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October 14, 2013

An 8-year-old Protests Sexism in Children's Books

Eight-year-old KC is an activist in the making. When she found sexist children’s books at Half Price Books in Berkeley, KC protested the way most kids do — by crying. But through her tears, she articulated her anger, and the bookstore staff listened.

KC’s mother, science writer Constance Cooper, was browsing the bookstore when she suddenly heard her daughter call, “‘Mama! You have to look at this!’” Cooper told Today. “So, of course, I thought she’d found something she wanted to buy, but it was completely the opposite. She was looking at two books that had made her so enraged she was actually in tears.”

HOW-TO-SURVIVE-ANYTHING

“The [book] that got to my daughter the most was How to Survive a Camping Trip because she loves camping,” Cooper said. “It was sad to read ‘camping may not always be a girl’s top choice of activity, but here’s how to make the best of a bad situation and survive in style.’ The picture had a girl dreaming about lounging on a beach. Later it said, ‘Besides, fresh air is excellent for the skin, and a brisk walk is a marvelous workout.’”

KC “insisted” that they tell the staff about the troublesome books, and an employee overheard, according to Constance Cooper’s blog. The employees then moved the books to a less visible area in the children’s section. When they got home, KC wrote a fiery review on Amazon.com:

“Hi. I am an 8 year old girl and I saw some very offensive books. In the girl’s book it said that girls don’t like camping and in the boy’s book it said boys like exploring nature and all that fun stuff, while girls don’t. All I had to read was the table of contents and it made me cry. Do not buy these books for your daughter, or it may make her cry like I did.”

To protect your reading partners from sexist children’s books, here’s an easy checklist by the California Department of Education: “10 Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books For Racism and Sexism.”

  1. Check the illustration
  2. Check the storyline
  3. Look at the lifestyles
  4. Weigh the relationships among people
  5. Note the heros
  6. Consider the effects of a child’s self image
  7. Check out the author’s perspective
  8. Watch for loaded words
  9. Look at the copyright date
  10. Consider literacy, and historical and cultural perspectives

As the checklist asks, “What happens to a girl’s self-image when she reads that boys perform all brave and important deeds? What is the effect on a girl’s self-esteem if she is not fair of skin and slim of body?” Stories have a profound effect on children. We should choose books that don’t pigeonhole children’s identities, but expand the possibilities for themselves and their futures.

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