CHICAGO (AP) — As the new school year begins, some students have more concerns than getting homework done: Demand for children’s books that address traumatic events like school shootings has been steadily growing.
Sales of books on violence, grief and emotion for young readers have grown for the ninth year in a row, with sales of nearly 6 million copies in 2021, more than double the number in 2012, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks U.S. retail sales of printed books.
As anxiety and depression rates soar among young Americans, educators and advocates say children’s books can play a role in helping them cope.
“While trying to protect kids from the harsher realities of life and scary news may be second nature, it’s proving hard to avoid big society issues,” said Kristine Enderle, editorial director of Magination Press, the children’s publishing arm of the American Psychological Association. . “Children face these issues and challenges in their daily lives.”
According to the National Center for Youth Issues, the nonprofit that published the book, a book, “I’m Not Afraid…I’m Ready,” was republished several times to meet demand following the May massacre at Rob Elementary School in Uvalde. The story was published in First published in 2014, it follows a teacher showing children what to do when “dangerous people” are at their school.
According to booksellers Barnes & Noble, interest in the genre in bookstores across the country ebbs and flows with local and national headlines.
Some newer games deal directly with real-world gun violence.
In the graphic novel “Numb to This,” published this month, author Kindra Neely details the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where she survived, and her multiple shootings elsewhere Consequences of attempted healing in the event. Initially, Andrea Colvin, editorial director of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, said she was shocked when Keely came up with the idea.
“I have to remember, yes, that’s our story right now. That’s what young people go through,” Colvin said.
Michelle Guy, whose seven-year-old daughter Josephine was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, turned to children’s books herself to help her two surviving daughters. One picture book she read to them was The Ant Hill Disaster, about a little ant who is afraid to go back to school after the school is destroyed.
“It’s one of many books that gives them a little bit of confidence to face one more day, one more minute, because we can do it together,” said Guy, who advocates for better school safety through a book she co-founded. Nonprofit organization, safe and sound school.
Experts say parents should make sure books about trauma are age-appropriate and supported by a psychologist.
Chicago psychologist Aryeh Sova worked with children who participated in the July 4 parade in the suburbs of Highland Park, Illinois, where seven people were killed in a single shot. A child asking a lot of questions about something can mean they’re anxious or preoccupied with it, he said.
“If it’s coming from a child’s need, then books can be a great way for kids to learn and read with their parents and review it on their own and process it at their own pace and at their own pace,” Sova said.
But bringing up violence when children aren’t worried about violence can unnecessarily increase their anxiety, Sova said.
Some young children experience alarmingly high rates of gun violence, especially in communities of color.
It’s important for them to start addressing those effects early on, said Ian Ellis James, an Emmy-winning Sesame Street author who goes by the stage name William Electric Black. He is the author of the illustrated children’s book “A Gun Is Not Fun.” Young children in areas affected by gun violence know this better than their parents think, he said.
“They know the flowers, candles and cards on the street. They walk past them every day,” he said.
Through children’s literature and drama, Black works to reduce urban gun violence. “If you start with them when they’re 5 and go back when they’re 6, 7, 8, 9, you change behavior,” he said.
This spring, he will be partnering with New York Public Schools PS 155 in East Harlem to conduct a series of gun violence awareness and prevention workshops for early readers using puppets, storytelling and repetition.
“They’re not even going to get rid of offensive weapons in this country. So my thing is, we have to go in and we have to help them save themselves,” Black said. “We do have a bit of a failure on this front.”
Claire Savage is a member of the Associated Press/US State Capitol Journalism Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit, national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Follow Savage on Twitter at https://twitter.com/c_thesavage.