Gender representations in popular kids’ storybooks make me sigh. Books based on TV programs and movies seem among the worst offenders; yet they’re inescapably popular.
To manage them, I do two things:
First, I keep movie- and tv-based books to a minimum in our household. There are so many better books out there!
Second, I employ a slightly subversive strategy whenever my son and I read together: If I have a problem with how something is presented, I alter the story ever-so-slightly to improve it.
For example: My three-year-old son loves Disney’s Cars. It’s the story of an anthropomorphic superstar race car, Lightning McQueen, who overcomes his self-absorbtion to develop real relationships with other cars.
Unfortunately, the film’s only major female character, Sally, exists primarily as a love interest for Lightning McQueen; he even hits on Sally when they first meet. (Ugh.) But Sally is a lawyer, clearly much smarter than McQueen, and at that first meeting, she puts him in his place swiftly. (Thank goodness.)
My son owns a copy of the nicely illustrated Disney-Pixar Little Golden Book Favorites, in which the movie is retold. In the book, the plot is simplified. In the interest of brevity, Sally’s role is reduced so much that only five sentences refer to her. Three of these describe the occasion when she and Lightning first met:
“Then Sally, a blue sports car, arrived. Sally was a lawyer. Lightning thought Sally was pretty.”
For my part, I don’t appreciate the emphasis on Lightning’s perception of Sally’s appearance–and with no mention of Sally’s evident disgust at his smug approach, either! So when I’m reading this book, here’s what my son hears instead:
“Then Sally, a blue sports car, arrived. Sally was a lawyer. Lightning realized Sally was smart.”
This has been fun during playtime with my son’s toy Cars. He often plays Lightning McQueen while I, per his instructions, play Sally. If he drives Lightning up to Sally and says, “I’m a race car! Zoom zoom!” I respond, “I’m a lawyer! I’m really smart!”
His response? “No, I’m a lawyer. I’m a lawyer, too! Zoom zooooom!”
That’s right, honey. Lightning McQueen can be anything you want him to. 🙂
“Let’s go to law school together, Lightning! Zoom, zoom.”
Mom: 1; Disney: 0.
Parents: Have you used similar tactics with your pre-schoolers? What works for your family?