I’ve been thinking about visibility and invisibility lately. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “invisible?” I polled my family about this, and here are a few of the responses I received: empty air; silence; a kind of clear, transparent layer, like plastic wrap; and, the most surprising response – Willy Widdershins from Harry Potter.
I was reflecting about how some of the things that we think of as invisible can be peaceful, comforting, magical or spiritual. Others can be mysterious and frightening, like this virus. How can we explain the current situation to children, whether it’s our students or those in our households? It depends on their age and developmental level, of course. There’s guidance from departments of education, health departments, and many other sources, the best of which is parents’ own judgment of what their child can process.
Currently, we’re all trying to avoid something that’s invisible, but we see the signs of it around us. Life has changed in countless ways. We’ve all seen microscopic images of Covid-19, but we can’t see it with the naked eye. Is that what makes it hard for so many to fully conceptualize what it is, and how it spreads, and the havoc it creates?
We might be searching to find balance for ourselves, our immediate family, our extended family, our students. For many, it is all of the above. We find ourselves navigating through an onslaught of information, fear, anger, grief, hope, and action, sometimes all at once. I was reflecting about the role that books can play in this quest for balance, and I came upon these words of wisdom on Twitter:
No lie, my 2 yr old just said “books are bandaid, I need to feel better
Yes, the two-year old daughter of Matthew Kay (author of Not Light, but Fire) is requesting a book for healing. I see the poetry in that request as well. As adults, we sometimes use the word “bandaid” in a disparaging way, implying that it’s a superficial response to a problem. For children, though, a bandaid, carefully and lovingly applied where it’s needed, can be enormously comforting.
In that spirit, I began to think about and search for books that might help children to engage with the concepts of visibility and invisibility, and healing. I wanted to share a few of them. First, I discovered Tiny: The Invisible World of Microbes, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Emily Sutton. I am an admirer of Nicola Davies’ work, and this very relevant book provides a child-friendly exploration of a complex topic. It could be helpful for any child who would appreciate a clear, non-frightening introduction to the world of microbiology.
I was also thinking about different ways to explore visibility and invisibility beyond the world of microbes, and more in the sense of what we see and don’t see, because of our physical perspective. That brought me to a series of books written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal: Over and Under the Pond, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, and Over and Under the Snow. These books take children on journeys to the hidden worlds that are crucial parts of our ecosystem. They could serve to open up conversations and learning about looking more deeply into the natural world around us.
Finally, my thoughts turned more directly to healing. A book that came to my attention from a post from Jess Lifshitz on Twitter (@Jess5th), is The Invisible String, written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. This book helps young children to deal with various forms of loss through the metaphor of a string that connects us with those we love. It might provide the comfort that many children need as they adapt to the enormous changes in their lives. In the comments section, you’re invited to share books, or other texts and resources that are helping to meet the needs of your students, their families, and yourselves.
In addition, as we enter National Poetry Month, we welcome posts from Fellows about how you are sharing poetry with your students during this time. More information will be coming via the PAWLP Constant Contact about how to contribute if you choose to. We hope to hear from you.
Janice Ewing has been a reading specialist and literacy coach, and an adjunct instructor in the Reading Specialist Program at Cabrini University. She is currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. She also values her memberships and participation in ILA, KSLA, NCTE, PCTELA and CEL. She and her colleague, Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).