Sumner’s non-sequitur board book review: Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

My baby loves owls (an affinity orchestrated by my partner who hung three little canvass prints of ridiculously adorable, brightly-colored cartoon owls with enormous eyes over her crib), which is why this book originally caught my eye at the library. I would have checked it out just because of the owls. But in the end, it’s Squirrel who steals the show. Never has a children’s book had an ending so perfect as this one.

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SPOILER ALERT. I’m gonna tell you how it ends.

The story opens with Mommy Owl and Little Owl asleep in their nest. Little Owl leans a bit too far over the edge and tumbles out. LO falls to the forest floor, where we meet Squirrel. LO is not hurt, but is rather lost, and asks Squirrel where Mommy Owl could be. The two embark on a search for Mommy Owl, which follows a trajectory not unlike the P.D. Eastman classic Are You My Mother? In the end, they meet Frog (mistaken for Little Owl’s mommy by Squirrel because they both have “BIG eyes,” as described by LO). Frog leads them all to Mommy Owl, who has been frantically searching for LO. She thanks Frog and Squirrel for finding her baby.

And then (here’s where the story just makes you want to die of cute), almost randomly, Mommy Owl asks if everyone wants to come up to their nest for cookies. “Yes, please,” says Squirrel. And here’s the clincher – the most perfect line ever uttered by a neon pink, talking woodland creature: “Cookies are our favorite thing.” 

The End (Basically. I’m not going to give the WHOLE story away).

So, to sum up, cute owls, cute forest animals, funny dialogue, suspense, emotional family reunion, brilliant ending involving baked goods. Best book ever. Go check it out.

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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Sex Ed and Consent Mechanics

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Bowser, is exhibiting behavior which is NOT suggested when dealing with this topic.

I went to WisCon again over Memorial Day. It was wonderful and difficult and continues to be wonderful and difficult, even as it’s over for the year (maybe emphasis on the difficult, but that’s a story for another day).

On Saturday I went to a panel called Sex Education for Kids: Consent Mechanics, and I would like to tell you about it. The panel description:

“It can be hard to know exactly when to talk to your kids about sex and what to say. Let’s talk about what we’ve tried, how well it worked, and what lessons we’ve learned in the process. The Positive Consent model is different from how things were taught thirty years ago; how can we learn to model and teach it outside the ‘birds-and-bees’ lecture?”

So I mean, how could I not go? Jetpack is five now, and man, things are just going to get more difficult. I LOVED this article, What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure, and it also legitimately terrified me. I don’t know how I am going to talk to my kid about sex! We’re still working on respecting personal boundaries, and no, I don’t want your feet in my face. Working on consent mechanics in the sandbox? Got the idea down, but it’s not easy. How to you teach the next steps?

Anyway, my buddy Mo was on the panel, and did a bit of blogging about it (it’s the first panel he talks about). I appreciated his point that sexual education and sexual consent are linked, because it wasn’t a line I’d drawn in my head before—if a person doesn’t know what they’re agreeing to, what kind of consent are they giving? Making sure our kids know what they’re agreeing to, or refusing for that matter, seems paramount.

There was a lot of discussion of well-meaning but horribly awkward methods of dealing with sex ed, and what to do about them. Books seemed like a great way to start the discussion, without making kids feel on the spot. It seems like normalizing those books in the home was good—rather than tossing them on your child’s bed when you decide It Is The Time, having them on their bookshelf for access when they feel like the time is right. As with so many things, not having all the answers is okay, and probably a pretty healthy way of continuing dialog and also helping your kid empower themselves (”I’m not sure. Let’s go look it up in your book!”)

Related to books—please teach your kids to look critically at their sources! Mo volunteers at Scarleteen, and was discussing how very many teens he talks to who have gotten “answers” from Yahoo Answers. Please never take Yahoo Answers as any kind of authority, and please, teach your kids to be careful what websites they trust.

There was one parent (? I think? It was two weeks ago; my memory is foggy) who said that when they were a kid, they were told that when they did decide to have sex, to please do so at home, in their own bed. The reasoning was actually pretty good: they wanted their kid to have sex in a environment where they would hopefully have the space and leisure to use protection, to be less likely to be coerced, to be more likely to think it through and make safe and consensual decisions. Which is pretty brilliant, if kind of scary.

There was also a discussion of teens saying things like “my parents will kill me if they find out…” I think the commonness of that phrasing, along with the prevalence of rape culture in our society, drives home the truth that discussion of sex in a positive way, with a bent towards consent, is so important. IF you teach your kid before they become a teen that sex is okay, and here’s how it works; IF you teach your kid as they’re becoming a teen about what is ACTUALLY happening to their bodies, and what could actually happen to their bodies; THEN you have a teen and an adult who is empowered, strong, and smart enough to make safe, consensual decisions when they’re thinking about sex. Maybe if we taught kids about consent from the beginning, maybe there would be less men’s right’s activists in the world. Maybe.

Reading Materials! WisCon is always good for leaving you with a long list of books you want to look into. Here’s what the panel mentioned:

 

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I recently attended a conference here in town that’s put on by one of the organizations I’m involved with and was pretty saddened by the list the kids created about what they wanted in the kid’s area. The room used as the kid’s area was completely bare, other than having a sink, and academic institution style chairs and tables. The people providing child care had brought some paper and markers, but other than that there wasn’t really anything for the kids to do.

I’m really glad that there was child care available, it made it possible for me to bring Little Bear to part of the conference. However, I also read the list that the kids created, think about how many people said something like “I didn’t know there was childcare, I would’ve brought my kid” or mentioned a friend who could’ve attended had they known, and I wish more thought and resources were given to supporting children, parents, and care givers in justice movements and communities.

I’d like to think that communities rooted in social movements and collective processes can do a better job supporting parents, but it frequently feels like organizing child care and promoting child care falls on to people involved in parenting and care giving. In the LGBTQ community in particular I think there’s still a perception that people aren’t raising children, or that people who are raising children are selling out/opting out of organizing.

When Little Bear was born I pulled back from almost all of the organizing work that I was doing. Meetings weren’t at convenient times, weren’t baby friendly, or were just too long for someone with an infant. Now that I have a toddler I worry her presence will be perceived as disruptive to the community, and meetings are still frequently too late or too long. So when I want to commit to work on something I need to juggle whether I can bring Little Bear or if my partner can look after her, and if I’m doing the parenting and housework 50-50.  I have no easy answers for how to make this better, I only have my deep commitment to be a good partner, a good father and my desire to organize in my community.

Part of parenting is making sure that your kid doesn’t do something stupid like run into the street, but part of parenting is also teaching your kid about the world and giving them tools to engage in creating a more just society. If we don’t teach our kids about the work while we’re busy organizing where does that leave them? The late great Whitney Houston sang it in The Greatest Love of All, “I believe the children are our future.”

Last month I read the book “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” and had to keep myself from jumping up and shouting “yes!” every five minutes. The essays in the book affirmed my existence as a parent and my hope that making social movements inclusive of parents, caregivers and children is possible. Here’s a nice blurb about the book:

“Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind is a collection of concrete tips, suggestions, and narratives on ways that non-parents can support parents, children, and caregivers in their communities, social movements, and collective processes. Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind focuses on issues affecting children and caregivers within the larger framework of social justice, mutual aid, and collective liberation.”

You can check out the Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind blog for more ideas on ways to include kids, parents, and families in communities. Are there any tips or experiences around including parents and kids in your communities that you value?

 

 

[Lit Crit] 3 Links, 3 Books

Some small links ahead, before your proper post:

  • Y’all should check out the new www.villageq.com site. I’m thinking there’s some familiar faces out there…

Now! Book post! We have one disappointing book, and two fabulous books. I’m not sure why the photos are so grainy, besides that the camera is new and I must have some settings off…also, Vanna Jetpack wasn’t real patient with this photo shoot 🙂

Anyway.

First book:

Who's in a Family cover

I flipped through this book and bought it, both for research, and because Jetpack liked it at the bookstore. I was excited. Scanning mindlessly, it looked like a fabulously perfect book.

Who’s In A Family was published in 1995. I’m a little surprised, actually, because I would’ve pegged it at a late ‘80s publication. The back gives a good summary: “Who’s in a family? The people who love you the most! Chances are, your family is like no one else’s–and that’s just fine.”

Good start, right? It doesn’t pidgeonhole (And Tango Makes Three is a great book but I want something a little queerer, too!). It shows different families (almost like small family stories on single or double pages) and also different types of animal-family configurations.

It starts to fall apart on page three.

Who's in a Family? Whitey.

The main text reads “Families are made up of people,” and then the next page says, “and animals have families too.” So…I’m not sure why the author and artist thought this page was necessary. In a book showcasing different types of families, this one starts with a definition of family–mighty white, heterosexual, and nuclear–which takes a dump all over that.

Who's in a Family moms Who's in a Family dads

Here’s our two main lesbian/gay appearing families. On the left, the text reads, “Laura and Kyle live with their two moms, Joyce and Emily, and a poodle named Daisy. It takes all four of them to give Daisy a bath.” On the right, the text reads, “Robin’s family is made up of her dad, Clifford, her dad’s partner, Henry, and Robin’s cat, Sassy. Clifford and Henry take turns making dinner for their family.”

Now, if Henry is the fellow with the porn star moustache, I guess I can understand some reticence in claiming him as dad (I jest). But there seems to be a huge disregard for the family unit on the right, versus the family unit on the left. There’s also a page which states “Lots of children live in families with their mothers.” But nothing similarly sweeping for father-led families.

Who's in a Family lions

Similarly, there are awesome showcases of animal families (Jetpack picked his favorite to show everyone). But not one is father-led (hello? Seahorse dads are badass. Or any of these animals, really). There’s no mention of adoption (at all). And step- or blended-families are glossed over.

In conclusion: if you run across Who’s in a Family, by Robert Skutch, just keep on going. There’s better books out there.

other books

These books, though. They’re not about families, but they’re really great books, and kind of subversive in a way that makes my writer-heart happy. And here, Vanna Jetpack was bored with holding books entirely, so please excuse the lack of inside pictures 🙂

Chester’s Way, by Kevin Henkes, is about two mouse best-friends, Chester and Wilson. Yeah, it’s two boys who are super close friends. I feel like this is a rare occurrence in kids lit, and I love how great the friendship between Chester and Wilson is. A new kid–Lily–moves into town, and Chester and Wilson learn about tolerance, and friendship, and it’s sweet and adorable. It doesn’t moralize, but it’s a very positive and has a lot of meaning.

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, is a story about a bull who doesn’t like fighting, but instead wants to hang out and smell the flowers. Seriously. Everyone wants him to fight and be hyper-masculine like the other bulls, but he wants to be peaceful. His mom worries that he’s unhappy, and when she discovers that he’s not, she just lets him do his thing. It’s a great book, the illustrations are absolutely beautiful, and it has another fabulous message. Plus, it was banned in fascist Spain and burned in Nazi Germany. Who can argue with that kind of a resume?

Book Burnin’, Pearl Clutchin’, and Idea Evolvin’

(Please read title in the voice of Arlo Gutherie, because that’s how it sounds in my head)
These shoes really have nothing to do with the blog, except that they're absolutely fabulous. The toes light up! Rainbows on the sides! Sparkles!

These shoes really have nothing to do with the post, except that they’re absolutely fabulous. The toes light up! Rainbows on the sides! Sparkles!

Last month, I attended a feminism-and-social-justice oriented science fiction convention—specifically, Wiscon. I’ve been going since I was 18.* It’s always been an amazing and thought-provoking experience, and this time was no different. While there, I picked up a copy of Rad Dads: Dispatches From The Frontiers of Parenthood and am looking forward to diving into it soon. I also picked up a picture book for Jetpack. I wasn’t paying attention to the writer (whoops) and discovered, when I sat down to read it to Jetpack for the first time, that we’d picked up a fully innocuous kid’s book written by a rather gross transphobe—Derrick Jensen.

Oops!

Jetpack loved it, but I (when I realized who I’d supported) felt horrible. Taking my feelings to Facebook, where all feelings must go to be shared,** I asked what I should do.

A surprising number of people responded firmly with “burn it.” Those words left me mentally wringing my hands, faced with a possibility that had never crossed my mind.

We teach Jetpack to have respect for books. He is chided when books are left on the floor, or thrown, or their pages are bent. Books are not to be used as the stepping stones over imaginary rivers, are not to be ripped, ended up picking written in, or otherwise maimed. Books are objects to be treated with respect. I would feel hypocritical if I destroyed it, right? That’s not what I want to be teaching him, is it?

I’ve heard this before, once—specifically when talking about the extremely large number of books at my local thrift store by Focus On Family’s anti-queer, anti-woman, good-things hater James Dobson. Then, it took me off guard, but I shrugged it off as a joke.

The book by the transphobe was, as I said, innocuous, and I think the biggest problem (in my mind) was the small bit of financial and emotional support I gave Jensen by buying it. Dobson’s work, conversely—totally offensive.*** (And, being second hand, I could hypothetically buy it without contributing to him at all…).

What do we do with bad books, though? Like, really, what the hell do we do? Suddenly I find myself with real empathy for the used bookstore employees and the thrift store employees. Can you imagine having to shelve all those used (ugh) copies of Fifty Shades of Gray? But what else do you do with them?

Who am I to destroy books? Books are precious, right? Do they deserve to exist simply for the worth of the paper they are printed on? For every Dobson book I may or may not get my fingers (or for that matter, matches) on, LITERALLY millions more exist. When the Library of Alexandria burned, it was a destruction of knowledge—if an entire library were to burn in the US today, it would be a sad financial and emotional loss, but no books would likely be irreplaceable. And then there’s electronic books—book burning may be a radical act, but what about deleting the file off your kindle?

The destruction of books is still a powerful thing. It feels historical–a high school history topic about Nazis, or maybe an English class reading the Bradbury novel. But it’s not all history. Intolerant, narrow-minded jerks still think that burning the Quran is just great (”We had a court process,” said Pastor Terry Jones, who acted as judge, in a phone interview. “We tried to set it up as fair as possible, which you can imagine, of course, is very difficult.” REALLY). They still find the burning of paper with words on it to be a powerful and political act. The protests it spawned among Muslims prove that power as well. But the sacredness of a single, particular copy of a book, has, perhaps, a changing definition.

For the time being, I’m not burning any books. Jensen’s book is hidden. And, for the time being, Jetpack and I will continue to treat books with a high degree of respect—though I won’t be clutching my pearls when someone suggests destroying materials they find offensive. And who knows, maybe, someday, I’ll drop $50 at the thrift store and have a toasty, queer, Dobson-laced bonfire…

 
*This…maybe means that this year was my 10th year oh god I’m getting so old.
**Wait, no, that’s Twitter.
***In Dobson’s world, for example, AIDS is still a punishment for homosexuality and promiscuity. Whoops, I think I’m seeing red again.

Lit Review: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type

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I am entering the headlong rush towards the end of the very last semester of my grad program, so in lieu of a more thoughtful post today I want to share a little bit about one of our favorite books over at the FaB house. 

 

“Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type” was a present from our friend Sumner who has an excellent blog about activism, queer issues, and gender over at Queering the Line. In “Click, Clack, Moo” the cows and hens are recast as agricultural laborers seeking to negotiate for better conditions. The cows, knowing the value of their labor, have found an old typewriter and request Farmer Brown provide them with electric blankets to keep warm in the cold barn at night. They form a coalition with the hens who are also cold. When Farmer Brown refuses to provide electric blankets, they strike. As the strike continues, eventually the cows propose to exchange their typewriter for electric blankets. Duck, the neutral party, functions as the go between during this deliberation. In the end, the cows and hens get their electric blankets. Instead of returning the typewriter, the ducks have taken it and have written a note requesting a diving board for their rather boring pond. 

We’ve been reading the book to Little Bear since she was little. It has become a big favorite. Little Bear is fond of rushing over to the shelf and pulling the book off while emphatically saying “moo. moo.” We’ve been using baby sign, so she enjoys pointing out the chickens and the sheep and the ducks. As Little Bear gets older I am hoping to have deeper conversations about why it’s important that the cows and hens have banded together, talking more about strikes and the importance of labor laws, but until then I’ll keep her giggling with my humorously realistic (if I do say so myself) “click clack moo, click clack moo, clickity clack moo!”

Lit Review: Be Who You Are

Hello! While E and Mama are away on a spring vacation, I thought I’d review a kid’s book I got in the mail last week. Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr, pictures by Ben Rumback.

This book is, overall, really amazing. It has age appropriate, clear language. I read it to the 5.5 year old kid a few nights ago. In the story, a kid assigned male at birth expresses feelings that they’ve always felt more like a girl inside. Their parents are unflinchingly supportive and have her talk with a therapist who understands.

I did wince a bit at the “born in the wrong body” language, because I really feel like that is an oversimplification on an experience. Yes, some trans* people feel like they were born in the “wrong body”, but this puts language in where there doesn’t need to be. To say that some bodies are wrong, that means that most bodies are right. Instead, I like to think that all bodies have value and self-determination should dictate what we get to do with and to, our bodies. We don’t need to classify them as “wrong” in order to change them.

A kid of color! A trans* kid of color! Awesome! It would have been a lot more important that the main character be a kid of color, in my opinion, because of the prevalence of whiteness in our world. Yet again, people of color stay in their supporting roles on the side. 

The ending was nice, without the pretense of perfection. It was pretty amazing that the parents in the story were so supportive, although if you are a kid receiving this book – I think your folks are already going to be supportive.

I posted my excitement of this book to my Facebook page last week. I got lots of people interested and excited about it, and even a few people who had heard it already! I did get many questions about where to purchase it, with the explanation that the person knew someone who had a kid that would benefit from reading it. At first I was happy that people were interested in purchasing the book for the trans* kids in their lives, but then I started to think more about that. I got this book to make sure that our house has a wide representation of people. The kid has books about families with two moms, families that are divorced, families that live in other countries; this is just another book about the different ways to be a person in the world and how your family supports you. The kid shows no sign of being trans*, but she’s also 5 and a half; I have sweatshirts older than her. She may turn out to be a poly queer homo trans person. She may turn out to be a fiscally conservative hippy straight cis woman. Having books, media, and people in her life to show her what sorts of choices she can make help her figure it all out. She has two supportive parents and plenty of adults in her life that remind her that she doesn’t need to grow up into what the patriarchy expects her to.

People who wanted to buy the book specifically for kids who may be trans* miss the fact that their kid still could be trans* and come out later in life. Or they may have a friend or family member who comes out as trans* someday. Or they may just grow up to be a decent human being and learning about people who may be different than themselves is actually a great thing for anyone. So buy this book for the kid in your life. All the kids, not just the trans* ones.