Fishponds Mum: Visible Diversity Matters
By Claire Stewart-Hall
BY the time children have become socialised, they are beginning to understand the differences in families and the life experiences of their peers. The questions children ask unconsciously reveal their everyday, usual family experiences. Because every family is different, in every family there will be gaps in children’s knowledge. Then come a heap of questions.
Books are a really good way of ensuring that the different lives people live are represented and are seen regularly and thereby feel usual. I find it helpful to point out to my child when families all weirdly look the same in books and comment on how odd this is – none of our local families look or are the same – some have a mum, some people live with their granny, some live with their two dads, some live with their two mums, some live with a mum and a dad. Some have parents from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Some families experience routines around faith and family traditions. I also point out how strange it is when all the pictures show white people and how odd and unusual this is for us, because our community and support network doesn’t look like this.
Once you begin consciously (un)doing this, the lack of diversity and representation in books is stark and you can see pretty quickly how dominantly able-bodied, white people and ‘mum and dad’ families feature and are pretty much reinforced as ‘normal’ everywhere you look. Quite a challenge to work around if your family or families around you aren’t like the pictures represented.
Likewise, I’m getting pretty tired (already?) of the whole masculinity and femininity rules: girl-means-pink/purple-means-princess-means-a-proper-girl-means-endless-stereotypes about how she is expected to be and behave towards everything. Same with poor boys: expected not to cry, questioned when holding a mermaid, called a brave solider when falls over. Yawn. I can indulge a bit of frill the same as the next person but does it really need to mean all the rest? Books such as Princess Boy start undoing some of these stereotypes and preparing children to talk about the things that might not be part of day to day experience in their family and encourage children to think about their reactions.
Below are some really good books which aren’t all ‘issue’ non-fiction books, for example, a cracking story that just happens to have a child in it with two mums, rather than a book about a child with two mums.
2-10 years: The Great big Book of Families
0-3 years: Odd Dog Out by Ralph Biddulph
0-4 years: Mommy, Mama and Me and/or Daddy, Papa and Me both by Leslea Newman
3-10 years: We Belong Together by Todd Parr
3-6 years: Heather has Two Mummies
3-8 years: Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Thea Lemon and her Super Sweet Fairy Godmother, Otis Lemon and the Spectacular Submarine,
Otis Lemon and the Magic Scooter, all written by Mark Lemon
0-5 The Animal Boogie by Debbie Harter
11+: Two weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman
Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill