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.

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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