by Armin Brott
If you thought your child’s bookshelves were finally free of openly (and not so openly) discriminatory materials, you’d better check again. In recentyears groups of concerned parents have persuaded textbook publishers to portray more accurately the roles that women and minorities play in shaping our country’s history and culture. Little BlackSambo has all but disappeared from library and bookstore shelves; feminist fairy tales by such authors as Jack Zipes have, in many homes, replaced the more traditional (and obviously sexist) fairy tales.Richard Scarry, one of the most popular children’s writers, has reissued new versions of some of his classics; now female animals are pictured doing the same jobs as male animals. Even the terminologyhas changed: Males and females are referred to as mail “carriers” or “firefighters.”
There is, however, one very large group whose portrayal continues to follow the same stereotypical lines asalways: fathers. The evolution of children’s literature didn’t end with Goodnight Moon and Charlotte’s Web. My local public library, for example, previews 203 new children’s picture books (for theunder-five set) each month. Many of these books make a very conscious effort to take women characters out of the kitchen and the nursery and give them professional jobs and responsibilities.
Despitethis shift, mothers are by and large still shown as the primary caregivers and, more important, as the primary nurturers of their children. Men in these books—if they’re shown at all—still come homelate after work and participate in the child rearing by bouncing baby around for five minutes before putting the child to bed.
In one of my two-year-old daughter’s favorite books, Mother Goose andthe Sly Fox, “retold” by Chris Conover, a single mother (Mother Goose) of seven tiny goslings is pitted against (and naturally outwits) the sly Fox. Fox (neglectful and presumably unemployed single...