post by Liz Zadnik

Liz Zadnik is the Capacity Building Specialist for NJCASA and passionate preventionist.  She has her masters in community psychology and social change from Penn State University; her work and research focuses on effective community-based change efforts and meaningful engagement.

I’ve been working in the anti-sexual violence movement for six years.  Before that I worked in sexual health and reproductive rights, as well as in the anti-domestic violence movement.  The last decade or so has been a journey toward a meaningful and lifelong identity: Activist.

Along the way my personal life has also given me another identity: Aunt.  I have five nieces ranging from three to 10 years old.  They are each their own magnificent person.  Independent. Brilliant. Hilarious. Creative. Compassionate.  Every time I’m with them I learn more about myself and think about the person I used to be – back before I knew everything I know now.  I try not to let my fears and outrage at the world keep me from being present with them.  I try to take off my Activist Hat as much as possible.

But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

In those times I try to find a way to communicate with them in their language and create a space where they always feel comfortable around Aunt Liz.  One of my favorite strategies is using books to connect.  Books are a great opportunity to practice skills together and have a light (but meaningful) conversation.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • The Angry Octopus: This is a great story to introduce deep breathing and stress relief into a bedtime (or anytime) routine.
  • You’ve Got Dragons:  A beautifully-illustrated book that normalized anxiety and ways of coping.  No worries, though, the dragons are friendly, not Game of Thrones-style.
  • You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses:  I love practicing yoga with two of my nieces – they have even been known to “teach” each other from time to time when I’m not around.  The illustrations are adorable and I dare you not to feel amazing after a few rounds of Lion’s Breath!
  • My name is NOT Isabella:  Probably my all-time favorite!  Isabella is a young girl who wakes up each day as a different woman from history – Sally Ride, Annie Oakley, Rose Parks, and others.  The back of the book has a short blurb about each of the women and is a great conversation starter about dreams and hopes and possibility.

Each of these books gives me a chance to be an Activist and Aunt at the same time (an Auntivist?).  I get to be my whole self and see how I’m stronger in both areas as a result.  I connect with them in a way that feels authentic to me and, in return, they get another enthusiastic and genuine caring adult in their life invested in keeping them safe, empowered, and confident.  It’s a win-win.

Please share your favorite children’s books on Twitter and Facebook and take a few minutes to read one to a child in your life.

P.S. Don’t forget to do different voices for each character!