Monday, May 06, 2013

Currently Reading: My Friends by Taro Gomi

Finding children's books that keep Gates' attention and present values we approve of can be challenging. I've found it's not enough just to review the text. You also have to look at the images and what they might be conveying.
My Friends by Taro Gomi
One book that Gates received for her birthday, My Friends by Taro Gomi, looks harmless at first glance. A strong female learning from the environment and those around her. In fact, this book is recommended in many pre-school and first grade curriculums to teach what it means to be a friend. One image has me less than thrilled that this book is used in school.
Now, Gates loved the book and had me read it multiple times in a row from cover to cover. As you read a book again and again in quick succession, you pay more attention to what you're reading and to what you're seeing. The image that really gave me pause has the text "I learned to play from my friends at school" and shows a boy pulling the girl's hair.
I learned to play from
Now I could be overly sensitive and reading too much into the image. But why did the author need to include a boy pulling the girl's hair? While it's a behavior that most girls with long hair experience first hand, it should never be presented as acceptable. If the author included this image as a teaching moment, to have a discussion about what is and isn't ok on the playground, the opportunity has been lost on many teachers as the lesson plans and recommended activities don't use it.
Why does this image make me bristle? Childhood. I had long hair as a child and boys were constantly pulling it. I wore Princess Leia buns before Star Wars made them cool to prevent the boys from pulling my hair. In second grade, hair pulling escalated to one boy cutting my hair. Talking to the boys (yes, more than one did this), to the boys' parents, and to the school's staff didn't help. The boys' parents laughed, and the principal and the teachers turned a blind eye. "Boys will be boys." "He's just showing he likes her."
My initial thought with the book, was to only let Gates read it when cubes and I were around so that we could point out the acceptable forms of play: hand holding, picking flowers, singing, and so on. And then talk about how pulling a girl's hair is not acceptable play. After talking with an early childhood educator (my sister), she agreed that it's never ok to show images of aggression towards girls from boys. In class, she either paperclips or rubber bands the pages together so that questionable materials aren't not presented. If children ask about the censored content, she'll explain that the content isn't relevant to the lesson. Rubber bands and paperclips are no nos around toddlers so that approach wouldn't work. Also, my sister pointed out that a one year old is to young to understand the nuances between types of play we were going to try to explain. She recommended that we put the book away.
Am I overreacting?
How would you teach the image?
Do you read your children's books cover to cover first?

Besides temporarily putting the book away until Gates is older and can understand a discussion about the subtlety in the image, I've written to the publisher. For a book that's so widespread in children's curriculums, we shouldn't be inadvertently portraying or quietly approving of aggression towards girls.
In My Friends place, I've given Gates I Can Fly, a children's book first published in the 1950s featuring an empowered little girl who can be anything that's anything.
Ciao Bella!
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Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.
Bedside Reading is a monthly series, published the first week of each month (Monday for family-related picks, Tuesday for fashion, Wednesday for home, Thursday for food, and Friday for design), featuring books, magazines, or blogs that I enjoy.