Lilah, once my easy child, is all piss and vinegar these days.  She has opinions.  Lots of Opinions.  That’s one of the ways we know she’s a Rosenbaum.

The other way we know she’s a Rosenbaum?  About 58% of her opinions are about books.  She goes through obsessions; for awhile every night was William and the Night Train.  Then we had the time that will henceforth be known as the Horrible Days, when she insisted upon choosing from a Disney anthology.  Lately, however, she is all about the Pinkalicious books.  Mind you, she hasn’t actually ever seen the original Pinkalicious, as that one is still packed in a box somewhere, waiting to be excavated on the day we might eventually buy a house.  But from the moment she found Purplicious and its hideous cousin, Goldilicious, Lilah was smitten.

Oh, my sweet lord, is that child in love.  She walks around the house holding one of the books, imploring people to read them to her.  When she cannot find either book, she beseeches “scisciousci,” which is the best she can do.  As we turn the last page of Purplicious, she triumphantly exclaims “scisciousci!”  When we finish the book, she simply turns it over and pats the cover, because naturally it is our dearest wish to read the same two books incessantly.

I think it goes without saying that she sleeps every night with one of the two books.

The obsession is cute as hell.  It warms my heart that she loves books so much, and there is pretty much nothing cuter than the way she tries to pronounce the title.  Plus, the Girly Girl/Extreme Combat Wrestler combo she’s got going on is rockin’.

Reading Purplicious one night to the wriggling mass of excitement on my lap, I couldn’t help but appreciate the message: be who you are, no matter what people think.  Sweet.  And then I noticed something else in the book.

Almost all the characters are white.

In fact, in all three of the Pinkalicious books, there is only one non-white character – a lone black kid in the sea of white faces on the school bus.  I had a friend pull out her copy of the original book and check for me.  Yep, that one is all-white, too.  Seriously, the next book might just be called Whitilicious.

I think Pinkalicious is living in Rockwelland.  Except we don’t have school busses.

Of course, there are plenty of towns with mostly white people and sure plenty of books that are monochromatic.  However, what came as a bit of a shock was that this realization was a bit of a shock.  I had been reading these books to her, nonstop, for a week before the lack of racial diversity sunk in.

As a college teacher, I taught an entire unit focused around deconstructing the implied messages in children’s literature. I’m the chick who carefully bought books like Please, baby, please and King and King for my first child.  Yet, when I stop and look at our collection, we have a distressingly white children’s library.

What bothers me is that I hadn’t even noticed the bleaching of our kids’ books.  When did I stop interrogating my kids’ reading selections?  When did I become so blasé?

The books they read have such an impact, but I’m gonna tell you that I think it’s mightily hard to compile a children’s library that is racially balanced, religiously diverse, socially progressive, ecologically educative, and all-around totally rad.  A girl could really blow a gasket on that one

Is it just too hard to be on our guard, every minute of every day?  Does that mean we ought to stop trying?

10 responses to “Scisciousci

  1. There has got to be a website that let’s you build such a library. If not, some really savvy person will build one soon.

    Wow, how nice of the publishers to add in a black face. Progress!

    Our local library stocks is all about the diversity, and we have a bookstore in the main part of our little part of the big city that is pretty much devoted to multicultural children’s books. But right now the kids are into Greek myths and it’s fan fiction (for lack of a better word). Obviously a lot of white, although some of the latter has non-white characters making an appearance, and the girls recently devoured the latest Hank Green, which had a gay main character. And then there’s always the manga, which sort of has Asian characters.

    But it’s adorable, no matter what she’s reading.

  2. no we can not stop trying. i agree. my kids don’t get exposed to a lot of diversity. so i try with books, with what i say, etc. it’s tough. i want to move away from here so they are better exposed to diversity.

    the books/tv shows are so one color. so white. drives me crazy.

  3. At least you’re aware. I never looked at our books that way. I read my children the books I loved when I was a kid and most of those were English (Blyton, Ransome, Nesbit, Farjeon, Goudge etc) and in those, almost always, race wasn’t mentioned because the assumption was there only WAS one race. It didn’t change the way they thought about people (that I could see), and as they got older the books became more wide-ranging (Harry Potter has a bit more scope than, say, Blyton’s Famous Five) but I wonder now if the idea was planted that only white people are actually written about? If not for my children, then maybe for my generation or the generation before…

    By the way, one set of books I wanted to read to them that I couldn’t find were the All-of-a-Kind-Family books – LOVED those (particularly Sarah the bookworm).

  4. My kid’s book collection is likewise very white – but not entirely. I’m distinctly aware when a book isn’t about a white girl – and try hard to make sure that we cover lots of bases each night, with books about boys, and different colors, and gay penguins, and on and on. But still…

  5. That’s why a good chunk of my kids’ books were about animal characters. For younger d, I scoured the library for princess books of princesses around the world. There are actually a lot of those. Also fairy tales that originate in non-European countries. Grace Lin and Vera B. Williams were favourite authors with my older d–realistic stories with non-White characters. I did notice the preponderance. Here’s another for schoolage kids. Apparently, in the world of kids’ books and tv shows, the world is populated 2/3 male and 1/3 female. I know because the main characters are always 2 boys and a girl. I haven’t found a solution to this one. You notice that the famous hero of wizarding is Harry not Hermione (though she’s the more brilliant…and again 2 boys, Harry and Ron, and Hermione form the intrepid trio).

  6. Uhm. I haven’t thought about it. I really am a slacker mom. As always, you inspire me and leave me thinking a lot about my feeble attempts at raising a well rounded thoughtful and caring person. On the other hand (this is me, the slacker mom, cheering myself up) there are BLACK KIDS in his preschool class. And blond girls, no Asians, no Hispanics that I’ve noticed. But still. There, we’re diverse. Lord, I’m pathetic.
    I’ll be thinking about this for ages. My pumpkin is 5 and he doesn’t see races. His friends are his friends and I don’t think he’d know what I meant if I asked if they were brown or white. He could definitely tell me about one young girl’s pretty yellow hair.
    We went to an exhibit of pirate stuff recently at a local museum and the back story was about slave trade. I was explaining it to him as we dawdled and looked for weapons and he was horrified. I’m horrified by slavery too but I know the story. Trying to explain it to a not quite five year old was not exactly challenging but interesting. Its not hard to tell him about bad people who sell other people. Good and bad are sound concepts. Harder though to explain why other people thought it was okay to buy somebody.
    There I go, thinking again… I’d better revisit the slavery concept. Ahh something to shop for. A book that explains it. I bet it will have black people in it. Imagine.
    Keep up the good work Emily. I’m a better mother for it.

  7. send me your new address and I’ll send Lilah a copy of the Pinkalicious, the Musical! CD. If you think you can stand it. 😉

  8. I’m that Mom who changes gender randomly while reading Richard Scary to toddlers. There’s Lowell! She’s riding on the firetruck! And look, Henrietta, he’s teaching school!

    We have read Fancy Nancy so many times that we don’t read it straight anymore. The kids fill in the words. “Okay, kids, this book is called FRUMPY NORMA!” Except we do it through the entire book. If we didn’t we’d go mad.

  9. Oh, and I forgot.

    PS: Just backing up the wagon to say that Lilah loves books, and a book/series in particular, and that all in itself, no matter what, is pretty frickin’ cool. Go Mom on that.

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