Friday, July 9, 2010

Layla's Head Scarf

Fitting in at school is a very big deal to children. From ages four to teenager, it's extremely common for a kid to value nothing more than being accepted by his or her peers (of course, some children are intensely anti-conformist, which is a whole different story). It's painful, almost, to find yourself an outcast because something about you sets you apart from the general pack.

It's kind of like the time I broke my toe the day before my family went to Sea World. I was eleven. I cried hysterically - not only because my toe hurt a whole lot, but because I would have to use crutches all day - and I was horribly embarrassed. I felt like everyone was staring at me.

But when it came time to see Shamu, the world-famous celebrity killer whale, I completely forgot about everyone around me. I was so thrilled to get splashed on by the giant orca! And once I forgot that crutches were something I considered to be harshing my mellow, so to speak, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the day. If anyone was looking at me, I didn't notice.

Kids can be strange. They are desperate to not only fit in, but to ostracize others in an effort to prove exactly how much they themselves belong. Thus, finding yourself on the outside of the "in crowd" can be devastating more or less because of awareness at what's going on on the other end of the mockery. Yet it is rare to find a child who sympathizes with the subject of cruel jokes, exclusion, and sometimes even mean-spirited pranks.

In Layla's Head Scarf, Layla is a new student in the first grade. She is very shy, and stands out because she always wears a scarf on her head. Some children try to make her feel comfortable, but a lot of them are not used to the scarf and don't understand why Layla wears it. Layla feels more and more excluded from her classmates, until it is time for the class to do paintings of their families. When the children realize that each student's family stands out for different reasons, they finally begin to understand Layla's head scarf.

Layla's Head Scarf is an essential read in this day and age. More than simply a lesson on inclusion, it's a book about realizing that we are technically ALL different. Kids will do nearly anything to fit in - when I was in elementary school, it was all about dyeing your hair blue, wearing slip-on sneakers, and collecting those stretchy choker necklaces - but if they realize that there really is no "normal" or "regular," it'll save them a lot of headache and heartache. They'll be free to be themselves, something so precious when you only have one childhood in a lifetime.

Layla's Head Scarf is part of the We Love First Grade™ series, and was nominated for a 2010 Benjamin Franklin Award.

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