The racial justice uprisings last spring and summer had an impactful rippling effect that is still felt today. Many parents grappled with how or when to best explain what was happening to their young children, but a new children’s picture book could offer some insight to help children navigate some of those confusing feelings.
We Can’t Stop Now, written by Dr. Danielle Hyles and illustrated by Enrico Iskandar, centers the stories of three young friends—Vivien, Deryn, and Ayanna—as they address how being Black affects the ways their fathers are perceived and treated by society. The friends open up about the hate they experience in their lives and their frustration over the fact that it’s about their appearance. The kids are eventually inspired to open up about their feelings to adults or local leaders to help bring change in the Black community.
Hyles is a Canadian elementary school vice principal and children’s author with Trinidadian heritage who centers all her stories around inclusivity, equity, and anti-racism. When students began to come to teachers with questions and concerns after the police killing of George Floyd, she decided to write the book to teach kids to better understand what was happening.
“[My students] wondered why this Black man died in the hands of police,” Hyles said. “That was the main thing. They didn’t understand why. They asked, ‘Has this happened before? Does this happen to Black women, too?’ And I told them yes, it does. Then they asked me to tell them the story of George Floyd, so I did.”
From there, Hyles sought to address the primary questions her students asked at school and provide suggestions for actionable steps they can take to advance social justice causes. Though the story discusses the realities of racism and police violence, Hyles says the book is not intended to make children afraid of police. Instead, the goal is to help them walk away with a sense of control and agency if something similar ever happens in their home.
“[Children] have agency and have a voice in schools, in the classrooms, and in [their] home, Hyles said.
Hyles encourages children to voice any concerns they have in terms of race and social justice with a loved one, a friend, or a teacher.
Though the book doesn’t specifically mention George Floyd by name, it’s clear the events take place in the aftermath of the incident last spring. Since Black men being killed by police is distressingly common, the time-stamp isn’t necessary to get the point across that this is an ongoing issue.
The author, Dr. Danielle Hyles, holds up a copy of her book, “We Can’t Stop Now.”
“There’s nothing that explicitly says it’s about [George Floyd], but as soon as you read it you know it’s about him,” Hyles said.
Hyles is no stranger to tackling topics to help young kids develop empathy and understanding. She received a doctorate in equity and education and has used that knowledge to help young kids navigate challenging or unfamiliar situations.
The character Vivien is named after and based on Hyles’ real-life 9-year-old daughter, who also happens to be the main character in every one of her books. Hyles’ characters are often based off of people in her real life, and her stories deal with Vivien navigating difficult situations and relationships. In another one of Hyles’ books released this year, Hugging is My Superpower, Vivien tries to figure out how to ask her cousin, who is hearing-impaired, for a hug in sign language.
“I always have a lens for social justice, equity, anti-racism, gender issues, and class issues because those are issues that are extremely important to give a child’s voice to,” Hyles said.
We Can’t Stop Now is targeted at children ages 5 to 12. Hyles says parents should start talking to their children about race and inequities beginning at 4 years old.
“It’s important for people to have serious, honest, bare talks with their kids [about] race,” she said. “I know four seems young, but that’s when questions start to come up. When the news is on and parents are watching it and kids are in the room, they hear it and ask questions at school.”
A study published last year in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that children notice race and racism several years before parents decide to talk to them about it. For parents who are skeptical about having their young child read about a topic as serious and intense as racism or police violence, Hyles has a message:
“This is what’s happening in society and students need to be aware of what’s going on. There are examples of racist behaviors happening in schools and kids need to know how to address it.”