Why Diversity of Experience, Race and Gender Norms in Children's Books Matters

This month was a doozy. After returning the Latvian kids to Latvia, depositing my first born at USC, and getting my second born settled in high school, a bout of strep, redecorating two bedrooms, a book launch, the demands of my full-time job, and a successful school supply drive, I finally had the chance to catch up with my emails this morning.  Sometimes, there is a gift waiting among the backlog of Gap ads and political pleas. This morning, I found this…

I read aloud Jazzy’s Quest to my 5 year old, Isaac. I told him that I’d spoken to the author and that you’d like his opinion on it since he was adopted also. He took it very seriously! We read it over two days. I could tell that sometimes it struck an emotional cord because he got more cuddly and wanted to lay on my lap while I read. He stopped me the first day, but I was surprised when he asked me to finish on the next. Every so often, I would ask him if he had any suggestions or things he liked. Here were his honest responses:
1. “She should say that Jazzy is determined. That she tries again and again and again.”  (One of his favorite books is How to Ride a Bike, by Chris Rashka. He was referencing Jazzy’s frustration in not knowing what to do for the show and in Rashka’s book they say ‘again and again and again’. He likes the repetition I think!)
2. “I learned that it is okay to have more than one mom and dad.” (Despite knowing that he DOES have more than one mom and dad, it seemed reassuring for him to have a book tell him that this was acceptable and alright.)
3. “I like that there are LOTS of different people who sing and dance because I do too. It’s okay to not all like the same things.”
4. This last one hit me really hard. Backstory: We have spoken a lot about how much his first mom loved him and just couldn’t take care of him safely enough. He grieves that he wasn’t able to live with her permanently. Also, when we were reading the book, we had one of our chickens get sick and he went with me to the vet’s and I thought we were going to have to put her down. He was really confused by why we would want to make her die and we had a discussion about sometimes you do something that seems awful but it is really the best thing for the animal. (Fortunately, we didn’t have to!) So Isaac’s response at the end of the book was: “I like how she talks about foster care. It makes me think about how my other family really loves me even though I don’t live with them. It makes me sad that I couldn’t live with my first mom. But it is kind of like how you said that even though it was sad, you were putting Chicken Bicken to sleep because you love her. That’s kind of like why I couldn’t live with my first mom. It was really sad but really she loved me a lot too.” 
Little kid brains make the craziest connections! I loved that he could connect how really sad things can also contain a lot of love. I also loved how he made a connection that made sense in his processing that I never could have made for him. Thank-you for writing a book that gave him another outlet to process through his story well. I’m passing it on to my adult adoptee friend now and am anxious to hear her thoughts as well! 
Sara Stockinger

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    Juliet C. Bond

    Juliet C. Bond is a writer and professor at Columbia College in Chicago. Her first book, "Sam’s Sister," was published in 2005, and has sold over 50,000 copies. She went on to collaborate with Newberry winner Joyce Sidman to publish the stage adaptation of "This is Just to Say." Juliet’s shorter works can be found in "The Prairie Wind," at storystudiochicago.com and citymusecountrymuse.com. Juliet serves as the Welcome Coordinator for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Illinois, and has had the pleasure of working under the tutelage of award winning authors including; Jane Yolen, Jane Hamilton, Laurie Lawlor and Audrey Niffinegger. She chose the name for this space as an homage to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony whose hard work on gender equality serve as daily motivation to continue fighting for girls and women everywhere.

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