Cultivating compassion in children
When you meet someone with a disability, what do you see? Do you see a wheelchair? A white cane? A person who can’t speak or play well? Tim Huff helps readers understand their own responses in It’s Hard Not to Stare. Huff uses this illustrated children’s book to invite children aged 6–12 to show compassion, understanding and goodness – instead of meanness and judgment – to those with disabilities.
Written in a lyrical style, It’s Hard Not to Stare is an enjoyable, flowing read. Huff discusses the ideas that may run through children’s heads when they see someone with a different ability than they have.
In the 27-page book, Huff illustrates many disabilities in a variety of scenarios children might encounter in their daily lives. Through his bright-coloured, child friendly illustrations, children will see that people with special needs enjoy painting, camping, playing sports and being with friends. Readers will be able to relate to people who are different because they can find common interests even with people whose level of abilities are not the same.
“As you will see, it’s just about people like you and like me,” writes Huff. He uses simple words to discuss what children may feel when they see someone with a special need, and to describe the challenges such a person faces daily. He acknowledges the lack of understanding, confusion and even fear children may experience when encountering people who look or act differently than they do. Huff reassures the reader that fear or confusion can give way to familiarity, compassion, kindness and friendship.
Parents, teachers and caregivers should read this book to their children often. At the end of the book are eight pages of sharing pages and discussion starters by Jan Fukumoto, central coordinator of autism services for the Toronto District School board. This is a helpful tool to assist adults in talking to children about disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. It also provides information about special needs should children ask questions parents or teachers find difficult to answer.
Cultivating understanding is vitally important at a time when autism and other learning disabilities are becoming more prevalent in churches, classrooms and the world around us. Though it doesn’t speak directly as a “Christian” book, It’s Hard Not to Stare is a wonderful tool for understanding special needs in our congregations.
Huff has dedicated his life to advocacy and service of people with disabilities, and children, youth and adults living on the streets in the Toronto area. It’s Hard Not to Stare is the second book in StreetLevel’s Compassion Series – books that address complex issues of social justice in a safe and thoughtful manner for school-aged children.
Tim Huff does a wonderful job of opening the door to speaking more honestly about special needs and how we react to what is “different.” He appeals to readers to look inside their hearts, find love, care, and compassion to respond to individuals with special needs as people with different abilities.
—Mona Scott is the mother of children with autism. She works in the educational field. She is a member of North Kildonan MB, Winnipeg.