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How Children Can Travel the World Through Books

This week I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend and colleague Bunmi Emenanjo.

Bunmi headshotLike me, Bunmi is a lawyer who has dived into entrepreneurship with the hope of making a big impact in the world.

Her professional work to date has had her moving fluidly between the legal and biotechnology world over the last 17 years, having started her career working in pharmaceutical litigation, before moving on to regulatory policy in emerging technology, such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology. She eventually made the transition to government ethics while working at the Food and Drug Administration.

As the mother of three Nigerian-American children, Bunmi created the Atlas Book Club, a book subscription box company focused on globally diverse children's books.

Both of my daughters get age-appropriate boxes from this book club each month, and LOVE it, so in honor of National Reading Month and I asked Bunmi to answer some questions about the amazing work she is doing with the club!

What is the Atlas Book Club?

Atlas Book Club is a book subscription box company focused on globally diverse children’s books. Our mission is three-fold: to help kids of color see themselves in the books that they read, to help all kids travel and explore global cultures through books, and to shatter the “single story” by showcasing diversity within cultures

Why did you create it?

I am a Nigerian-American mom to 3 kids ages 13, 11 and 10. In 2016, my family moved to our current home in a lovely neighborhood with very little diversity. To ensure the kids remain connected to their heritage, I started a children’s book club with the children in my family and children of friends initially focused on African books. We would gather every month to discuss a new book from a different part of the continent. This experience with the kids brought me so much joy and enlightened me to the fact that children are innately curious and love to learn and talk about cultures and traditions different from their own.

Also, whenever I was a Guest Reader at the kids’ elementary school, I selected books from our diverse collection. This usually led to interesting conversations with kids who normally would not have exposure to books set in countries such as Uganda. My observation was that kids need to see themselves in the books that they read, but they are also yearning to learn about cultures different from their own. When kids see themselves represented in books, movies or other media, it helps them build a sense of identity and belong. And studies have shown that kids who are exposed to different cultures develop an increased sense of compassion and empathy.

These experiences created a sense of urgency in me to turn this book club into a business because I could see the potential impact it could have on kids and families around the country. Since launching we have explored over 20 countries and continue to receive amazing feedback about its impact on kids.

What is meant by “the danger of a single story?”

Boys readingI first heard of this concept from Chimamanda Adichie in her 2009 TED Talk. She explained that attaching a single story to a person, culture, or country is to flatten their experience and reduce them to that one story instead of their collection of stories. By so doing, we create stereotypes. She further explained that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but “that they are incomplete – they make that one story the only story.”

One of our goals here at Atlas Book Club is to help shatter “the single stories” that may be out there in the world. We do this by featuring diversity of stories within cultures through our book selections. We select books that show kids of color as main characters in genres where they are often not represented, such as, fantasy and magical realism novels – we did this in February as part of our Black History Month special box. In January we selected three different books that showcase the diversity of the Indian-American immigrant experience. When we explored Poland in December, we focused on stories that showed different Jewish experiences –  a book that told the story of an Orthodox Jewish family living in Poland prior to WWII, a book that showed the intersection of a Polish-American author and an African-American boy, and a fantasy/historical novel set in Berlin that explores time travel and the Holocaust. These are a few examples of how we help shatter single narratives that have been attached to cultures, countries, and genres.

What ages is it for/how does the club work?

Atlas Book ClubEvery month, we explore and send out a box featuring a different continent. Each Atlas Box is themed after a different country and contains an age-appropriate book, a fun facts card, bookmark, postcard, a map poster for tracking countries explored, and a culturally relevant souvenir, all for the purpose of immersing the child in the culture of the country featured in an intentional manner. We have four age groups for varying reading levels, ranging from picture books to young adult novels.

Example of a box: January 2021’ Nest Box

  • Hatch – Picture books for all ages

  • Nest Jr. – 7 – 9 years old – Early chapter books for newly independent readers

  • Nest – 9-12 years old – Middle-grade chapter books for advanced readers

  • Soar – 13 years old and above – Young Adult novels

How can people find you and give the club a try?

We can be found at: www.atlasbookclub.com. Folks can also try one of our past boxes!

If there was one thing you’d like families to know about the power of stories, what would it be?

Globally diverse children’s books are the easiest way to infuse culture and diversity into your family’s DNA. These stories ignite a child’s innate curiosity and opens doors to learning, conversations, and so much more. And the best part of the authors and illustrators have done all the work for you; all you have to do is open up a book and read.

What does “heartful” parenting mean to you?

Heartful parenting to me means being intentional about not only how I parent, but about the behaviors I am modeling for my children. They will learn from watching my actions so I am intentional about what I do, say, and watch. Being aware of the intention that is driving my actions and my words, and understanding that whatever that intention is, it will impact my parenting in that moment, so that is what parenting from the heart means to me.

Christy Keating fun headshot

Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.

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