A children’s book with a lesson for everyone

June 5, 2018

Not all children’s books reflect society’s rigid notions about gender. Matt Pillischer has a recommendation.

MY SON Asa brought a pink doll to school today — Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street. He’s always liked dolls, pretending to vacuum the floor, and cooking in the kitchen with his daddy. That doesn’t mean he can’t also love trains, trucks, dirt and dinosaurs — and he does!

That’s why we love the new book Jamie is Jamie: A Book about Being Yourself and Playing Your Way by Afsaneh Moradian.

The book follows young Jamie moving to a new town and a new school. Jamie likes to play with trucks and action figures, as well as dolls and dancing. The other students see Jamie playing with everything and wonder: Is Jamie a boy or a girl? Does it matter? Jamie’s interest in toys of all kinds shows the other kids that it’s perfectly okay to be interested in everything in the play box.

Asa loved the book when I read it to him. It would be of interest for kids as young as 1 or 2 and as old as 8 or 9. The color drawings by Maria Bogade beautifully illustrate the simultaneously simple and radical story.

Image from SocialistWorker.org

My wife and I have always tried to let Asa wear and play with what he wants. When we have to make choices for him, I catch myself pushing against the barriers of gender normative roles I’ve been taught.

Even something as simple as buying diapers — did you know there are pink ones with Minnie Mouse and blue ones with trucks? I think to myself, “I should just buy the pink ones, who cares?” but I know I’ll feel judged at the register. Occasionally, I find “gender-neutral” diapers, and I’m happy.

The name we gave our son, Asa, is itself a gender mystery for many people — and his big beautiful eyes and eyelashes lend themselves to comments about “how pretty she is.” We usually just say, “Thank you.” How embarrassed people get if they find out he’s a boy.

I remember receiving a gift from a distant family member just after he was born that was a pink gift basket. When the delivery person from the local gift story found out Asa is a boy, she insisted that she take back the gift basket and make another that was blue and “boy-oriented.”

It’s amazing that we fit all the diversity of children’s thoughts and behaviors into two, little boxes. How sad and confining. How unnatural.

WHILE SOCIALISTS may have more advanced gender politics than the average population, we still interact every day with people who can gain from books like this one. And it’s reaffirming to us and our children to read books like Jamie Is Jamie.

Children’s books are a great way to introduce liberatory ideas to adults as well as children, shaking up notions about what is “inherent” or “natural.” It’s an aid we can suggest to our children’s teachers, caretakers, family members and friends.

The author, Afsaneh Moradian, is a teacher of 15 years and a writer with a master’s degree in education. So we know the simple story has a lot of thought and research behind it.

The back of the book has tips for teachers, parents and caregivers. These pages give encouragement about how healthy it is to let children play freely, remembering that toys have no gender and trying to let children work out their differences — when possible, without adult intervention.

The tips also remind caregivers to provide children with creative play materials and a variety of options for play learning — and to talk to children about play so adults can understand if there’s anything kids feel like they can’t play with or something new they want to try.

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As a parent, I’ve read about the importance of play, and how it really is the child’s most important learning tool. In a busy world full of time constraints, money constraints and social norms about how men and women should act, we need all the tools we can get to help our kids just be kids. We need ways to remind adults in our children’s lives to step back and let the kids be themselves, to explore their own interests.

At a time when the president and other bankrupt politicians are pushing agendas that resemble The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s important for us to have tales of our own that encourage children (and adults) to be themselves.

Jamie Is Jamie is a great book for your children’s bookshelf, school or library. Pick up a copy through Free Spirit Publishing or at the Haymarket Books room at Socialism 2018.

Further Reading

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