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Demand skyrockets for children’s books about violence and trauma

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Like the new school year go into high gearsome students have more to worry about than doing their homework: the demand for children’s books dealing with traumatic events such as school shootings has grown steadily.

Sales of books for young readers about violence, grief and emotions have increased for nine consecutive years, with nearly six million copies sold in 2021, more than double the amount in 2012, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks retail sales of printed books in the United States. .

As anxiety and depression rates have skyrocketed Among young Americans, educators and advocates say children’s books can play a role in helping them cope.

“While it may be second nature to try to shield children from the harsh realities of life and scary news, it proves difficult to avoid major societal issues,” said Kristine Enderle, editorial director of Magination Press, the children’s publishing arm of American Psychology. Association. “Children face these issues and challenges in their daily lives.”

One book, “I’m Not Scared…I’m Prepared,” was reprinted several times to meet demand after the Massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in May, according to the National Center for Youth Issues, the nonprofit group that published the book. The story, first published in 2014, features a teacher who shows children what to do when a “dangerous person” is in their school.

According to bookseller Barnes & Noble, bookstores across the country see interest in titles in the genre rise and fall based on local and national headlines.

Some newer titles deal directly with real-world gun violence.

In “Numb to This,” a graphic novel released this month, author Kindra Neely details the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, which she survived, and the aftermath as she attempts to heal amid repeated shootings elsewhere. Initially, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’ editorial director Andrea Colvin said she was shocked when Keely pitched the idea.

“I had to remind myself that, yeah, that’s what our stories are like now. That’s what young people have been through,” Colvin said.

Michele Gay, whose 7-year-old daughter Josephine was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, has turned to children’s books herself to help her two surviving daughters. A picture book she read to them was “The Ant Hill Disaster”, about an ant boy who is afraid to return to school after it is destroyed.

“It was one of many books that gave them comfort and a little bit of confidence to face one more day, one more minute, because we can do this together,” said Gay, who advocates for a better safety in schools. through a non-profit organization, she co-founded Safe and Sound Schools.

Parents should ensure books dealing with trauma are age-appropriate and backed by psychologists, experts say.

It’s important to know whether children are aware of or feel stressed about scary things in the news, said Aryeh Sova, a Chicago psychologist who works with children who have attended the 4th of July Parade in suburban Highland Park, Illinois, where seven people were killed in a shooting. A child asking a lot of questions about an event can mean they’re anxious or obsessed with it, he said.

“If it comes from the child’s need, then books could be a great way for children to learn and read with their parents and revise it on their own and process it at their own pace, at their own pace. own pace,” Sova said.

But bringing up violence when a child isn’t concerned about it could unnecessarily increase their anxiety, Sova said.

Some young children are victims of gun violence at alarming rates, especially in communities of color.

For them, it’s important to start tackling the effects early, said Emmy Award-winning Sesame Street writer Ian Ellis James, known by his stage name William Electric Black. He is the author of the illustrated children’s book ” A gun is no fun.” He said young children in areas affected by gun violence are more aware of it than parents realize.

“They know the flowers, the candles and the cards in the street. They walk beside them every day,” he said.

Through children’s literature and theater, Black works to reduce gun violence in urban settings. “If you start when they’re 5 and come back when you’re 6, 7, 8, 9, you’re going to change the behavior,” he said.

In the spring, he will collaborate with New York Public School PS 155 in East Harlem with a series of gun violence awareness and prevention workshops for young readers, using puppets, storytelling and rehearsal.

“They won’t even get rid of assault weapons here in this country. So my thing is we gotta go and we gotta help them help themselves save themselves,” Black said. “We are really failing at that.”

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Claire Savage is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Savage on Twitter at https://twitter.com/c_thesavage.