YOU ARE SO AWESOME
Headed into Barnes and Noble yesterday afternoon to stock up on some books for an employee’s baby shower today and wow, how books have changed. First off I walked by about a thousand toys and games and puzzles, lots of Star Wars action figures and Lego sets mostly with a defined gender lean as usual. Lego doesn’t seem to get the shift necessary these days and that the “girl” lego sets don’t need to be a superhero or a Barbie camper copy. I thought they were past that by now, but I digress because I wasn’t at a toy store, but a book store and was quickly becoming disappointed that I didn’t go to my favorite local independent store instead.
As I made my way past the toy aisle there were pink and purple and almost sparkly books screaming positivity at me. I AM AWESOME, FEMINIST BABY, (yes I swear) there were books everywhere with the YOU ARE PERFECT JUST AS YOU ARE message and I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or weep at the contrived and now popular marketing message.
I didn’t see any “boy” books that said any of these messages. Those books were defined by the trucks and cars and things that go. Boys apparently don’t need to be reminded at their place in the sun at the top of the food chain, but apparently female authors have decided it is now time to explore (or exploit) the I AM FABULOUS enough message. The bright side to this long strange trip down the little superchick aisle was the amount of female representation books about real life women like Jane Goodall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Rosa Parks and many more excellent, though predictable but nonetheless, community activists, science and political leaders. This in my opinion is a positive change in young readers literature. We didn’t have much of this when I was growing up so every positive reminder that there are strong female leaders besides Amelia Earhart and Florence Nightingale out there for our young minds to look up to is good news.
As I made my way through the stuffed animals and things that kind of resembled books, but I wasn’t sure, I looked for the books I loved reading to my son. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig of Shrek fame before Shrek fame, Animals Should Definitely not Wear Clothing, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Webb, by the one and only E. B. White, Blueberries for Sal and Lentil by Robert McCloskey, Little Women, any Sandra Boynton book, especially Dinasour’s Binket and Barnyard Dance and Are You My Mother? Hundreds of books I read to Michael over the years, but I barely saw them. The books I saw had a sad commercial quality to them like almost trying to match the latest movie.
The shower gift note included with the invitation asked we each bring a book to start the baby’s library. I get this because I have attended many many showers and seldom are books the main attraction. My go to gifts ever since I received them at my own shower are a nice big stack of books to start the library. This purchase today was more careful knowing that every attendee would be bringing a book. I had to stay away from I LOVE YOU FOREVER, PAT THE BUNNY, GREEN EGGS and almost any Dr. Seuss book for that matter, MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE and all that followed, and so many more of the classics. I had to go deep and make decisions that would be under the radar. When did children’s books become political? This particular employee tends to lean to the right or at least this is what I am told so the Ruth B. Ginsberg book was auto out. I actually had to read through some of the books so as not to offend. I had to cave though and buy the silliest one aforementioned, FEMINIST BABY, just for the pure absurdity of it. I would have liked to see a book called CHICKS AND CARS, maybe showing a little girl asking about how to change a tire. Or maybe a character headed to day care as her mom heads off to NASA to help develop a rocket. Maybe a book showing Dad getting home first and catching up on the laundry and getting dinner ready because Mom is traveling for business or maybe there is no Mom, maybe there is another Dad or maybe Mom is at her own house because the parents are divorced. How about a book about a child making friends at an afterschool program because both parents work two jobs to make ends meet? How about a book about learning about a great female economist and about the importance of saving your own damn money. How about a book called, “NO YOU DON’T HAVE TO ASK YOUR HUSBAND HOW MUCH TO PUT ASIDE FROM YOUR CHECK FOR THE COMPANY SPONSORED IRA?” Another book that would be great would be a book on a young girl going for her first job and dealing with the salary question by commanding fair pay. I would love to see a book about a mom bringing her daughter to the bank and showing her that money needs to get deposited into it in order for the debit card to actually withdraw it. Perhaps if we started getting into our young little chicks minds from the first book we read to them, we would have a serious group of developed and smart demanding women in the workforce. I am even open to this representation by other characters besides humans to make the point. Wise owls, strong lioness, graceful but commanding swans and lovely bad ass eagles. Let’s celebrate the praying mantiss in some of our books, we all know about her personality trait.
I don’t know, how about some reality instead of shoving down our brand new and ripe and ready new baby minds the white picket fence bullshit of YOU ARE FABULOUS AND GREAT AND PERFECT, because the fact is that life on its way to your little being is messy. Shit happens when you don’t feel so great and perfect, but this, my little one, is WHAT LIFE IS. No need for labeling yourself a failure because you feel like one occasionally, the failure is the juice that propels you into the light. Failure is normal. How about those realistic messages if we are going to start creating positivity books? How about the new moms putting their fricking phones down and actually reading a real book to their babies with no television and no ipad for five minutes. How about that?