Category Archives: The Boychick’s Bookshelf

What makes a baby (dragon), as told by the Boychick

Once upon a time there was a blue boy bird and a blue boy dragon. They were really good friends and liked to fly together. Only one day the blue boy bird discovered he wasn’t a bird, he was really a blue boy dragon. And the two blue boy dragons loved each other and got married. One of the blue boy dragons had sperm and one of them had eggs, so they had seventy five hundred and two hundred and twenty five hundred babies. Half of them were girls and half of them were boys, and one of them was both and one of them was neither. The one who was both POOPED out of its shell and started dancing.

And then it was bedtime.

***

In related news, I enthusiastically recommend the book What Makes a Baby; very basic baby-making and where-did-I-come-from sex ed for very young children; I’d say ages 2-6, and not any younger just because it is a paper and not board book. It very skillfully avoids cissexism and heterocentricism while providing opportunities for kids to hear all about THEIR birth and family stories — which is what children this age are usually most interested in — and doesn’t overload with extraneous information about sex, orgasms, and so on. (Although I will say I’m looking forward to the next in the series that, I hope, will start addressing those issues more.)

The book is currently self-published — and very, very well done at that — with a limited supply remaining until it is re-issued by an independent publishing house, which a little bird hinted will happen in mid-2013. So if your kids are of an age, get it now; if not, make a note of the site for next year, because if you have or work with kids, you need to have this book.

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: Will There Be a Lap for Me?

Welcome to The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this series1, I review children’s books of interest to those who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

Will There Be a Lap for Me?

The Story

Young kid Kyle loves sitting on his mother’s lap — but the lap is vanishing as his mom’s pregnancy progresses. The other laps available to him aren’t the same, snuggling next to his mom isn’t the same, and he’s afraid he’s not going to get his special place back. And then the baby arrives, and his mom is always busy with his new little brother. While it’s nice to stroke the baby’s soft skin while he’s nursing, it’s not the same. At the end, though, Kyle gets to reconnect with his mom and sit in her lap while the baby’s sleeping.

Intended Audience

Obviously aimed at older siblings as a new-baby preparation book, Will There Be a Lap for Me? also has an implied middle-class and USian and explicitly heteronormative audience, with a presumed stay-at-home mom (there are only two mentions of Kyle’s father: when listing the other laps that aren’t as good as his mother’s and when coming home with the new baby, whereas the mother is seen repeatedly doing shopping and parenting). Unlike most sibling-prep books, the family is Black, and they use public transportation and apparently-cloth diapers, and the mother is seen breastfeeding.

Reader age recommendations online range from infant-preschool to preschool-Grade 2. The text is simple, with only a few lines on each page, so it would likely be good for a child as young as two, and is just right for the Boychick (four years old), but more than a couple years older than that and they’d likely find it too baby-ish and simple.

Changes in the telling

Although ideally for our family and the Boychick the birth would take place at home, rather than at some unspecified “away” place, the only change I make in the reading of Will There Be a Lap for Me? is the line about the father’s lap. It’s written as “Daddy’s lap was too hard and bumpy”, and leads the section on all the other laps (daddy’s, grandma’s, and the babysitter’s) that aren’t adequate substitutes for mommy’s lap. Because we both don’t want to devalue fathers and fathering and want to honor the kid’s desire for his mother’s lap, I change this to “Daddy’s lap just isn’t the same.”

Right on!

I was thrilled to find this book when browsing the used bookshelves, because it’s hard enough to find a sibling-prep book that either doesn’t put me off with use of bottles or with misogynistic portrayals or that features nonwhite families — to find one that managed both was like hitting the jackpot. Written in 1992, some of the illustrations are dated (the father’s mustache cracks me up, for instance), but the portrayals of breastfeeding, babywearing (an apparently-white dad at the grocery store), and a teenage male babysitter far outweigh the clothing styles the Boychick is too young to know are passé.

But does it appeal? The Boychick’s take

Although the Boychick isn’t wanting to be read to as much these days, he’s allllll about the new baby, and so this book regularly falls in his top ten or so. He has no problems identifying with the nonwhite family, and loves to comment on the baby breastfeeding or getting his diaper changed. If anything, I think he’d like it more if it had more of the baby in it, but he’s still a fan nevertheless.

Buy it, Consider it, Skip it, or Compost it?

If you’re pregnant with a new baby in a heteronormative family, especially if you’re planning to breastfeed and have an assigned-boy child already, strongly consider it. Although I wouldn’t use it as the only sibling-prep text, it’s a valuable addition to any collection to acclimate a young kid to a new baby in the house and the changing relationship with hir mother.

Purchase at Powell’s Books or Amazon.com.

Your Take

Have you read Will There Be a Lap for Me? What do you think, and what do your kids think? Are there sibling preparation books, especially featuring non-white families, that you prefer? Do you have any questions after reading this review?

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Purchases made through the Powell’s and Amazon links offered here support this blog and compensate — quite minimally — my time and work as a blogger. I encourage you to support local, independent booksellers whenever possible, but if you’re to order online anyway, why not support an independent blogger?

  1. However intermittent or infrequent…

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: Board Book Round Up #1

Welcome to a special edition of The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this entry in the series, I review a small collection of children’s books of interest to those who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

Many people have not-exactly-complained about how the books reviewed on The Boychick’s Bookshelf are great, but too advanced for their six, twelve, twenty-four month old. So, to remedy that, here’s the first edition of a special Board Book Round Up: smaller reviews for smaller books, but more of ‘em at once.

To commence:

More More More, Said the Baby by Vera B Williams


The Boychick loved this book, once upon a time. It’s a trilogy of short stories, all with the same pace and many of the same words, in which we meet Little Guy and his father (both apparently white), Little Pumpkin and hir grandmother (apparently black and white, respectively), and Little Bird and her mother (apparently Asian or Latina). I love it for depicting a variety of caregivers — showing loving fathers to the Boychick is especially important to me — , a variety of races (including the apparently-white grandmother to black Little Pumpkin), and both the Boychick and I loved getting to act out the belly kisses and toe nibbles. As with many board books, it ends with Little Bird falling asleep and being put to bed, making it a good choice for nap or nighttime reading.

Downside: The text, while colorful and artistic, might be hard or painful to read for people with visual or focusing difficulties.

Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora


Peekaboo Morning follows a black toddler through hir waking up, with visual clues leading to each next page, from “I see… my mommy” and daddy, through getting dressed, eating (and feeding hir breakfast to the dog), playing with toys, then going outside and greeting Grandma and Grandpa and a (apparently white) friend, and finally engaging the reader with “I see… you!” I wasn’t sure at first about getting the Boychick a book written in first-person with a non-white protagonist, fearing it might be appropriative, but I bought it anyway because books featuring families of color are so scarce, and it really is an enjoyable (if repetitious — but it makes it especially great for toddlers), quick read, with realistic paintings with enough detail to maintain interest over repeated viewings. It is very heteronormative, with a mommy and daddy, and grandma and grandpa, and very suburban (there is, truly, a white picket fence in one scene), but given the stereotypes of black families as urban and “broken”, I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing.

Downside: I’m reaching to find anything beyond the heteronormativity and repetitiousness (though again, that’s something of a plus when writing books for toddlers) to name as a downside. I will say that the painting of the dog looks like there is a smudge on the dog’s face, and it bugs me every time I look at it. But I have Issues.

Mommy, Mama, and Me – and – Daddy, Papa, and Me, both by Leslea Newman


These are two books, but a symmetrical pair, and we bought them together. Each is told from the perspective of the toddler-aged child of same-gender parents, describing how both Mommy and Mama or Daddy and Papa take care of hir, each alternately engaging complementary games or childcare duties. Besides the same-gender parents, these are fairly run-of-the-mill white suburban follow-the-child’s-day books, and the Boychick enjoys them. That very banality, though, is likely the point of the books: “Look, two-mother/two-father families are just like you!” or “we’re just like other (white, middle class) families!” This makes them a good intro to same-gender parents for the unfamiliar (and helped the Boychick accept that his friend with two moms did not, in fact, also have a dad), or normalizing books for kids who don’t get to see families like theirs very much, but also reinforces the white- and middle-class-ness of the “default family”.

Downside: In addition to the aforementioned issues (and I cannot emphasize enough the problems with only ever modeling white queerness), although each book stands well on its own, with many examples of gender-role breaking (especially in Daddy, Papa, and Me, as is expected in a culture that says toddler-parenting is women’s work), when I compare the two, there is a greater emphasis on play in Daddy, and more on nurturing in Mommy: Daddy ends with Daddy and Papa collapsing in exhaustion at the end of a park trip, Mommy with being tucked in and getting kissed goodnight. This relatively minor difference wouldn’t be problematic except that it reflects and reinforces cultural memes, that fathers are playful (and easily overwhelmed), and mothers are nurturing and organized.

Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children


The Boychick, along with every other child I’ve heard of who has been introduced to Global Babies, loved this book for its close-up, face-focused photographs of babies and toddlers from all over the world. Babies, in general, are fascinated by other babies, and this gooey-sweet simplistic text’d book fills that desire perfectly. The Boychick and I loved especially that so many of the babies are shown being worn: of the 16 total photographs, 7 are shown in or apparently in carriers (this does include one baby in a cradleboard being help up but not on a person). Each of the photos is labeled with the country the baby is from, and although two are from USA, this includes one white seemingly-middle-class baby, and one Native child (in the aforementioned cradleboard). Not all of the babies are smiling (or indeed, awake), which seems to increase the appeal; the young reader is able to study faces reflecting a variety of emotional and alertness states.

Downside: The text is far less interesting than the photographs, with sometimes just one word per two-picture page; I’m not sure the Boychick ever absorbed the “[all babies] are beautiful, special, and loved” message with it being read so slowly, interspersed with up to several minutes of studying the photos. There is something of a photo-safari feel to the book, though I think this is somewhat mitigated by the lack of depicting less-advantaged children as “pitiful” or “unhappy”, as many such projects do. I must also say that I know nothing of the Global Fund for Children beyond the noble goal printed on the back of the book (“…advancing the dignity of young people around the world.”), and cannot speak to its work, good or otherwise.

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers


(Note: Cover pictured is for the hardback edition of the book.)

I love this book almost as much as the Boychick does. There is more text than in many other board books (including all of the ones mentioned here), but the text has a brilliant bounce and simple (but not overly so) rhyming rhythm. The text loosely follows a diverse crowd of babies from birth to the first year, often with several scenes on each page depicting many different races of babies and configurations of families (including an apparently-single mom of twins, multiracial and multigenerational families, and a two-mom family). Although very Western and moderately sub/urban and middle-class, the wealth of diversity shown in what “Every day, everywhere babies” are doing helps make it a delightful read. It’s also a favorite in the attachment parenting community for explicitly showing and mentioning breastfeeding (and I love that the mom shown breastfeeding is a woman of color, fully dressed, passed out in a rocker holding a book) and babywearing.

Downside: Along with depictions of breastfeeding and babywearing — though the ring sling appears to be drawn by someone who has never actually worn a baby in one — are abundant depictions of bottles, pacifiers, and strollers, as well as less than ideal carriers, and a baby in a carseat not in a car; I’ve somewhat mellowed on this since first reading Everywhere Babies, but on some level it still bothers me: these things are all ubiquitous in the culture the Boychick is growing up in, and the more he — and everyone else — sees them, the more they become/are reinforced as the cultural defaults. (An astute reader will note, however, that I haven’t let this stop me from enjoying this book with the Boychick, but I do usually change the words to the “babies are fed” page, to skip bottle, spoon, and cereal feeding.) I am also irked that the final scene, which depicts a single baby at hir first birthday party, features an apparently all-white, heteronormative family. It doesn’t completely negate the racial diversity of the rest of the book, but it does, once again, ultimately center whiteness, and reinforcing the white family as default. Also note that there are no visibly disabled parents or children depicted, and no assistive devices beyond one cane half-hidden behind an old woman seated in a chair.

Summary

I would recommend any or all of these books as additions to a beginner anti-kyriarchy bookshelf; though a handful of books featuring racial and sexual diversity read to pre-literate and mostly pre-memory children are not going to subvert the dominant paradigm or counteract a culture of hate all by themselves, they’re not a bad way to start. Buy any of these or other titles online at Powells.com or Amazon.com and support your friendly neighbourhood blogger; or find or order them at a local independent bookseller.

Have you read any of these with your child, and what did you or s/he think? What are your favorite pro-diversity, anti-kyriarchy board books?

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: The Paper Bag Princess

Welcome to The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this series, I review children’s books of interest to those who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

The Paper Bag Princess

The Story

“Elizabeth was a beautiful princess”, engaged to the snobbily-drawn Ronald — both of whom appear to be prepubescent — when a dragon comes, burns down her castle (and burns off her clothes! — at which illustration the Boychick accurately points out “she has no nipples!”), and whisks away her fiancé. Elizabeth dons the closest thing to a garment she has left — a paper bag — and sets off to find and rescue Ronald. When she tracks down the dragon’s lair (by following the trail of horse bones), she tricks the dragon with fawning praise into using up all his fire and then flying around the world so fast he promptly collapses asleep. The dragon now unarmed and unarousable, she slips past and frees the prince. Rather than being appropriately appreciative, Ronald declares her a mess, and tells her to come back after getting cleaned up when she is once again “a real princess”. Elizabeth retorts that his appearance is that of “a real prince”, but he is “a bum.” The final scene shows her skipping away — happily alone, still clothed in her paper bag –  into the sunset, and we learn “They didn’t get married after all.”

Intended Audience

Elizabeth and Ronald are both white, blond, and (obviously) class privileged — at least until Elizabeth’s castle burns down — so the annoyingly usual expected audience of middle class white families applies. More specifically, The Paper Bag Princess seems aimed at white girls who are already familiar with the princess narrative, but I wouldn’t say that’s necessary: while the Boychick hadn’t yet been exposed to that narrative, it didn’t hinder his enjoyment of the book.

Changes in the telling

My main problem with The Paper Bag Princess — apart from the white, blond characters — is when Elizabeth declares Ronald to be “a bum”. Although the meaning of “bum” as “buttocks” predates that of “tramp”/homeless/lazy person (and let’s just pause a moment to marvel and be disgusted at the conflation of “homeless” and “lazy”), and outside the USA the bottom definition reigns supreme (if, thanks to US cultural colonialism, not exclusive), its primary use in the USA is lazy/homeless, particularly in the “you are a” construction. (In fact, the Boychick protests when I use bum for butt — it’s the one Britishism he actively rejects.) And as long as that strong implication of, and conflation of, “lazy hobo” is there, I am not willing to use it as an insult. Thus in our readings, we’ve changed it to any number of other insults, including jerk, butthead, or — my Doctor Who fanatic’s favorite — “giant eyeball“.

My only other concern with the book, which I can’t do anything about, is the way Elizabeth uses flattery to outwit the dragon. I love that she defeats him nonviolently, with only her intelligence and words, but it bothers me a bit that she uses such a stereotypically feminine way of doing it. “Is it true” she asks, that he can burn up ten forests/fly around the world in ten seconds? And then, when he does, she plays every bit of the easily-impressed femme and proclaims it “magnificent”. While I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with what she did, I do wish that she could have used her quick wit to out-think the dragon in some other way, if only to show girls that relying (even in such a fabulously subversive manner) on the tropes of femininity isn’t the only way to get what they want.

Right on!

The above caveats aside, I adore the messages of this book: intelligence and character are far more important than appearance, vanity will lose you your lunch (or post-castle-entrée snack), don’t stick around with someone who can’t appreciate you for who you are, girls are entirely capable of doing the rescuing, and the princess doesn’t need to end up with the prince to be happy. It is, essentially, a second wave feminist wet-dream of a kids’ book, and I love it for that, even as I acknowledge its concurrent problems.

But does it appeal? The Boychick’s take

The Boychick really likes The Paper Bag Princess, though I will say that seems to have more to do with the dragon than with the feminist messages. His absolute favorite part is first whispering and then yelling “Hey dragon!” with Elizabeth, as she checks that he’s well and truly out of it before freeing Ronald — I would not read this book with him any time I needed him to be especially quiet! But it seems to be just right for the stage he’s at: enough of a story to be engaging, but not so long and involved he loses track.

Buy it, Consider it, Skip it, or Compost it?

Consider it. (Link goes to Powell’s; or buy through Amazon.) The white leading characters, the use of “bum” as a derogative (again, given that we are USian and it doesn’t really mean arse to the Boychick), and Elizabeth’s use of flattery stop me from offering it my highest rating, but I do still love and recommend it. And, as demonstrated by how involved the Boychick gets, it is simply fun, and as willing as I am to share with him not-so-fun selections, to have one that is so upbeat that also carries excellent messages I find worth the imperfections.

Your Take — and Your Chance!

Have you read The Paper Bag Princess? What do you think, and what do your kids think? What other books with strong female protagonists and subversion of the princess narrative do you know of, and would you recommend them?

AND! Because I was sent a copy by a fabulous reader (thank you!) after buying one myself and before taking it off my wish list, I have an extra — which means one of you gets to have a copy. Simply comment below to the effect of “please enter me!” by 11:59pm Pacific Daylight Time (UTC – 7) Friday the 27th of August 2010, and I will draw a name at random the next day. Winner will be contacted via the email used to comment, and will provide me with shipping information.

Anyone, anywhere in the world is welcome to enter — I only ask you to refrain if you already own a copy.

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Purchases made through the Powell’s and Amazon links offered here support this blog and compensate — quite minimally — my time and work as a blogger. I encourage you to support local, independent booksellers whenever possible, but if you’re to order online anyway, why not support an independent blogger?

Have a book you want me to review? Suggestions are always welcome, and books sent to me via my Wish List receive priority review status and are an excellent way to support and encourage the Boychick’s Bookshelf project.

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: My Two Grannies

Welcome to The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this series, I review children’s books of interest to parents who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

My Two Grannies

The Story

My Two Grannies is about Alvina, a multiracial girl, and her two grandmothers, one from Trinidad (Vero) and one from Yorkshire (Rose), both of whom now live in the same city as Alvina and her parents. Alvina loves spending time with each of her grannies, and doing the things they did as girls in their very-different cultures. When her parents decide to go away on holiday for their anniversary, Granny Vero volunteers to take care of her — but Granny Rose objects, saying she’ll do it, and Alvina suggests they both come care for her.

Thus starts the conflict of the book, as each granny insists things be done her way, and Alvina, unable to choose between the grannies (and the cultures) she loves equally, chooses neither. Alvina, showing far more maturity than either of her grannies, suggests that they each take turns for a whole day, and we see what a day with Vero in the lead looks like (a trip to the zoo to see the animals she grew up with, playing Dominos, eating red beans and rice, and telling an Anansi story for bed), and one with Rose in the lead (feeding the ducks in the park, playing snakes and ladders, eating steak and kidney pie, and telling Jack and the Beanstalk at bedtime). Alvina loves both these days, and we see the not-leading granny also learning to appreciate different ways and foods.

Intended Audience

Unlike most of the books on the Boychick’s Bookshelf, My Two Grannies is aimed not at middle-class suburban USians but at middle-class more-or-less urban Brits. Although it never explicitly states the city that Alvina and her family live in, it’s clearly meant to be a UK city, and many word choices reflect British English, such as mum instead of mom and pudding instead of dessert. None of it is overt enough I think it would be inaccessible to non-UK-English readers, and British children (and Doctor Who fans like the Boychick) might appreciate having a book whose colloquialisms are familiar.

While one appreciative audience for this book might be another child trying to combine multiple heritages, multi-race or not, the story is also about learning to share, to negotiate, to take turns, and to appreciate other cultures and customs (equally applicable to the macro cultures of Trinidad v. Yorkshire and to the micro cultures of different households).

Changes in the telling

There’s nothing we change in reading this to the Boychick (in part because he already knows the Britishisms), but some readers might find it a bit repetitive or preachy. I don’t think there is anything in it that particularly needs to be “fixed” for it to be palatable to readers of the right levels.

Right on!

I picked this book up for its depiction of a multiracial child and a multicultural family, and brought it home for the lessons in the fine art of taking turns and navigating jealousies. I also adore the illustrations, especially that Granny Rose is fat, Alvina’s kinky hair is natural and loose, and her outfit is midriff baring but not at all sexualized or hyperfeminine.

But does it appeal? The Boychick’s take

I had some concerns the Boychick wouldn’t like this, because it’s about a multiracial girl with two grannies and he’s a white probably-boy with only one living grandma, but I needn’t have worried: he loves it. He likes hearing about the grannies’ childhoods, and gets excited when Alvina dances with each of her grannies, and he always takes great pleasure in pointing out the scenes where the grannies are cross with each other. He’s at the perfect stage where he can sit through the length, but doesn’t mind the repetition or not-particularly-subtle moralizing (taking turns = good!). He does, however, get quite annoyed that Alvina refers to Vero and Rose as “Granny V.” and “Granny R.”, and tries to correct us, but we use this as an opportunity to talk about nicknames and the many ways people are referred to.

Buy it, Consider it, Skip it, or Compost it?

Strongly consider My Two Grannies, especially for multiracial or multicultural children. Even if your child, like mine, is monoracial and doesn’t have multiple grandmothers, consider it anyway: the story is enjoyable, the drawings delightful, and the messages universal.

Your Take

Have you read My Two Grannies? What do you think, and what do your kids think? What other books do you know of with multiracial families, or that address sharing or jealousy in an engaging way?

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Purchases made through the Amazon links offered here support this blog and compensate — quite minimally — my time and work as a blogger. I encourage you to support local, independent booksellers whenever possible, but if you’re to order online anyway, why not support an independent blogger?