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Don’t be Mean to Thirteen: A Book Review

I believe that children’s books make the world a better place. They help parents and children begin deep conversations. They encourage us grownups to rediscover our sense of curiosity and wonder alongside our children. They soothe in tough times. And they introduce kids to ideas that show a path forward in a confusing world. But there is one thing that children’s books often fail to do: help children think critically and skeptically in a world that often encourages superstition.

Enter “Don’t be Mean to Thirteen: A Triskaidekaphobia Story” by Douglas Harris. This is a delightful children’s book that uses the superstition about the number thirteen to explore the idea of superstition itself, and why it isn’t such a great thing. I love how the book explains a complicated idea like “superstition” in a way that even young children can understand…

Fear of Thirteen is called a superstition. A superstition is something that people believe without real evidence.

Superstitions are beliefs that come from either a fear of the unknown, or simply not knowing why things happen. Sometimes this causes us to believe in imaginary things like monsters and ghosts. This also leads people to believe in things like the idea that your star sign can tell your personality (astrology) or that crystals have magical powers…

For many children, this idea is never clearly spelled out for them. Superstitions are all around them and are often accepted without question. This may be why so many adults continue to believe superstitions and even organize their lives around them. But by introducing the idea to kids when they are young, a parent can help a child begin the exciting journey of discovering how the world really works without all the hocus-pocus.

While this book dives head first into a difficult concept, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Far from it. The story follows the number Thirteen and its friend, the narrator, as they set out to educate the reader. The characters are cute, the illustrations are fun and easy to follow, and the content does not hold back on detail (did you know that the fear of Friday the 13th is called “friggatriskaidekaphobia?”). And somehow it does all this without talking down to anyone and encouraging the reader to see themselves as bright and worthwhile.

You might recognize Douglas Harris from his books that he cowrote with his two daughters Elle and Bailey, who wrote Elle the Humanist and the Stardust series. You can learn more about Elle, Bailey, and their dad from these interviews:

Elle the Humanist and the Stardust series are books that I keep in my child psychology office because they show the perspectives of children whose voices are often not well represented in children’s books. Elle is a caring and friendly child who is Humanist, a child who is not religious but believes in the value and dignity of humanity. The Stardust series takes us into the perspective of a child who sees the scientific view of the world as inspiring and beautiful without the need for the supernatural. Their father Douglas now adds to the wonderful work of this family with Don’t be Mean to 13, and you can be sure I’ll be adding it to the shelves in my office.

Overall, the book is well-written and engaging, with fun characters (my kid thinks that 13 is so adorable) and concrete descriptions of abstract ideas. The art is fantastic, and children will love just looking at the pages. It’s a great choice for parents and teachers looking to introduce their children to the world of critical thinking and healthy skepticism.

Don’t be Mean to Thirteen will be released on October 13th, which happens to be a Friday the 13th! How cool is that? You can pre-order your copy here:

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