger warning: racial slur)

During my junior year at Cornell, I was walking back to my dorm with a group of friends. I was the only white person in the group and we were all leaving an African American history class. During the conversation, I used the word mulatto to describe a fellow classmate. It was a word I had heard to describe someone who was a mix of white and black skin colors. As soon as that word left my mouth, everyone stopped walking, all eyes were on me, and it got real quiet.

Someone finally said, “I can’t believe you used that word. Do you know what it means?” I shook my head no. “The word mulatto is based on the word mule. And you know what a mule is, right?” Again I was quiet. Another friend stated, “A mule is born when a horse and a donkey reproduce. But mules cannot reproduce. They are sterile. So calling someone mulatto is like calling them a mule. It’s really offensive and you should never use that word. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”

I sincerely apologized and explained that I didn’t know the word was derogatory. It wasn’t a very good excuse but I was being honest. My friends knew me well enough to know I didn’t mean any harm and no one stayed angry, although I can imagine they were disappointed in me. We eventually resumed our walk and the incident was forgotten by everyone except me. I will never forget what I learned that day and I never again used that word.

When I look back, I am extremely grateful for moments like this, and especially grateful for all the people who have guided me on my journey. Sometimes it takes just one voice (The First Ripple) and sometimes it takes a group of voices. Over the years, I have learned from friends, strangers, teachers, and students. I never know when the next lesson will happen or who my teacher will be. But I always try to be a willing student.

To be clear, becoming culturally competent is your own responsibility. However, your chance of success will increase if you surround yourself with a nurturing support system. Luckily, there are amazing people out there willing to help if they know your heart is in the right place. I am certainly willing to help you, but that’s not enough. So now is a good time to think and reflect: Who has already helped you on your journey? Who else can guide you? Who can help you find your way, tell you when you are lost, and teach you when you make mistakes?

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