Guidelines with Gabi: Kids Books You Don’t Want to Miss: Part 1

October 15, 2021

On this week’s podcast episode, Dr. Gabi Hester is joined by several great guests who love to read. And to read with kids. They’ll explore some of their favorite books to open up important conversations about identity, emotions, and to discuss some difficult current events. There was so much to talk about that the conversation will be continued in a future episode!


Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: This is Talking Pediatrics, a clinical podcast by Children’s Minnesota, where the complex is our everyday. Each week we bring you intriguing stories and relevant pediatric healthcare information, as we partner with you in the care of your patients. Our guests, data, ideas, and practical tips will surprise, challenge, and perhaps change how you care for the most amazing people on Earth, kids. Welcome to Talking Pediatrics. I’m your host, Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd.

Today we have a special edition of Book Club with Gabi, similar to the last Book Club with Gabi, Dr. Gabi Hester will be interviewing some pediatric specialists about some of their favorite books. This time with a twist. On today’s Book Club with Gabi, we’ll be talking about children’s books. Which ones have delighted us from the time we were little, and which ones we recommend to our own families and patients. This episode will be part one of two, as we have a lot to talk about when it comes to books for little ones.

Speaker 2: Welcome to Book Club with Gabi.

Dr. Gabi Hester: There is something magical about reading. Being transported to a new world, with new adventures, friends, mishaps, and triumphs. As a kid, I was a voracious reader, pretty focused on quantity over quality. I churned through books, reading while walking, or reading upside down in my favorite spinning, red chair. While of course I sobbed during books like Where the Red Fern Grows, or felt the sting of indignation when Gilbert Blythe dared call Anne carrots, I don’t think I put a ton of thought into the deeper messages that books can carry, conversations that they can open up.

Today we’ll do just that. I’m thrilled to be joined by some wonderful friends and colleagues to talk about books. Books for kids young and not so young, and the messages they can carry, the conversations they can start. So let’s begin today just by introducing everyone. You can share your professional role, but also the lens and situation in which you interact with children’s books these days. Meredith, let’s start with you.

Meredith Hicks: Thanks, Gabi. Glad to be here. Hi, everyone. My name is Meredith Hicks. Professionally, I am the director of Youth Housing Justice at Youth Collaboratory, which is a national nonprofit which supports innovation within the youth services field. Personally, I have a five year old daughter. I love reading books for myself, and I love reading books with her. I’m very committed to learning and growing, and I am eager to have the conversation today, and share some of the ways that books have sparked ongoing growth in myself and in my family. Originally from Minnesota, now I’m in Ohio. I’m glad to bring that perspective in as well.

Dr. Gabi Hester: Thanks, Meredith. Adriene, how about yourself?

Adriene Thornton: So I’m Adriene Thornton. I am the manager of experience in health equity at Children’s. Right now, I have grown children. So my experience with books now is sharing my love of reading with my nieces, well, my great-nieces and nephews now and my grand baby. I have one grand baby. So I have loaded him up with books. Every occasion that I get, I send him different books on different topics. He’s one and a half. So right now, I’m sending him big, giant card books that he can play with, with different colors of people in them, and different things that he can understand just by looking. I look forward to continuing to share my love of reading with him, and my great-nieces and nephews.

Dr. Gabi Hester: Angela.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Hi, I’m Angela Kade Goepferd. My pronouns are they and she. I am a pediatrician here at Children’s Minnesota, our chief education officer, chief of staff, medical director of the gender health program, and host of Talking Pediatrics podcast. I have so many different relationships with books. I, like you, grew up loving to read. I always had my head in a book. I have three young kids. They are seven, seven, and five. I have been reading to them every night since they were about six weeks old. So we read a lot in my house. The seven year olds are now independent readers, so they read to themselves at night, which is fun. Introducing them to books is fun.

I also, particularly in my work in the gender health program, use books as teaching tools. So a lot of times, parents will have questions about how to talk about gender identity with kids, or how to introduce these concepts maybe to their younger children, if they have a teenager who is transgender. So I keep a lot of ideas of books on hand for different age levels to help talk about some of those concepts. Then just as a pediatrician, we talk about books all the time. So my clinic participates in the Reach Out and Read program, which is a program designed, obviously, to get books in the hands of kids at their well-child visits. So I like to talk about increasing kid’s exposure to books all the time.

Dr. Gabi Hester: I’ll introduce myself. Gabi Hester, I’m medical director of quality improvement and a pediatric hospitalist here at Children’s Minnesota. I have two children who are currently seven and five. It’s been so wonderful to use books as a way to interact with them, and to, I think, really open up our sense of what the world is, and bring new experiences and new ideas to them. Similar to what Angela referenced, my daughter, who is seven, is newly reading, and just watching her hole up in her room for entire days because she doesn’t want to stop reading, it just is amazing to see, and super fun.

Then I also try to use books as a tool with my patients, when I’m seeing them, even though they’re in the hospital setting, trying to encourage that as a way to interact with a child, and especially if I see a book at the bedside, I find that’s also a way to connect with their parents, to be able to show that more personal, human side of my work, and to encourage the child to use that as a way to find comfort while they’re in a stressful, scary situation in the hospital. So let’s start with just talking about what is your favorite book that is geared towards children? What particular message does it convey? Why is it a book that you come back to and recommend to friends and family?

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: The first book I’m going to describe is a book called Julian is a Mermaid, and it’s by Jessica Love. It is a beautiful picture book for kids, featuring a kid whose name is Julian. The family is a brown skinned, Spanish speaking family. The book features him and his abuela, and they are having a journey around seeing some, what we presume in the book, is folks assigned male dressed up as mermaids on the public bus. It leads into Julian’s love of mermaids, and how he feels like a mermaid as well. It’s just a beautiful story of finding who someone is, how parents, and grandparents, and other caregivers can respond to that. It has very few words, and it is just visually stunning. So I love it. There are no direct messages in it. It’s very gracefully and subtly done. So that is one that I would highlight.

Then I think the other one that I’ll highlight is a book called Where Oliver Fits, and it’s a book about a puzzle piece. It’s written by Cale Atkinson. The book features a puzzle piece named Oliver who can’t find the puzzle that he fits in. He tries everything to make himself fit into the puzzles, tapes himself up, he colors himself different colors, he tries to fit in. He actually ends up doctoring up his puzzle piece enough that eventually does fit into a puzzle. But then he realizes that no one can really see him. If no one can really see him for who he is, then does he even want to be a part of that puzzle at the end of the day? He decides not to.

Then the journey of the book ends with him eventually finding the other puzzle pieces that he fits with in his part, and this beautiful, gigantic puzzle that, to me, just represents the diversity of who we all are in the world. The thing I love about it is, again, it’s not heavy handed. It’s very subtly done. But it’s a beautiful message about we all have a place that we fit in the world. We don’t have to pretend to be someone that we’re not in order to fit in. That is one of the things I’m most worried about for my own kids as they get older. So I like the message that this book gives them about just being themselves.

Dr. Gabi Hester: Meredith, what about you?

Meredith Hicks: The book I want to share today is called What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. This one has been on repeat in my house, and what I love about it is that it continues to draw my daughter’s attention, and it helps me with language as we move through different stages of understanding and development. The little subtext here, described as a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid. I think that is so true as we read it. It gives really poetic and factual information about how babies are created, and who is loving them, and waiting for them in a way that doesn’t gender anybody.

It talks about different body parts, and different pieces that are needed to create a new life. But it doesn’t have any gender within it. That is really important for my family and for my kid. It’s something that she keeps coming back to. I’ve seen her ask different questions over time, and see her thinking evolve around it. It’s just a really wonderful book.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: I love that you chose that book. I also had that in my little collection today. One of the things I love, everything about it that you just said. I particularly like it because it’s so good for young kids, when they ask questions like, “Where do babies come from,” or, “How did I get here?” I think as adults, because we understand sex, we often want to explain it to our kids in terms of sex. But really, making a baby can have something to do with sex, but it also doesn’t have to have anything to do with sex.

So what I really like about this book is it says, “Well, okay, you need a uterus, because a baby has to grow in a uterus, and you need an egg, and you need sperm. It doesn’t talk about how the sperm meets the egg, or the act of having sex, or anything that really is not something that I would want to talk with my five and seven year olds about yet. But really gives them clear information, and there is a beautiful metaphor in this book that when the sperm and the egg come together, the stories mix, and then you become a mix of all the stories that came from those people. I love that message.

Meredith Hicks: It’s so great, yeah.

Dr. Gabi Hester: I really like your description of that book, because I feel like my kids are at an age now where they’re starting to have those types of questions. Even though I am a pediatrician, I technically know some of the answers. But I don’t know how to have those conversations with my kids about it. The books that I have found, I find them to be fairly inadequate to how I would actually like to describe it to my children, or the types of recommendations I would like to make for patients and families to talk about it. So that one is definitely going to go on my list. Adriene?

Adriene Thornton: I have two books as well. I will tell you, when you hear about all the books that I like, you’re going to see a running theme. Cup is always half full with me. The first book is actually a brand new book for me. In transparency, I just heard about it this morning on the Today Show, but it made me cry. Then I had to go and listen to it, and I’m like, “Okay, I’m adding this one to the list.” So the name of the book is An Orphan No More, the True Story of a Boy. If you’ve been keeping up with the Olympics, there is an Olympic diver named Jordan Windle. He was adopted from Cambodia. He was adopted by his white, gay father.

It is a story of what they went through, because his father tells a story of how he really wanted a baby, but everyone told him he couldn’t have a baby because he was a gay man, and that if he wanted a baby, he had to be with a woman. So it just goes through telling the story of how wonderful it was when he was able to get this little boy from Cambodia. But then it also goes through explaining things like why his son’s skin was so much darker than his. The book was written based on their lived experience. That’s what I loved about it. He dealt with their lived experience in the conversations that he had with Jordan through this book.

It’s funny, because he uses animals like roosters and chickens in the book, but then he brings in pictures of him and his son. It is just a wonderful story. I tell you, me, and Hoda, and everyone else who was watching the Today Show was in tears this morning. Adopted kids always have questions. I think this answers it about, “Why was I adopted? Why did you adopt me? Why do you love me?” All of that fun stuff is answered in this book.

Then I have become a quick fan of Hoda Kolb, watching her become a mom was just wonderful. I felt like I was her best friend. She has written children’s books based on what she was feeling as a new mom. My favorite one is I’ve Loved You Since Forever, because I think it speaks to what all of us parents feel. But it is a communication to our kids that, you know what? I loved you before you even got here. Once you got here, that love just got bigger. I know that in these days and times, kids sometimes struggle with that, because of all of the societal pressures, and the peer pressure. Sometimes they just need to be reminded that you know what? I love you no matter what, and I loved you before you got here, and I’m going to love you more as you get older. It’s just a really heartwarming story.

It’s good for little kids five years and younger, because it’s easy to understand. The pictures are just wonderful. I love pictures with animals, because it makes it applicable to anyone. I love pictures with people in them, but the way that we take away the us versus them is to make it somebody else. So she uses foxes, which I absolutely love, because people tend to be afraid of foxes. But here you have a mama fox, and a baby fox, and you see the loving relationship between them. I give Hoda’s book to every new baby that comes into the world, because I just think it’s a wonderful story.

Dr. Gabi Hester: The book that I wanted to talk about a little bit, and there is no shortage of great books that fill this type of role for me. But more recently, I read the book Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival. It’s about a little boy who suddenly one day discovers that he’s grown a pair of wings. He’s sort of frightened about how he thinks other kids will perceive him, and other people will perceive him. So he covers them up with a big coat.

But then over the course of the story, he sort of learns that maybe he could take the coat off, and not only does he feel more comfortable and he’s able to literally spread his wings and fly, maybe not so subtle imagery, but he also inspires other kids to uncover things that they had been hiding. So I thought that was a really powerful story for me about being brave to be yourself, and about how that can also encourage other people to be brave. So that’s a book that I really enjoyed. It’s part of the Big, Bright Feelings series by Tom Percival. There are a number of books in that series.

Another one that I brought in today is called Ruby Finds a Worry. A lot of them talk, geared towards younger children, but talk about things like mental wellness, and mental health, anxiety, depression, feeling like an outsider, ways that you can treat other kids and be kind. So particularly at the age that my children are, being that early elementary school, late preschool type of age group, I find them to be a really good tool to have some conversations about things that my family is dealing with as well.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Yeah, I think that’s a great use for children’s books, Gabi, is using a book to simplify a complex topic for a kid. I love the thought of using books to talk about feelings. I’m a big fan of Todd Parr, he writes a lot of books, one of them is called The Feelings Book. But he writes a lot of books that are very simplified versions of complex things. As you were talking, I was thinking also about how when George Floyd was murdered here in Minneapolis, and then we had protests happening, and buildings were burning, and there were some riots that was something that I had to have a conversations with my kids about.

We talked about it a lot, but then we also found a book that is called Something is Happening in Our Town. It was about the story of someone being murdered by police, and then what happened after that. It was just a really nice way to talk about that with our kids. So I like using books to simplify complex topics for kids.

Meredith Hicks: Yeah. I’ll chime in here, we are on the same book wavelength. I had that written down. That was powerful for my family. My child didn’t fully gravitate to that specific book, and it’s by the author Marianne Celano, Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story of Racial Injustice. But it helped me with language, knowing that it was written, so I could repeat those phrases or concepts, and continue the conversation. Another piece I really liked about that book is that it told about the experience from a white family’s perspective and a black family’s perspective. So it opened up conversations about how the same events, like you could pose different questions based on your family’s experience and identities.

Dr. Gabi Hester: Along that similar line, a young adult book called The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. This was written, I believe, back in 2017 or 2018, before the murder of George Floyd. But obviously that type of event has been happening for hundreds of years, unfortunately. The book is about that type of scenario, where a teenage girl is living in a neighborhood with her family. She is a black teenager. She is going to sort of a fancy prep school across town. But is at a party one night, and headed home with her friend. Her friend is pulled over by the police, he is unarmed, and he is shot and killed by the police officer.

The book was so powerful to read, especially in light of the current moment that we’re in, after the murder of George Floyd here in our own community. It was also really challenging to read, just knowing that these themes have been happening for a long time. Are we really in that different of a place now? It was a really powerful book. I think it would be the type of book that you would want to read in parallel with your teenager or young adult to be able to have conversations, and really a dialogue about it. I’m curious, I’m not intimate with the education system, like a high school these days. But I’m wondering, how has the required reading changed? Are they talking about these types of books in school? Or is it still the old, Heart of Darkness-

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: The Scarlet Letter.

Dr. Gabi Hester: The Scarlet Letter and those things. Is the education system becoming more evolved to talk about literature like this?

Adriene Thornton: We are not there yet. I live in a southern district of the city, it’s on 196. I can tell you that our district and the Lakeville district, and the Farmington school district, there are fights going on, literally fights between parents who think that we should expand the education of our kids to include books like that, or the true American history that looks at blacks as more than just slaves, but their lived experience. It’s difficult, because parents, a lot of them are not ready to have those conversations with their kids. They see it as causing more division, “Well, we don’t need to talk about that.” I like the saying, “if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”

So, to kind of set your kids up to read a book like The Hate You Give, read to them as children books about MLK, and there are books about the riots, and things that America dealt with from a race relations standpoint. I think that will change in the future, because younger people like my daughter, who is 21, they are so different from my generation and the generation after me. They are just like, “We don’t care. We want to know, we want to put it out there, we want to talk about it.” They’re much more open to having those difficult conversations than any other generations before them. So I think there is hope. But we’re not there yet.

Dr. Gabi Hester: We focused mostly on young, early elementary education type books. What about young adult novels? I’ve mentioned one that I found to be interesting. Do you guys have any other, for the teenage crowd, of books that you like, books that you recommend? Maybe it’s a book that you read as a teenager.

Adriene Thornton: There are lots of wonderful books. One that I really like is Dear Martin. It looks at racism and police brutality from the view of a black, young man. It is not an easy read, I’ll be honest. I mean, it’s a good book. But it’s just like The Hate You Give. It’s a lot to swallow. But it’s well written, it’s very easy to understand. It’s not written from an angle of hate, or disdain, or anger. It’s just here is what it is, take it for what it is, and get what you can out of it. I really do like that book. I got that book for my daughter a while back, and she enjoyed it as well. Even as a young teenager, and then I think she read it again as a beginning young adult kind of thing. “Hey, I remember that book, but I can’t remember all the things. I think I want to read it again.” Especially in our current climate. She found it to be very relevant.

Dr. Gabi Hester: It looks like that was by Nic Stone.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Two I would add, first one is called George by Alex Gino. George is a story of a young transgender child named George and her journey to really explain herself to the people around her. The thing I really like about the book George is it’s very easy to read. I read it in about two hours. It’s very quick. It’s great for any age. So it’s great for the young people who it’s designed for to read, who are probably middle schoolers. But it’s also really great for parents, because it’s from George’s perspective. So I think for parents who are cisgender or who are not familiar with LGBTQ people or identities, it’s a really nice way to develop some quick empathy and understanding for what the experience of being a transgender kid is like.

The other book that I love is Wonder by R. J. Palacio. It’s also a film, but I really encourage people to read the book. It brought me to tears. It was just a beautiful book. It’s a young adult book. Great for probably middle school or older. But also really beautiful and moving for adults. It’s about a child who has a medical condition that impacts his appearance, and what he goes through in trying to make friends, and be himself, and it’s just a really beautiful and moving story that’s also funny, and really engaging.

Dr. Gabi Hester: One thing, I read Wonder as well, and really enjoyed, and of course, sobbed at various points, as well as laughed. It’s a good book, it’s a great book. The main character in the book is the child Augie. But it also looks at it from the perspective of his older sister, Olivia, as well as his parents. I really liked, particularly the element of looking at his sister’s experience, and some of the challenge, but more so the celebration and the joy that she had in being a part of her brother’s life. I thought that was just really beautifully done. I think it’s a great read for anyone. I have not watched the movie either. But I thought the book did it complete justice as far as telling the story that needed to be told.

New adventures, friends, mishaps, and triumphs.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: That concludes part one of our children’s book club with Gabi. Join us next week where we will pick up where we left off for part two.

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