Recently, I was researching kids’ books for National Pet Month, and I came across “Let’s Get a Pup!”, Said Kate by Bob Graham, which is a cute story of a family adopting a dog from a shelter. What struck me as interesting about the book, though, wasn’t mentioned in the text. If you look closely at the cover, you can see that the parents in the book are not the usual picture book parents. The dad has a tattoo on his arm, and the mom has a nose ring. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is pretty rare to see parents like this in a picture book.
Since most people my little one comes into contact with have tattoos or piercings or both (not to mention long hair on men or non-natural colored hair on both genders), I was tickled to see these things presented as a normal (not even worthy of mention) aspect of family life. This is what my family looks like, after all.
Maybe your family looks like the mixed race family in Norton Juster’s Hello, Goodbye Window, which included a mixed race family in the illustrations without making it an issue book about a mixed race family.
Or maybe one of the families in Monday is One Day looks like yours. It features several different families as they count the days until the working parent(s) can stay at home with their family. The illustrations show families of all sorts, including a family with two dads, as they go about their lives until the weekend comes. In our family, we discuss the days as “work days” or “hang out days” each night as I put Ladybug to sleep. I am excited to share this book with her.
These books are great ways to show kids examples of diversity without making a big deal about it. It isn’t the main point, but it’s there. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Of course, there are also times when you may want to be more direct about family diversity. In light of the fact that opinions are still divided on GLBT families according to a recent Pew Research Center study and the Marriage Amendment being put to a vote in Minnesota in 2012, I would say that it is time to be direct about our support for all families. For adults that may mean becoming an informed voter.
For our kids, it means talking. Ask them questions to see what they have noticed or what they have assumed. What do they think of when they think of a family? What kinds of families do they see in their communities? You can use books like Todd Parr’s The Family Book or Mary Hoffman’s Great Big Book of Families. Both of these books show many ways families can be different from their houses or pets to celebrations in addition to the variety of people that can make up a family, including GLBT families. This teacher’s guide from WelcomingSchools.org is a great resource for parents that builds on the ideas in the books.
Diversity is about more than just race. It is as important to open a discussion with our kids about family diversity as much as it is to talk about racial diversity. This article on PBS Parents encourages parents to talk about diversity with their kids. While the focus is on cultural/racial differences, I think the advice applies to family diversity as well:
“Teaching our children to accept differences may require that we use the power of the internet to learn about differences, that we seek out cultural activities that are out of our community and explore the strength and value in diversity. It is not enough to simply visit cultural events, eat ethnic foods and thus learn about differences from a voyeuristic point of view. Instead, we must make a deliberate effort to get out of the familiar and show our children we mean it. Accepting differences should be how we live our lives.”
We can help create a future in which differences are celebrated rather than feared or shunned by sharing these books with our kids. We can also seek out community events that celebrate diversity. Start by attending the Twin Cities Pride Festival this weekend (June 25th & 26th 2011). You can even join the parade on Sunday with Minnesotans United for All Families to show your support. Hope to see you there!