Encouraging diversity (and knitting!) through children’s books

Not long after I posted my thoughts on raising a boy in a world of gender stereotypes, I received an unexpected email.  Like everyone online, I receive quite a few unsolicited emails—typically spam-blasts offering fraudulent part-time jobs to students and equally fraudulent requests to attend fake conferences—but this one seemed more relevant than usual, so I took the time to read it.

The email turned out to be from singer Craig Pomranz, who is also the author of the children’s book Made by Raffi.  He’d seen my post and thought I might like his book.  He was right: I like it a lot.  So much so, in fact, that I want to tell you why.MadeByRaffi-small

(Full disclosure: When I expressed interest in writing a review, I was provided with a free PDF copy of the story.  I intend to purchase a physical copy of the book when Little Boy gets a little less vigorously interested in ripping pages.  All of the opinions expressed in this review are my own.)

Made by Raffi is the story of a boy who feels a little bit different.  He likes to hang out by himself at recess, preferring quiet solitude to rowdy games.  During one of these recesses, a teacher shows him how to knit.  Raffi’s classmates react to his enthusiasm for knitting in the way you might expect, until they realize that the ability to create beautiful costumes is actually pretty cool.

The message, of course, is that boys can and should be encouraged to be themselves and do the things they enjoy, regardless of gender stereotypes.  One part in particular stood out to me: when a concerned Raffi asks his mom if he seems “girly,” she doesn’t say, “Yes, and that’s OK.”  She says, “No, Raffi.  I think you are very… Raffi.”  Because knitting and sewing and arts and crafts aren’t girly, they’re just activities that some people like to do.  (Fun fact: at certain points in history, knitting was an exclusively male occupation.  The idea that it’s somehow intrinsically feminine is entirely a construct of modern society.)

There’s another message here, too, one that applies to kids of all genders, which is that it’s OK to sit on the sidelines and do your own thing.  Raffi’s happy ending isn’t about running off to play soccer with the other kids.  He continues to sit alone, knitting, now comfortable in his own interests and accepted by his peers.  As an introvert, it took me until my late teens to begin to realize that being mostly uninterested in social events didn’t mean there was something fundamentally wrong with me.  I still struggle with this feeling sometimes.

Major credit is also due to illustrator Margaret Chamberlain, whose bright, lively artwork is filled with a diverse cast of children and adults.  Knitting and sewing look like a lot of fun!  (Which they are, I might add, speaking from experience.)  When Raffi sews a cape, the text and illustrations provide enough detail on the process that I can just imagine a child jumping up from the book to make his or her own cape. 

I look forward to finding out what Little Boy thinks of Made by Raffi in a couple of years.  In the meantime, I highly encourage other parents and gift-givers to check it out.

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5 thoughts on “Encouraging diversity (and knitting!) through children’s books

  1. Thank you for the lovely review. I am Margaret Chamberlain and I illustrated the book. I was an introvert child and still am introvert. I empathised with Raffi, especially as I love to knit and sew too. I dreaded games at school and still don’t look forward to social situations although I have learned how to play a role in parties etc.

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    • I’m so glad you stopped by to comment. I feel very much like I’m playing a role at parties, too. Especially family gatherings, where I know I’ll be asked to cheerily answer the same questions over and over.

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  2. I like the ” no Raffi, you’re just….Raffi” statement. It she had said yes to the question, it would still be a “gender” choice. But Raffi is Raffi. It is odd how needle work has become so “girly” when there are so many tailors who are men. Are all tailors, men? Are women seamstresses? I guess I don’t want to know badly enough to research those origins. But if you know, tell me.

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  3. Pingback: New books for my toddler, too | crazy grad mama

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