Hard Conversations – we come across them every day though admittedly some are a good bit harder than others. Sometimes the hard conversations are caused by our actions – anyone else have to apologize on the regular. Other times they are part of growing up, “Mom, why is your body different than mine?” Still other times, the conversations come from culture or situations we find ourselves in. In our house, we’ve stepped into just shy of a good hundred situational or culture related hard conversations since this time last year – people dying, pandemic, masks / no masks, personal space, the value of life, bullying, political ads, riots, curfews. 2020 and this first part of 2021 has brought with it countless opportunities to engage in hard conversations with our children. We don’t have the same conversation with each of our boys because what I would share with my three year old is not the same as what I share with my nearly ten year old but we have had most if not all of the conversations with all of the boys. Why? Because we would rather the boys talk to us than talk to someone else. We want to be a safe place to land, ask the weird / tough / embarrassing questions and work through ALL the tough things. Even though hard conversations are part of our life regularly, it doesn’t mean that it is easy to start these conversations. So, what do I do? I reach for a book.

Books can open the door to just about any topic. I’m so grateful for the printing press and the ability to have thousands of books at our fingertips through the public library systems and Amazon. When I know that we need to try to start a tricky conversation, I almost always stop to think about a book that can turn the knob and get the boys to ask the question themselves. Books help us avoid the “we have to talk” weirdness. Once I’ve chosen the book and have it in my hands, I slide it into one of our read alouds. We treat it like any other book and work through our comprehension work with it; and more often than not, one of the boys will ask a question or make a comment that perfectly segues into the conversation I wanted to have when I chose the book. When that doesn’t happen, or there is a conversation I want to have with just one of the boys, I circle back to that book later in the day saying something like “Hey, remember when we read _____________ earlier? What did you think about ____________?”

Here let me give you an example, today we read Something Beautiful which is an amazing book about inner city living and the harsh reality of homelessness, graffiti, and dark alleys. Though I read the book to all the boys, the younger three saw these things and let them go. They held onto the fact that the main character was trying to find beautiful things in her neighborhood. The oldest on the other hand, began to ask about why our neighborhood looks different, why someone would paint “die” on someone else’s door and why so many of the characters [though not all] were of one particular race. So this afternoon, we circled back. The littles were playing in the snow and he came up beside me as I was walking up and down the street trying to stay warm – it was a perfect open door.

“Hey, buddy, what did you think about today’s book?”

“It was hard, mom. Why would people treat their neighbors and neighborhood so awful?”

While I’m not going to give you a blow by blow of our conversation, I can tell you we talked about racial discrimination, poverty and the fear many people have of different than themselves for a good long time. I’m sure our conversation on these things is far from over but we’ve gone there. He’s starting to process some tough stuff and he knows his dad and I are available when he’s ready to talk again. What he doesn’t know and I do is that another conversation about these topics is right around the corner because his next novel study is from the book Bud, Not Buddy – a novel full of tense race relations, socioeconomic differences and other types of discrimination.

It’s time to be intentional. It is time to have the hard conversations. But even though the conversations may be hard, they can be smart and simple. Do yourself a favor. Use a book to open the door. Then, keep it smart. Keep it simple.

Novels and Books that lend to some Tricky Conversations
Pink is for Boys: Just because someone tells you something, doesn’t make it true.
Bud, Not Buddy: Race, Poverty, Foster Care, Abuse, Single Parent Homes, Identity
– Something Beautiful: Homelessness, Poverty, Discrimination, Inner City Living
My Brother Martin: Race, Disagreement, Murder, the Power of Words
Wonder: Disabilities, Differences, Changes in Friendships
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: Love, Selfishness, Death, Illness, Brokenness, Beauty

Share with us what books would you add to the list?