While helping his daughter Elle write Elle the Humanist (a child’s story about being nonreligious and confidently sharing your beliefs and values with friends), Doug Harris read an article about Friday the 13th superstitions and was intrigued by how powerful the fear of thirteen, known as triskaidekaphobia, has become. On Friday the 13th many people avoid traveling and don’t go to work to avoid danger, and there’s often no 13th floor in hotels or row 13 on airplanes. He decided to write his own children’s book to help kids understand and break away from unreasonable superstitions that shape how we navigate a confusing world.
“Our Stardust Book Series [written with other daughter Bailey] attempts to help teach evidence-based critical thinking skills using science and it struck me that we could use the idea of this fun superstition to help teach the same concept from a new angle,” said Harris. Don’t Be Mean to 13 (which intentionally launched on Friday, October 13, 2023) introduces us to Thirteen, a sweet black orb with a bad rap, possibly due to the Norse myth that evil was introduced to the world by Loki, the thirteenth guest at dinner in Valhalla. While not as popular as “perfect” Twelve, Thirteen is unique and harmless. The book reminds readers that they, too, are special and deserve to be treated with kindness:
Once you get to know someone, you can learn who they really are, and fears and superstitions are put to the test!
Harris aims to help children not develop a fear for thirteen, understanding that it might be harder for adults to unlearn their own fear. He says, “I’m constantly amazed by how many people around me go from believing in magical beings, to believing in magical crystals as the world moves away from organized religion in general. I am optimistic as I watch my children navigate the world personally and as they recount constructive conversations they have with friends with regards to critical thinking and truth, but I think we’re a long way from being free from magical beliefs.”
Often people who don’t consider themselves superstitious still take caution around “unlucky” situations like walking under a ladder or breaking glass. Do you ever try to not say or think about something so you don’t put negative thoughts out into the universe? Is there a tradition from your childhood or family that’s hard to let go of although you know it’s illogical? Harris’ favorite superstition is if you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back. “My mom has always struggled with back pain, so when I walked a mile to elementary school each day, my sister and I would work hard to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk. I don’t remember if I actually believed that this would help, but it is a very fond memory from my childhood.”
With his book now released, Harris is helping Elle and Bailey with their next projects, “Elle’s next book will be about being a girl growing up in our world throughout history and then today. This was inspired by a paper that she wrote in a history class about what it was like for a girl to grow up in ancient China. Bailey has the outline for a new book series that takes her Stardust character on a journey through history with influential scientists. This process of supporting my girls as they express themselves through their books is one of the top highlights of my life.”