Truth in Mom-and-Dad-vertising
Soup du Jour:
Today , we look at a “clump” of books that hint at the possibility that parents are actually people.
Ingredients (books discussed):
- The Grandmother Doll
- Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild
- Sally Dog Little Undercover Agent
- Mrs. Goat and Her Seven Little Kids
- “Let’s Get a Pup!” said Kate
Suggested Side Dishes (related books):
Second Helpings (transcript of podcast):
When our first daughter was born, we received an album of children’s music entitled “Free to be.. You and Me” — an ambitious project spearheaded by actor Marlo Thomas twenty-five years earlier to break various stereotypes and to open children’s eyes, hearts and minds to the possibilities of a better world. One of the many concepts the album introduced was the idea that “Parents are People”. The song by the same name explained that every mom and dad was once a child and that parents have many abilities and jobs outside the home. I understood the importance of recognizing the humanity of one’s closest humans but, looking at my angelic newborn, I couldn’t foresee misunderstandings about my status as a fellow person.
Almost nine years and thousands of parental interactions later, the idea still seems far from radical but the need to introduce and reinforce the concept is now crystal clear. In fact, I would now see reason to add to the defining refrain “parents are people, people with children” several more phrases including: people with feelings, people with personalities, people with good days and bad days, people with strengths and weaknesses, people who struggle to make good decisions, people who make mistakes, people who experience conflicts and achievements. In short: Parents Are People.
In the thirty some years since this album was created, huge efforts have been made to help children understand themselves, their rights, their world and their feelings and to help equip them to deal with the feelings and actions of their siblings and peers. But, for the most part, little effort has been made to help children understand and interact with the people who happen to be their parents. Parents continue to be portrayed in children’s media as 2dimensional dispensers of privileges, consequences and humourous reactions. I think such representation wastes opportunities to understand, improve and learn from some of the most important relationships in a child’s young life.
Luckily, exceptions exist.
Today, we look at a “clump” of books that hint at the possibility that parents are people.
The Grandmother Doll (Alice L. Bartels and illustrated by Duscan Petricic; 2001 Annick Press) details the grouchy mother-daughter interactions on day X of flu-induced confinement. Both Katy and her mother “are having one of those days”, the kinds of day we’ve all had plenty of, but we so seldom see accurately portrayed in picture books. I love this book for its true-to-life snaps, stomps, glares and slams. The bulk of the story is in the magic that happens in Katy’s room, but, for me, the familiar grouchiness of mother, child and even the magical grandmother doll — and the mother’s visible relief (and do I detect guilt, or is that pure projection?) when her daughter is finally sleeping peacefully — are welcome slices of reality that can’t help but make us feel more at home in our own lives.
Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild (Mem Fox, illustrated by Marla Frazee; 2003 Voyager Books) is another great example of honesty in parent portrayal. As her mother makes her way through the Saturday chores, little Harriet causes an escalating series of disasters, making her mother’s loving, calm and restrained reactions more and more difficult to achieve. Through effective body language and careful wording, this book does justice to the frustration, remorse, reflection and eventual relief on both sides of this explosive situation, without taking the temptingly typical comedic look at the frustrated parent. I believe this honest, sympathetic look at a common parent-child interaction helps children and the real adults who read to them understand and accept themselves, each other and their very important, very real relationships.
When-I-was-A-Little-Girl (Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Renne Benoit; 2006 Second Story Press) paints an honest, if humbling, picture of our sometimes less-than-honest memories of our pre-parent selves and the role these imagined memories play in coercing our children into better behaviour. “Oh, Lisabeth, you’re so picky!” begins this thought-provoking story, “When I was a little girl I ate everything I was given.” Then, magically, out of nowhere, Mom’s perfect former childhood self appears, setting unreachable standards and then, with the help of a grandmother’s memory, falling from grace. It’s not easy to decide who to root for, as this story dances in the grey areas of sympathy, honesty and even revenge and I love how it skillfully presents Lisabeth’s mother as parent, child, rival, victim and friend. Life and relationships can be complicated and this book demonstrates that complexity with honesty and with respect for its readers – providing some great laughs along the way.
Then there are the flecks of honesty that shed tiny lights on real parents: the details that are not the focus of the story, but the honest, sometimes humourous backdrop: Twinkle Little’s mother sneaking chocolate before breakfast in Sally Dog Little Undercover Agent; the reference to Mrs Goat’s favourite beer in Mrs. Goat and Her Seven Little Kids; the piercings, funky clothing and believably messy household of Kate’s parents in “Let’s Get a Pup!” said Kate. Not nearly as many as I’d hope for, but I’m glad for every one.
Parents are people – pretty important people in most young peoples’ lives – and I think we can all benefit from regular reminders.
Thanks for listening. I’m Andrea Ross from the Just One More Book! Podcast and we’ve been Swimming in Literary Soup.