Home Book Collections Kids Books About Radical Interdependence: The Kindness of Giving, Taking, and Asking

Kids Books About Radical Interdependence: The Kindness of Giving, Taking, and Asking

via Ashia

[Image: Illustration from ‘The Girl And The Bicycle’ by Mark Pett. A young girl shoveling snow looks over to find the neighbor who hired her has brought two steaming mugs of hot cocoa for them to enjoy together.]

In our January Patreon poll, an article on how we balance Giving, Taking, and Asking tied for second place.

So here it is!

In this post, we’re going to reverse the typical format. I’ve got book list, followed by discussion questions to engage your kiddos. After that, I’m gonna explain why you should care and (for those not already doing the work), how to get your ass in gear using these concepts to dismantle the kyriarchy.

First, a book list so you can discuss interdependence with your kiddos:

Many of these are a twist on those basic sharing & generosity books you can pick up anywhere. Unlike the basics, these focus on non-transactional kindness and healthy interdependence.

None of that garbage about the Golden Rule! The golden rule SUCKS. The concept of treating others the way we want to be treated is fundamentally flawed. This is the foundation of colorblind fallacy, tone policing, saviorism, and anti-equity conservatism. It’s a nice shortcut that excuses assumptions and skips over the hard part (listening and believing marginalized people.)

Treat people the way they want to be treated. We are not all the same! We all have different needs, challenges, and desires. Better idea: Teach kids that if they want to help someone, they should start by listening to them. And then they should go do what that person asks them to do.

Right! On to the books!

One day, I might have time to sort these into categories. But right now I have a kid sick at home, all feverish and whimpery and he’s patiently waiting for me to make him a snack and read him stories.
So you’re going to have to settle for the first draft I made this weekend.

Books For Littles(BFL) is free and accessible for readers who can’t afford a paywall. Posts may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Check out the full affiliate disclosure along with the BFL statement of accountability. If you’re pairing this advice with a trip to the library (please do!), you can also support BFL on Patreon.

Become a Patron!




Discussions while reading:

As with all story time discussions, the point is really just to shut up and let kids work out these scenarios and ideas on their own. Ask a question. Wait an uncomfortable number of beats before responding or continuing to read. Kids need time to think and process, and many think out-loud.
In many stories, generosity is one-sided, with A Generous Person With More giving stuff or helping A Pathetic Person With Less. The characters are static, as if generosity is an innate personality trait. No! Focus on generosity as a relationship.
You can use at least a few of these questions for each of the books above. But since unhealthy independence and generosity is a common theme in kid lit, consider keeping these in your pocket for other stories.
Ask: 
  • How does it make X feel to give or help Y?
  • Have you ever helped like X? How did it make you feel?
  • Have you ever received like Y? How did it make you feel?
Always bring it back to how would you feel if…?
That’s the good stuff. That’s how we teach kids to be considerate and empathetic and all those things kind people need practice with.
Ask: 
  • Why did X help Y?
  • Do you think X expects anything in return?
  • How would X feel if they thought Y felt obligated to return the favor?
Our common knee-jerk reaction is to pay an act of kindness back. As if there is some cosmic debt that we have to keep on top of, or else we will burn in the fires of eternity. We treat acts of generosity and kindness like a live grenade, trying to fling it back as soon as possible. Or we harbor it like a grudge.
That cheapens it and ruins things for the person who was being kind. Stop doing that, please.
It sucks to mooch off folks, but the suck of that comes when we can give, but refuse to. There is no objective, balanced ‘fair.’ There’s just a constant striving to make sure everyone has what they need. Just accept nice things – compliments, kind gestures, life-changing help – with a genuine ’thank you’ and resist the urge to get even.
Ask: 
  • Why was it easier for X to do this, not so easy for Y?
  • What kinds of things do you think are easier for Y that X can’t do?
Ask: 
  • What things are easy for us to give or help with, but harder for others?
  • Why do you think that is easier for you?
  • What could change that would make this harder for you?
We forget that the stuff that comes easy to us is often easy to share. The stuff we have lots of – it’s easy to give away. Giving what we have plenty of doesn’t hurt.
(Except for those greedy bastards hoarding the world’s wealth and buying islands when they could build entire school systems but aside from them.)
The stuff that challenges us, the skills that we lack- that’s exactly where we need help. So we can get a little lost in ourselves, thinking ‘I could never ask for help cooking dinner, because cooking is SO HARD.’ But it turns out that stuff we consider hobbies – say, sewing, is super hard for a friend who loves cooking and has way too much lasagna left over every Thursday. Instead of spending two hours every Thursday cooking dinner, we could have a thrilling two hours mending our friend’s clothes and then a delicious lasagna shows up.
This is also a great way to start discussing privilege!
Ask: 
  • Why did X have to work so hard to accomplish this?
  • What did X misunderstand about Y?
  • What did Y misunderstand about X?
  • What could they have said to each other beforehand to make things easier for both of them?
Sometimes, people ask for help, and we feel obligated to say ‘yes’ – and then providing them wipes us out. Or we just assume that’s what they want, and we burn ourselves out trying to provide stuff they never even asked for.
Remember above, where I ranted about what bullshit the Golden Rule is? That’s a big part of it. Don’t assume you know what other people want! ASK.
A simple, (albeit slightly terrifying) way to help our kids navigate this is to teach them how to communicate – openly, and honestly. Teach them to talk about the things  they find challenging and to be honest about when they need more resources. This requires vulnerability – which is a scary thing to be.
We can teach them how to be honest about their need for help without teaching them to feel entitled to getting it.
At least – I think so. Oh who knows! My kids are still young and demanding and can’t even cook dinner for themselves yet. Working on it.
Ask: 
  • Why does Y seem reluctant to ask for or accept help?
  • What could X do to make it easier or reassure Y?
It’s easy to offer help. You just say “let me know what you need help with!” 
But it’s way, way harder to for the person on the other side of that conversation to:
  1. Identify what we need help with
  2. Figure out what a new helper can handle, versus which things only we know how to deal with
  3. Give a helper the necessary background information and training –  resources, schedule, important details, and all the invisible stuff they’d need to pick up before tacking the task at hand.*
  4. Find time and mental bandwidth to figure out all the stuff above, task it to the right people, worry about if we’re asking too much, worry about the social/emotional debts this might incur (see the first discussion question), and oversee them while they learn how to do it
  5. Deal with the fallout if the helper bails, fails, or resents us for asking
*Example:
This year, my partner is taking over finding childcare for summer break. I typed up a ten-page document on our options, pointed out all the things we need to consider. We can only afford some camp. Putting the kids in the wrong camp could be a mistake that financially ruins us, opens them up to sexual assault, and exposes them to ableist & racist camp councillors! Some camps accept kids with disabilities, but they get sick of our kids after a week, so we have to pull them in and out to give the councillors a break – but also minimize transitions for our kid who melts down with transitions. Some camps say they accept kids with disabilities but it turns out they don’t actually know what inclusion means, and they and kick us out with no refunds and no backup plans. The camps we can afford have to be reserved at 4:15am on this one particular Wednesday morning because those camps fill up within 5 minutes and the price hikes up if you wait.
It took me more time to write that all out than it did to do it myself. (And a month later – all those deadlines have passed and the kids are still not registered for camp).
Ask: 
  • What happenedbefore the story started?
  • Who do you think helped X before, so they are now in a position to help now?
 
Unpack the invisible privileges and resources we don’t see in the book.
  • Do you think X ate breakfast that morning? Who made it?
  • Who is watching X’s kids right now?
  • Who is caring for their aging parents?
  • How did they come to live there?
  •  Who made the thing they are sharing?
  • Who taught them to share?
The myth of rugged independence and hauling ourselves up by our bootstraps and all that relies on the invisibility of oppression.
 Folks who claim they got where from nothing (using only hard work and sweat!) conveniently forget about stuff like the childcare, housing, food, healthcare, education, social connections, roadways, moments of safety, and/or all the commonwealth infrastructure they had access to in those early years.
That, and those moments when they weren’t turned down at an admissions office or job interview because they weren’t perceived as ’the other.’ All the family and community members who didn’t need to rely on them for support and care. All the days they didn’t go hungry and got enough sleep because they had a safe place to go.
This is a great time to introduce the concept of cultural wealth and community support! For folks who have inherited the stuff our marginalized ancestors built to survive – that privilege should be acknowledged, too.
 
Ask: 
  • Did X ask for help at a good time?
  • Would it have been easier for Y to help if X had asked before the big disaster?
We tend to celebrate folks who give and give until they burn out and need (costly) emergency help themselves. Which is really messed up, not to mention inefficient and taxing.
Still ask for help – it’s NEVER too late! But ask for help today before the crisis hits, if you can.
 Let’s not celebrate martyrdom – let’s teach kids to ask for help when they need it, while it’s still easy to provide.
Ask: 
  • What does X find challenging?
  • Do you think X deserves less love / happiness / human rights because they can’t do this thing?
Ask: 
  • Do you think Y likes X less because of what X can’t do?
  • If so – would you want a friend like Y?
  • If [real person your kid loves] couldn’t do that too, would you love them less?
Ask: 
  • Why is X having a hard time admitting they can’t do this by themself?
  • What are they worried will happen?
No one wants to feel like a loser. With constant messages from our culture that anyone who can’t ‘do it all,’ by themselves, is a failure, why would we ever admit (even to ourselves) that we can’t handle anything?
To give our kids another perspective, we have to disentangle our human worth from our abilities and our output.


Beyond books: Taking Action

We always start with books, because getting our hands on a picture book is relatively easy. We make it easy to start these tough conversations. From there, if you have the right tools, taking action gets easier.
Once you’ve had some uncomfortable discussions, hopefully you have that itch to do something about it, yes? Like – our US culture is not a particularly interdependent place. We’re rather aggressively against any whiff of dependence or interdependence.
Which is…ironic, for a country whose economy, government, and infrastructure is built upon the bones of exploited, abused, enslaved, and murdered Black and brown and poor and disabled and feminine bodies, labor, and lives. We are super dependent on oppressed folks.
But hush – let’s not talk about such ugly behavior at the dinner table! (That was me doing a Nice White Lady Voice. Please talk about it everywhere.)
Here are the tools we need to vault this next generation into action: Knowledge, Urgency, and Capability.
Oh. Also, kids gotta see it. They have to see us doing these things, so they know it’s possible.

Knowledge

Interdependence is a vital tool in organizing and grassroots activism. Understanding and valuing interdependence (and refusing to fall into the trap of glorifying independence) is bedrock when you’re looking to dismantle all the heads of the kyrairchy hydra – but this is easier to see looking at wealth inequality and ableism. Folks with less money and power, and folks who live in an unsuitable or even hostile environment must be interdependent with other humans to stay alive.
I mean – humans as a general whole need other humans to stay alive, but try telling that to the rich dudes in the senate voting to cut social spending but don’t even prepare their own damn lunch.
We stigmatize interdependence by selling stories of super-heroes, saviorism, and innate supremacy. So don’t do that. Refuse to buy these stories. They are junk food for our brains. When your kid comes across them, talk about how unrealistic they are.
We sell these stories to our kids, too. We tell them to reciprocate when someone is nice. We model that no good deed can go unrequited. We refuse to accept compliments without flinging one back. We send holiday cards to that one family only because they send them to us. We buy that thing we don’t really need because the salesperson spent so much time helping us find it.
We teach our kids that kindness is transactional. But it’s not. That’s niceness. Niceness exists to keep things the way they are, to avoid making waves. Niceness is what you do when you are happy with things as they are.
Are you happy with the way things are? If not, maybe niceness and all the tedious transactionalism of polite society is no longer serving you.
Kindness is gloriously messy, lopsided, and never balances the books. Kindness is not transactional. Kindness is radically, fundamentally, and deep down, a primal punch in the face for capitalism. You can’t pay back kindness. You can’t pay it forward. Kindness is not currency.

Urgency

We internalize capitalism good and hard, very young. I still can’t shake it.
What if I took a day off? What if I failed to produce? Everyone I know and admire would reject me with disdain. My brain says “that is ridiculous” but my heart and lived experience with the outside world says “You would be fucked.”
So can we not do that to our kids? Starting right now, right now, can we teach our kids that they are unconditionally valuable, worthy humans? That they don’t have to earn our admiration, our love, or their next meal?
They have to be decent humans to get bonus extras, like end-of-our-rope patience, or a tasty dinner. But that behavior-therapy nonsense – using our power to take away everything they need to feel safe and happy, and then metering it out only when they conform in ways that are socially convenient for us – that shit has to go.

Capability

Those books will help. The discussions will help more. Talking about broken things and not pretending things are okay – that’s powerful stuff.
Beyond that – if we want our kids to want to support each other, we stop talking about ‘us’ and ’them.’ With my kids, I don’t talk about those wealthy senators who don’t know how to make a sandwich as if they were born lazy and cruel. I talk about their behavior and the shitty votes they make that harm us all. ‘Us’ being not just the people who live in our house, not just the people directly impacted, but the grandchildren and great-grandchildren we will share with them.
I talk about how the society we grew up in influenced us all, and how that plays out based on our lived experiences, challenges, and privileges.
When kids see everyone – both those who are harming us and those who we are complicit in harming – as us, our natural human tendency to protect the herd comes in. We gotta move, cause our people are in danger.

Interdependence is a skill we’re still practicing with the little Earthquakes.

I’ve found this rough pattern has been working. Although, I’m new to this, so throw all this in the garbage and listen to someone with more smarts if it doesn’t work for you. I’ll admit, my kids are still pretty shitty sometimes. But they can also – often – be very kind.
  1. Listen to what other folks need.

    You want stuff, and that’s okay. But unless you’re on fire or bleeding, that has to wait. Shut up a moment and pay attention to what other people are saying.
  2. Try on a little humility.

    Search for your own weak spots. Admit what is challenging for you. Even (especially) when it means people won’t like you anymore.

    You can’t do that until you listen because how will you know what you suck at unless you see someone excelling at it?

    Looking people in the eye, for example. Before I knew I was autistic, I thought it was hard for everyone. Everyone had to deal with that hassle, they were just better than me at hiding their discomfort. Turns out, looking in eyeballs isn’t even a conscious decision for allistic people in white culture. They like it.

    Now that I know it’s a strength for others, I can tell that it’s a weakness of mine. Looking at eyeballs while also listening to people! No offense, but that’s a weird skill! So for all of your emotional eyeball connection needs, I am not your go-to person. I need to rely on other people to handle parts of my life that involve eyeball gazing.

  3. Try on a little arrogance.

    Figure out what comes easy to you, and tell people about it.

    You don’t need to be way, way far ahead of everyone. You don’t need to know ALL the stuff they know, plus more. You just need to know or be able to do, or even just want to do… like, maybe 1-2 things some folks can’t or don’t want to do.
    That’s the stuff you can offer! That’s what people can rely on you for!

    At age 5, R2 is, umm…perceives himself to be an expert at sorting laundry. That’s his job. (He’ll get better at it). We can depend on him to do it. One day, this will save me time, which I can spend on other things (that are not sorting laundry or looking at peoples’ eyeballs.) That’s his skill. And he’s going to be a great person to rely on for our laundry needs one day.

  4. Be honest and visible.

    All the stuff you discovered in parts 1-3. Talk about them. Be clear about them. Tell folks about them. This part is hard, if you’re already overwhelmed. All of my time spent trying to do all of that, but also I need to make time to generate a list of things people can do to help me? I told you, I’m new to this!

  5. Be aware of your power.

     
    ‘Asking’ is a loaded term. If you have power over someone who has been conditioned to comply with authority, and you ’ask’ them to do something, that’s not a request. It’s a demand – a confusing one, disguised to gaslight the people you have power over.
    I catch my partner saying to the kids “Guys, can you please put your shoes on so we can leave for the bus?” That is frustrating. He’s phrasing it as a suggestion, but those shoes MUST go on, RIGHT NOW and they don’t really have a choice. It’s not a request, and he gets angry and flustered when they treat it like one.
    It’d be much cleaner, and kinder, to just phrase a demand as what it is. “Put your shoes on now.” The kids respond better to that. I respond better to that. Don’t try to win nice-guy points by pretending your power doesn’t exist. If you need to make a demand, own it.
    (Don’t let the brief mentions of my partner’s rare mistakes bias you here, he’s actually a super lovely guy and the best dad ever.)

It’s not just about raising the kids or becoming braver yourself. You can do both. You have to do both.

Read some of those books with your kids. Bare minimum of action. You can handle it!

Stay Curious & Stand Brave & Support This Work

This is me being honest and visible: I create all this stuff for free so you can benefit from it. It’s a full time job! I have two small kids who like to eat! I am good at it and can’t find anything else like it in the world!

Please support my work by joining our Patreon community so I can keep doing it.

Become a Patron!

You might also like:

Add Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Read More