Make up magic spells/ We wear them like protective shells

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Driving down the busy divided street that leads to our new house, past HyVee and to the highway, where the YMCA snuggles up against bridges and fast-moving cars. Traffic in my lane, the lane closest to the sidewalk, stops abruptly, and I change lanes in order to escape the snarl. And then I see a mama, about my age, dragging a dark blue stroller onto the sidewalk from the shoulderless street. Her older kid—Jetpack’s age, Jetpack’s proportions—stares, his expression unreadable, as his mom cradles the baby in the stroller. I can see her shaken, crouching, her face twisted with relief and horror and fear like I’ve never felt. Everyone’s okay. Traffic resumes, the baby is unharmed, everyone is okay.

But the scene has gnawed at my insides. If. If. What if.

I just can’t get that moment out of my head. I’ve seen car accidents, and put in my heartfelt wishes for the safety of everyone involved. I can remember what seems like a thousand international and horrors, waiting and hoping that the body counts were low.

This wasn’t a massive incident. This was a moment, an accident, a second when something terrible might’ve happened. If the driver hadn’t stopped. If she’d been on the phone or texting. If her brakes were bad. If the stroller had rolled further into traffic. If.

IF is a terrible place to live.

I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to Jetpack. Our brains reach the end of that road, and I think they just turn off. Nope. I don’t know what I’d do. I can’t know what I’d do.

I think that’s what that momma was thinking, that day, in front of the YMCA. Or maybe what she thought later.

Moments like those remind me why we grasp so hard at religious understanding. To blame sudden, painful changes on something—on the Fates, on Sin, on demons or deities—gives us some way to understand. Those aren’t understandings that I subscribe to, but I can see the draw.

And maybe this is even a religious thought, a prayer to toss into the aether. Wherever you are, I’m glad your baby was okay, YMCA mama, and I wish you all the best. You are in my heart.

———-

I wrote this weeks ago, and just haven’t had it in me to post it. Too depressing, I guess.

To add a kick in the gut, I’m going to go all topical. As Mark Twain said, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”

Politics aside, there are a lot of people who are going to be hurting due to this political game that Congress is playing. WIC isn’t funded, some smaller food access programs are closing down, and food programs for low income seniors will not be funded. People won’t be bringing in paychecks. If you’re not a federal employee, and/or if you aren’t hurting from this charade, now might be a good time to donate, to food banks (often, they prefer money, not “the canned goods from the back of your cupboard”). And keep an eye out for ways you can help, as the shit, as they say, continues to roll downhill.

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Little Bear at six months browsing the kid bookshelf in our living room

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the books we have available for Little Bear. I love reading, and even as a child reading was part of the way I made sense of the world. I really resonate with Hermione from the Harry Potter books in that my first response in the face of a problem is to check the library. While I recognize that Little Bear is probably not going to have the same relationship to books that I have, I want her to have access to books that help her make sense of the world. As a parent and a book-lover, I want to be able to have ways of introducing age-appropriate discussions about difference, inequalities, and justice.

I was doing a little research about children’s books and race, and found some really disturbing statistics over at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center about books by and about people of color. For example, in 2012 there are approximately 5,000 new children’s books published. However, only 119 were about African-Americans and only 68 were written by African-Americans. There were only 6 books about Native Americans and 22 by Native Americans. There were only 76 books about Asian Pacific Americans, and 83 books by Asian Pacific Americans. Only 59 books were by Latinos and 54 books were about Latinos. To be clear, I am not saying I think all children’s book authors who are people of color should only write or illustrate books about people of color, nor am I saying that white people absolutely shouldn’t write books about people of color. To be honest, I am still wrestling with notions of authority and authenticity when thinking about who should or shouldn’t be telling stories about marginalized communities. However, on the whole I try to operate on the basis that people in marginalized communities know their struggles, joys, lives better than someone not in that community.

So why is this important? Why are kid’s book in particular important? In Don’t Tell The Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature Allison Lurie writes that

The great subversive works of children’s literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten. 

The stories we tell are powerful. Stories help shape our sense of the world, of what is right and wrong. Children’s books have explicit and implicit messages about race, gender, class, ability, power, and culture. Being able to share books that explore these issues is important to me as a parent. My partner and I have tried to provide Little Bear with books by and about a lot of different types of people and families. As we saw above with books by and about people of color most books are still by and about white people. I am willing to bet all the coffee in my cupboard that a similar trend emerges for ability, sexual orientation, class and gender identity.

In a pretty quick search for children’s literature by and about people of color, I found a few decent lists and essays at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and a list at my local public library website.  Where have you found good lists of books by and about people of color? How about books about sexual orientation and gender identity? Books about ability? Am I over-emphasizing the importance of children’s books? Whether you are a parent or not, what are your thoughts about finding a variety of books for the kids in your life?

CCBC Multicultural Children’s Literature Page

CCBC’s 50 multicultural books every kid should know

Hennepin County Library Birth to Six book list on Helping Kids Relate