Learning about history—whether it is about self, family, community or country—can be a supercharge for anyone, especially for children. It nurtures self-confidence and instills a strong sense of pride that can only positively benefit and remain with them throughout adulthood.
I know this. I’ve seen the inquisitiveness and excitement in children as they inquire about family history or the origins of things and places. I’ve heard simple questions they ask that can elicit answers leaving them in awe. I know how important it is for young people to have a keen sense of self and an awareness of their history. And in learning about history, I am certain that they will find morsels of information that will leave them excited, energized and brimming with pride.
Such was the case when I started the research for my children’s book on our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Undoubtedly one of the most frequently visited cities in the world—and a place I’ve called home for the past 25 years—Washington, D.C., houses numerous monuments and museums that offer glimpses of our country’s incredibleness. Knowing this sparked my love of history and made me want to find out more about the city.
For over a three-year period, I queried a diverse group of almost 1,000 people and realized that, like me, many D.C. residents had much to learn about this beautiful city. So, I created the “My D.C.” book series to educate myself and to expose our youth to the history and happenings of Washington, D.C.
The series consists of four books (“My D.C. Her Story;” “My D.C. My Go-Go,” “Meet My Mayors” and “D.C.’s Superheroes . . . Our Mayors”) designed to spur discussions in classrooms and at home. One book takes the readers on an extraordinary journey where compromises and wars ultimately lead to the birth of a nation’s capital. One celebrates the city’s native music genre. And the other two books highlight a significant accomplishment of each of the city’s most recently elected mayors. The books are meant to serve as supplemental reading aids for students studying civics or social studies—and as useful literary tools that can lead to much deeper conversations.
Integrating diversity and representation were critical to the storytelling of these books, as they are lacking in similar children’s literature. Few, if any, approach the history of this country from a multicultural perspective.
I intentionally made the protagonists African American to engage Black and Brown children to read the books. Research shows that a positive reflection of Black and Brown children in books helps build positive self-image, boost self-esteem, promote literacy skills and encourage critical thinking. Equally important, these types of books expose all children to new and different points of view and encourage greater empathy, understanding and deeper conversation on complex issues.
And so, as we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July—the day that marks our nation’s independence from the British— it is important to encourage young people to look beyond the festivities and to learn more about the history of their respective communities as well as of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Young people should know about the unique place Washington, D.C., holds in our country’s history. With that knowledge, I believe that our children can become proud, responsible stewards and leaders of our capital city of the United States of America.
Donna Henry is a local entrepreneur who has turned her love of words and passion for Washington, D.C., into a work of art for children and families. She earned a master’s degree at American University and owns a gourmet organic soup bar called Soup Up. To purchase her books, visit talesbydonnahenry.com.