The raising of children is a sacred duty. If we want a better society, we start with our children and attempt to raise them better, to not accept the societal problems we live under. Books and art are a great way to incorporate those ideas to children.
JEA very recently opened up a kids imprint, JEApers! My fellow press artists and I have been in lots of discussions about getting these books good art and what the industry looks like for children’s writers and illustrators. What burdens do they bring into the market? Should we be the press that publishes books about gender creative children (pre-adolescent group that defies gender status quo. i.e. boys who wear dresses) because it’s right, and stick our noses up to the inevitable backlash from new ideas? Or should we stick to the tried and true golden book model? What do we gain or lose then? Dr. Seuss was a huge pioneer in his day, incorporating ideas into his books that could potentially have him arrested in his era, but has become a mainstay and standard of children’s literature, in some cases for those very ideas.
I’m going to go back to an old landmark study from the 1940’s. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a study in which both black and white children were asked which baby doll they liked better, the black or white one. A huge majority chose the white doll because they, even the black children, perceived the white doll as being all around better. Prettier, smarter, nicer. This study showed how very damaging racism is and the messages we surround our children with. It took many many years, but that study was a step in normalizing race equality. The lesson was so well learned in fact, that I run into all white families that purposely buy their children black, American Indian, and even Asian dolls, so they can normalize these cultures for their children early on.
I believe children’s illustrators have a chance to really make a difference here. I think we need to make a point of including different cultures, races, gender creativeness, faith practices in our drawings. If the character is never described by the author, why not make the child Asian, or American Indian? If the room is never described why not put some African tribal art on the walls? How about sneaking in bits of culture into the nick nacks of a scene? Maybe Grandma wears a pentacle, or Uncle Dan has picture of the Baha’i house of worship on his desk. Maybe Mom is in a wheelchair, or uses fake legs to walk. If we want our children to live in a global society we need to make seeing these cultural cues normal.
I’m currently illustrating a children’s book written by my husband, who likes the pen name, Uncle Dave. You see a sample page above. I have armies of teddy bears in this book and it was very important to me to include a gender creative bear. This choice was made after watching the struggle, devotion, and strength of a friend of mine who is raising her children to make their own music in every possible way. For me, personally, gender creative children are on the rise. Just like being in the LGBT community or a bi-racial community, they are here to stay. I support rainbow and blended children everywhere. And on a more selfish note, when my children come in contact with someone who looks or thinks different, I would be ashamed if their first reaction is fear. It doesn’t really matter in the end whether you agree or disagree with the differences people are born with or choose. It’s about teaching children to learn and grow from them all and to sing their own personal music as loud as they can because it brings them joy.
Susan is a writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends. She walks the path of a Siedr and strives to grow day by day.