Thursday, June 2, 2011

Some thoughts on our new queer-ish kid lit

So - on a trip to Greenwood Books the other day - I found and bought two queer-ish kiddie books. The first is My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis (2011), a mom of a dress loving little dude who subsequently became an activist and educator on her son's behalf, and The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith (2010).

I love the intent behind My Princess Boy, that sharing the experiences of her son will bring about greater understanding for dress-wearing, bling-lovin' boys. It's written for a young audience, and is a good way to introduce the topic to the preschooler set. The illustrations by Suzanne DeSimone, are gorgeous and really help to connect Princess Boy to the audience. I say all of the aforementioned with a few caveats though. But - and there is a but here - I really wish we could have the conversation about boys rockin frocks without calling frocks and pretty things "girl clothes". If the goal is to disrupt the limiting conceptualizations of boy/girl, then invoking them seems counter intuitive to me, even it is probably the simplest way to explain things to the kid set. Though the author does speak of her own love support for her Princess Boy, it does seem as though there is an emphasis on the 'normal' males in Princess Boy's life.  She notes that Princess Boy loves his brother, who "plays baseball and soccer" and who is depicted in a baseball uniform (3). She notes that Princess Boy "loves his dad" and how "[h]is dad tells him how pretty he looks in a dress" (5). (No similar declarations of love for his mom or other female characters are included). And I have to wonder if the focus on maleness is a way to normalize the role models in Princess Boy's life.  In this way, no one is to blame for the child breaking gender barriers, it's just a child being their 'authentic self' (which of course it is, with or without the sort of witting or unwitting setting up of familial 'innocence').  All caveats aside though, the project of My Princess Boy is laudible, especially since there are so few books of its kind for this age group in particular.  And the messages about the painful realities of being different, of familial love and acceptance are important ones. I love the character Princess Boy, and I love his mama for having the immense mama-love and gutsiness it took to write this book for her boy and for all the rest of us.  I hope against hope that this book flies off the shelves and into the hands of waiting teachers, parents, preschoolers and early schoolers too. I know I'm looking forward to reading it to my own sometimes dress-rocking, bling lovin' Boy-o.

I love The Great Big Book of Famillies. I think it's one of the best family books I"ve come across yet. Hoffman begins by explaining that "Once upon a time most families in books looked like this:" with a corresponding pictorial of the traditional heterosexual, white, upper middle class, nuclear suburban family, "But in real-life, families come in all shapes and sizes" (1). This book may not be uber exciting to kids (except possibly to me) but I love the way it matter-of-factly explores all kinds of different family formations (queer, grandparented, adopted, fostered, single-parented). It is multi-racial and multi-ethnic throughout. The illustrations by Ros Aquith (whose work you've probably seen either in the Guardian or the oodles of other kids books she's illustrated) add additional layers of depth to the text, such as where she depicts a stay-at-home dad with a working mom heading off to work next to the text: "In some families everyone has a job. In others, only one person goes out to work" (11). And what I really love about this book if that it is one of the first pieces of kids literature that I've found which tackles class issues throughout. In the section about different kinds of homes, for instance, it mentioned that "some people can't find anywhere to live at all" (8). Similarly, in the section addressing holidays, Hoffman explains "Not all families can afford a holiday. But most people get some time off from work. even a weekend at home can be a little holiday" (13). And I also really loved how this book addresses boys who rock the frocks! In the clothes section, there is a boy wearing a tu-tu. And it's just presented as the way some folks dress. The beauty of this book is that queer families or single famlies or poor families (or boys in tut-tus) are explored well outside of the standard it's okay to be different dialogue (that makes me more than a little batty). Because ALL families are different. Simple, matter-of-fact, there you go. Me likey. A lot. This one should be a standard classroom fixture and it's definitely getting a coveted space on our family bookshelf!

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