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.
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
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.
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?