What a Difference a Book Can Make
I haven’t written in a while. I haven’t written anything. I can’t seem to write my blog, work on my book, or even pick up a pen. I feel this incredible need to write, but there is so much going on in my life, that I don’t seem to reach for writing. Ironically, I think writing is what I need the most. I became so sad that I wasn’t writing, that I came up with an idea.
I needed to be reminded of my love for writing. I needed to be reminded why I write. I needed to think about my broader love for writing and not just the specific stories I have been working on.
Yesterday, I went to an independent bookstore and just sat among the books. I am in love with nonfiction and the stories of other people. Yet, I found myself immersed in the kids section. I told the woman at the counter about my daughter’s upcoming birthday and the type of book I wanted for her.
” I want a book with a message. When I read to her, I want to know that I am giving her the gift of literacy and an amazing world view.”
The woman at the counter knew exactly what I meant and handed me a stack of children’s books. It’s not that I only want books with lessons, I think reading to our children, and having them read is amazing, period. But, my daughter is at this age where she is so eager to learn about her world. I am just so very aware how the books I give her can give her messages about her world.
I am all for reading her a princess book, but then the next book better be about two princess who fall in love. I am all for reading her a silly song book and goofing around when we read it, but then the next book better be a rhyming book about peace in our world. Two of our dearest friends gave our daughter the book, And Tango Makes Three, if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to pick it up. It is a true story about two male penguins who fell in love at the Central Park Zoo, and who came to care for an egg the zoo keeper gave them to adopt. The story is beautiful. We get teary eyed whenever we read it, and our daughter is so enchanted with the story.
I think we need more children’s books like And Tango Makes Three. I think we need to think about the messages we give our children in the books we read them, especially at this critical preschool age. I think sometimes it is innocent the messages we give our children. Say we are incredibly inclusive people who have friends from all walks of life, say we believe in marriage equality and in respecting world religions. But, we only ever read our children books where there is a mom and a dad, a princess and a prince, a fair skinned child, or a western world background. It might not be intentional, but repeating only those books gives a message. We may live lives that are fair and we may hope that our children learn from our example, and hopefully they will. But, I think I have realized that as a parent I have an opportunity the echo my belief system in the books I read to my daughter. She is a preschooler, and she will soon enough be old enough to pick the books that she wants to read. Currently though, she looks to me to fill her bookshelves and I have the ability to show her a glimpse of a beautiful world on that bookshelf. Books about mommy and mommy, daddy and daddy, mommy and daddy, one mom, and one dad ( the list of family types continue). I can fill her book shelf with stories of what it is like to be a child growing up in different world religions. She can have books where the main characters do not all look like her.
We have been trying to grow such a bookcase, and I think we are doing a good job, but I am looking for more beautiful books. When I sat at the bookstore yesterday I came across a book, My Princess Boy. The book was the true story of a little boy who loved to dress up in dresses. The book is told from the perspective of the boy’s mother and is an inspiring story of acceptance. It will certainly be one of the books our daughter gets for her birthday this year.
This past Christmas, my husband and I realized that we had not yet found our daughter a book that said all of the things we wanted to tell her. So, we worked together to write one. We hope to publish it as a children’s book. Recently, Adam told me he came up with another children’s book idea. He was getting bothered by how many of the “daddy and me” type books are about doing outdoor activities and fixing things. It’s not that daddy’s can’t do these things, but Adam and I were talking about how this is just another way to perpetuate gender stereotypes to our children. Why can’t daddy play princess and dress up? Why can’t daddy go to a tea party? Daddy can. Daddy can do all of those things and go camping, and fix things if that is what they want to do. I love Adam’s book idea and I think a lot of parent’s would enjoy sharing books with their children that did not show the mom or grandma doing specific “girl” things and the dad or grandpa doing specific “boy” things.
I think as parents, and as concerned loved ones, and as writers, we have an obligation to recognize how entrenched our children are in gender stereotypes from the moment they come out of the womb being gifted pink or blue onsies. We control the books that go on our children’s bookshelves ( at least when they are younger) why not then, have the books accurately reflect the beautiful diversity that is in their world.
I wanted to share with you the text of the children’s book that Adam and I wrote this past year:
When You Grow Up
When you grow up, you can be anything you please,
like an acrobat swinging on a flying trapeze.
When you grow up, you can go wherever you want:
Okinawa or Paris, even Vermont
When you grow up, you can work for what you care about.
Whatever it is, it’s important to speak out!
When you grow up, you can love whomever you desire.
To look a certain way, love doesn’t require.
When you grow up, love what you create:
cooking, painting, music; all art forms are great!
When you grow up, you can come to god as mother, father, friend and more.
Don’t be afraid to know god as never before.
When you grow up, please honor each person and our mother earth.
Pause and take time to remember your worth.
When you grow up, you can speak to god however you wish:
praying, singing, yoga, or Kaddish.
When you grow up, don’t forget to be fair,
like the moon and the sun that we all share.
When you grow up, you can speak any language you wish to try:
Polish, Persian, Italian, or Thai.
When you grow up, it’s all right to try and fail…because you just may.
But, remember, whatever you do, we will be there every step of the way.
Dear Readers: I welcome your ideas and your comments on our children’s book idea. I also hope you will share with me some great book titles you would suggest to us and to other parent’s looking to be more aware in the messages we promote in our children’s reading. I am always interested in learning about new children’s books. You should have seen me in that bookstore curled up in the corner with my children’s book getting all weepy about the beautiful stories. As always, I welcome your feedback and please remember what a difference a book can make in the life of a child ( well, and adults too).