Demand soars for kids’ books addressing violence, trauma

Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_50767 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. As anxiety and depression rates have soared among young Americans, educators and advocates say children’s books can play a role in helping them cope. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_70779 Children read as Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_63528 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, smiles at the end of an interview while holding his puppet "Mr. Finger" he uses when he works with children on urban gun violence prevention, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_02885 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. He said young children in areas afflicted by gun violence are more aware of it than parents may think. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_92263 Children read as Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. Sales of books for young readers on violence, grief, and emotions have increased for nine straight years, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks U.S. retail sales of print books. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_36191 Children read as Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_12601 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, shows students one of his Emmy awards after leading the first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. James attended Drexel Avenue School as a child. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_99850 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_17804 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, reacts with disgust as he holds a stylized prop gun he uses when he works with children on urban gun violence prevention, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in New York. Through children’s literature and theater, Black works to reduce urban gun violence. “If you start when they’re 5, and you go back when you’re 6, 7, 8, 9, you’re going to change the behavior,” he said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_32950 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_47411 Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, New York. Black is the author of the illustrated children’s book “A Gun Is Not Fun.” He said young children in areas afflicted by gun violence are more aware of it than parents may think. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children's_Books_Gun_Violence_11933 Children read as Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. As the new school year swings into gear demand has been growing steadily for children’s books that address traumatic events such as school shootings. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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CHICAGO (AP) — As the new school year swings into gear, some students carry heavier worries than keeping up with homework: Demand has been growing steadily for children’s books that address traumatic events such as school shootings.

Sales of books for young readers on violence, grief, and emotions have increased for nine straight years, with nearly six million copies sold in 2021 — more than double the amount in 2012, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks U.S. retail sales of print books.

As anxiety and depression rates have soared among young Americans, educators and advocates say children’s books can play a role in helping them cope.

“While it might be second nature to try to shield kids from the harsher realities of life and scary news, it’s proving difficult to avoid big society issues,” said Kristine Enderle, editorial director at Magination Press, the children’s book publishing arm of the American Psychological Association. “Kids face these issues and challenges in their day-to-day life.”

One book, “I’m Not Scared … I’m Prepared,” was reprinted several times to meet demand after the massacre at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School in May, according to the National Center for Youth Issues, the nonprofit group that published the book. The story, first published in 2014, features a teacher who shows children what to do when a “dangerous someone” is in their school.

Bookstores around the country see interest in titles from the genre rise and fall depending on local and national headlines, according to bookseller Barnes & Noble.

Some newer titles engage directly with real-world gun violence.

In “Numb to This,” a graphic novel released this month, author Kindra Neely details the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, which she survived, and the aftermath as she tries to heal amid repeated shootings elsewhere. Initially, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers editorial director Andrea Colvin said she was shocked when Keely pitched the idea.

“I had to remember that, yes, this is what our stories are like now. This is what young people have experienced,” Colvin said.

Michele Gay, whose 7-year-old daughter Josephine was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, turned to children’s books herself to help her two surviving daughters. One picture book she read to them was “The Ant Hill Disaster,” about a boy ant who is afraid to go back to school after it is destroyed.

“It was one of many books that was of comfort to them and gave them a little bit of confidence to just face one more day, one more minute, because we can do it together,” said Gay, who advocates for improved security in schools through a nonprofit she co-founded, Safe and Sound Schools.

Parents should make sure books addressing trauma are age-appropriate and backed by psychologists, experts say.

It’s important to be aware of whether children are aware of or feeling stress about frightening things in the news, said Aryeh Sova, a Chicago psychologist who works with children who attended the July 4 parade in suburban Highland Park, Illinois, where seven people were killed in a shooting. A child asking lots of questions about an event may signify that they are anxious or fixated on it, he said.

“If it’s coming from the kid’s need, then books could be a great way for kids to learn and to read together with their parents and to review it on their own and to process it at their own speed, at their own pace,” Sova said.

But bringing up violence when a child isn’t worried about it could increase their anxiety unnecessarily, Sova said.

Some young children experience gun violence at alarmingly high rates, particularly in communities of color.

For them, it is important to start early to address the effects, said Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black. He is the author of the illustrated children’s book “ A Gun Is Not Fun.” He said young children in areas afflicted by gun violence are more aware of it than parents may think.

“They know about flowers and candles and cards in the street. They walk by them every day,” he said.

Through children’s literature and theater, Black works to reduce urban gun violence. “If you start when they’re 5, and you go back when you’re 6, 7, 8, 9, you’re going to change the behavior,” he said.

In the spring, he will collaborate with New York public school P.S. 155 in East Harlem with a series of gun violence awareness and prevention workshops for early readers, using puppets, storytelling and repetition.

“They won’t even get rid of assault weapons here in this country. So my thing is, we have to go in and we’ve got to help them help themselves save themselves,” Black said. “We’re really kind of failing at that.”

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Claire Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Savage on Twitter at https://twitter.com/c_thesavage.

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This story has been corrected to reflect the organization is named the American Psychological Association, not the American Psychology Association.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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