A pile of new book(s), 2018 edition

The book Artemis by Andy Weir.

Not really a “pile” this year, just the one book.  (A book that I’m quite excited to read, since I absolutely loved The Martian.)  I received some other excellent Christmas gifts, including LEGO’s Women of NASA set and a beautiful framed photo set from my spouse.  I’m still working on last year’s books, plus an extra bunch sent mid-year by fellow blogger Leah, so I’m not in any danger of running of things to read any time soon.

Five children's books.

Little Boy got a more pile-like quantity of books for Christmas.  The picture above includes only the new stuff; my mother also gathered up a half-dozen books from my childhood and sent them home with us.  (She also found and gave us my old Sesame Street sheets and my brother’s Thomas the Tank Engine towel, all in remarkably good shape.)

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

New books for my toddler, too

Five kids' books, including Made by Raffi.I wasn’t the only one to unwrap a bunch of new books for Christmas.  Shown above are only about 1/3 of the books Little Boy received—the rest were already scattered around the house and car by the time I thought of taking a picture.  You might recognize that the second book is the classic The Polar Express, lovingly selected by my husband, who has fond memories of its magic.

And look!  Santa brought Little Boy his very own copy of Made by Raffi, which, as you may or may not recall, I reviewed on here a while back.  It is positive, colorful and—in what is a definite plus when you’re giving a book over to a toddler—doesn’t have a dust cover.

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.