Remember my piece at The Broad Side entitled “Women Scientists Are Not Unicorns“? Check out these additional reading suggestions from Riffle Books: “Did You Google Rosalind Franklin? Unknown Women Scientists.” Ah, the science-y ladies: children should see pictures of them and stuff. Seriously.
Marie Curie was my first favorite woman scientist, unless Beatrix Potter counts. I’ve been having this extended internal conversation about aspirational children’s books lately-most recently because I had occasion to read some of the eleventy-million juvenile biographies of Benjamin Banneker. A large part of me is really happy that these books exist (I just to love reading those kids biographies with the orange covers at the library), and being so frustrated that we give kids these shiny stories that don’t reflect the reality of the world in which we live.
When you read books like “lady scientist” biographies with your older son, do you also have some kind of meta-narrative? Will my daughter run screaming from me clutching her biography of Rachel Carson, after she’s forced to listen to my monologue about “Silent Spring is a really freaking depressing book and women just can’t get ahead”?
Yeah, there’s a lot of Exceptional! Individuals! of History! going down in children’s lit land. And progress narratives that flip me out (see also: history PhD husband with background in constructions of race & empire).
I chat pretty nonstop while we read nonfiction books of any variety, adding in little rhetorical & actual questions as well as nuance. There’s so much oversimplification that doesn’t reflect how we have conversations with children in our family. (I particularly remember the time I was visiting Noah’s kindergarten and the teacher assured the children that slavery … and it seemed like racism too? … no longer exists. I held my tongue in the moment, but there was a chat in the car on the way home, and then repeatedly after that.) But I do also err on the side of not-going-to-cause-the-sensitive-child-nightmares. It’s an interesting dance.
The books I like best for representing a more diverse gender world (and race, etc., etc.) tend to be the ones that aren’t about such super-exceptional individuals.
You comment made me laugh, because it’s so nice of Noah to put up with my nonstop commentary on every damned book we read!
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