The Power of Picture Books: Influencing Young Children, Adults, or Both?

May 12, 2021

The market size, measured by revenue, of the Children's Book Publishing industry is $2.0 billion in 2021. Natasha Gilmore reported in a 2015 Publisher’s Weekly article that from January 2014 to September 2015, children’s books sales were up 12.6% in the United States. Contributing to these numbers, Gilmore continues, is the increase in coloring books for adults, as coloring books are coded as children’s books in the U.S. The Wonder research site lists figures of $2.95 billion for the 2018 US children’s book publishing revenue. 73.1% of the book sales were for backlist books (books that have been on sale for more than a year), of which 50% of the titles sold were picture books.

Picture books for the very young undoubtedly plant seeds and help shape worldviews. Yet it isn’t just young children who are affected. Those reading these books to the children are also influenced.

Joey, The Story of Joe Biden, by his wife, Jill, is a good example. This book was published June 30, 2020, prior to the election. The four- to eight-year-old target audience would not be voting in the upcoming November election, but perhaps the adults reading this book about Joe Biden’s childhood to children would respond to the “give me the ball” message.

In an interview on
The View, June 30, 2020 (the day her Joey book was released), Dr. Biden had this to say:

… I think Joe will be known for being an empathetic leader because of all he's been through and because of the tragedies in his life-- because he did stutter, because his father did lose his job, because he did work at the only all-black pool in the city and saw what people of color went through, and so I think that empathy is gonna be Joe's greatest strength. 

Joe’s dad lost his job. Joey Biden stuttered and once worked at an all-black pool. He also never refused a dare. What more would be needed to qualify him for the highest office in the land?

On the outside chance that the message went over either the listener’s (or the reader’s) head, there are comprehension questions at the end of this book for kids 4 to 8:

4: Truth was important to the Bidens, how do we know that?
5: Do you think lifeguarding taught Joe about inequality?

 

Theresa Thorn, the author of It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, is the mother of a transgender child. In the Author’s Note of her book, Thorn explains: “My daughter was five when she told me she wasn’t the gender I’d assumed she was at birth.” The illustrator of the book, Noah Grigni, identifies as a non-binary transgender.

She’s a transgender girl.

That means when she was born, everyone thought she was a boy. Until she grew a little older—old enough to tell everyone that she’s actually a girl.

“More Helpful Resources” are listed in the back of this book, including books for parents about raising gender non-conforming children. Website addresses for Gender Spectrum, PFLAG, GLAAD, the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, and others are also included. These resources are intended for the adults.

This 2019 book was published by Henry Holt and Company (BYR: Books for Young Readers). This 40-page book for children 4 to 8 is a “Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year” selection.

An Amazon five-star reviewer concluded her comments with, “. . . I'd imagine it would be just as helpful for some adults as it is for children.”

Race Cars: A children's book about white privilege, by Jenny Devenny, was first published in paperback form in November of 2016. The May 4, 2021 hardback edition will also include a discussion guide. This book, for children from 5 to 8, was originally a 60-page book self-published by the author. The new 2021 edition is only 40 pages, and is published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books, who are known to celebrate cultural diversity.

For as long as anyone could remember, every year when the big race came around, a white car would win the race. A white car would win fourth place, third place, second place, and first place. Until last year…

… “We have always given white cars the fastest tires and the most powerful engines!” they roared. “How could a black car have won?”

As the cars continue racing through the magical forest, the black cars are always stopped, but not the white ones. Various obstacles make it near impossible for a black car to win.

Jenny Devenny is a psychotherapist “dedicated to providing anti-racist psychotherapy to children, adolescents and families and has experience facilitating groups and workshops on racism and white privilege. Jenny is passionate about helping adults, specifically white adults, have meaningful conversations about race with the children in their lives and believes that if we want to dismantle white supremacy we need to start with our youngest.”

“The editor, Charnaie Gordon, is a Diversity and Inclusion Expert . . . [and] . . .  a member of the National Advisory Board for Reading is Fundamental for their Race, Equity, and Inclusion (REI) initiative.”

This Amazon reviewer closes with, “Great for kids and adults alike.”

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham, was named “ONE OF SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL'S BEST BOOKS OF 2018.” This 64-page book for children ages 8 to 12, was published by Dottir Press, who “takes a feminist approach to publishing and artistic production . . .”

According to the Amazon Author’s Bio, “Not My Idea is the only children's picture book that roots the problem of racism in whiteness and empowers white children and families to see and dismantle white supremacy. Higginbotham is also a speechwriter for social justice organizations.”

Left: WHITENESS IS A BAD DEAL.  It always was.

[In balloon]:  Dude, we can see your pointy tail.

Right: Contract

Binding You to WHITENESS

You get:

stolen land

stolen riches

special favors +

WHITENESS gets:
*to mess endlessly with the lives of your friends, neighbors, loved ones, and all fellow humans of
COLOR  [for the purpose of profit $]
*your soul 
Sign below
_____________

+land, riches, and favors may be revoked at any time, for any reason

The next page follows with, “You can be white without signing on to whiteness.”

This Amazon reviewer begins with this:

“Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” arrived yesterday, a belated bday gift from me to my kid, and to her parents, and to her big brother when he’s home from college for Thanksgiving, and to anyone we can get to buy it/borrow it/read it/share it. . . .”

Anastasia Higginbotham is also the author of the 2017 book, Tell Me about Sex, Grandma, a 64-page book for children 4-8, published by The Feminist Press at CUNY (City University of New York).

He’s My Mom!: A Story for Children Who Have a Transgender Parent or Relative, by Sarah Savage, will be released August 19, 2021.

My Mom's name is David. He used to be a she but now he is a he! Last year he did this thing called transition. He took some medicine which made his voice deeper and he started wearing different clothes.

Savage’s previous book from August of 2020, is called She's My Dad!

My Dad's name is Haley. She used to be a he but now she is a she! Last year she did this thing called transition. She grew her hair long, painted her nails in bright colours and started wearing different clothes.

Both of these 40-page books for children from 3 to 7 center in on the hurtfulness of misgendering someone and the need for treating trans people with respect. He’s My Mom! And She’s My Dad address “pronouns, dysphoria, family diversity and misgendering.”

Sarah's book gives our young people, teachers and families much needed vocabulary and knowledge to have open and safe conversations about gender identity in 2020 - the perfect resource for schools and libraries! -- Dr Elly Barnes MBE, CEO & Founder Educate & Celebrate

Sarah Savage is a trans-rights campaigner and co-founder of Trans Pride Brighton. She is the co-author of Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl? (Amazon bio)

My Maddy is a 32-page book for children 4 to 8, written by Gayle E. Pitman, and published in 2020 by Magination Press, part of the American Psychological Association.

Most mommies are girls. Most daddies are boys. But lots of parents are neither a boy nor a girl. Like my Maddy.

“ . . . Perfect for trans, enby [NB: non-binary] or intersex parents, or any allies who want a lovely story to add to their library.” Amazon reviewer

Gayle E. Pitman, PhD, also wrote several other books for young children including This Day in June, When You Look Out the Window, Sewing the Rainbow, and A Church for All. Pitman is a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Sacramento City College. Her teaching and writing focuses on gender and sexual orientation.

They, She, He easy as ABC is a 2019 book written by Maya Christina Gonzalez and Matthew Sg. Gonzalez also wrote The Gender Wheel book in 2017.

They, She, He easy as ABC is a 36-page book for children from 3 to 7. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by a different child. These children use a variety of pronouns. The School Library Journal describes this book as “a gorgeous and much-needed picture book about pronouns and gender fluidity.”

A five-star reviewer writes that “the younger kids in my family have been explaining this book to their grandparents.”

Hear My Voice is a new book, just released in April of 2021. This 96-page book for children 8 and up was compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify.

Every day, children in migration are detained at the US-Mexico border. They are scared, alone, and their lives are in limbo. Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz shares the stories of 61 [of] these children, from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Mexico, ranging in age from five to seventeen—in their own words from actual sworn testimonies. Befitting the spirit of the project, the book is in English on one side; then flip it over, and there's a complete Spanish version. (Amazon)

While billed as a children’s book, I would instead recommend it to adults; it’s a bit too intense for children. There is certainly enough here to engross the adult reader.(Amazon reviewer)

A House for Everyone: A Story to Help Children Learn about Gender Identity and Gender, by Jo Hirst, was published in May of 2018. This 32-page book, for children from 4 to 8, describes a group of friends who play together. One boy prefers to wear dresses, another boy sometimes wears his hair in a pony tail, another girl likes her hair cut really short, another child doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl and prefers that people use the pronoun, “they.”

The end of the book closes with pages with “Notes for Grownups.” “This simple story is a useful tool for helping to break down some of the gender stereotypes that are prevalent in our society . . .”

Jo Hirst also wrote The Gender Fairy in 2015. This book is “a tale of two children who are taking their first joyful steps toward living as their true selves. . .”

I thought that this review from Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? was quite interesting:

“Gender identity is this thing we hear about, but a lot of people aren't very educated on the vocabulary or concept. I'll admit that I could be more knowledgeable myself, and I feel like A House for Everyone did a wonderful job of explaining everything in a way that was easy to understand.”

Although she doesn’t mention the age of her son, she wrote that he “was often confused and barely engaged in the overall story. He wanted to know more about what they were doing on the playground, what kind of blocks they were building with, etc . . .”

Her son wasn’t engaged in the story but was interested in the pictures of the blocks and the playground. After all, he is a child.

This reviewer, like the others listed, acknowledges that these books are helping adults understand these issues. [The passages in bold letters, throughout this article, refer to adult readers of these picture books for children.]

Perhaps you remember some of the books listed below:

Title

Author

Year Published

Age Range

A Child’s Garden of Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson

1885

4-8

Winnie the Pooh

A.A. Milne

1926

8-12

Pat the Bunny

Dorothy Kunhardt

1940

Baby to age 3

Make Way for Ducklings

Robert McCloskey

1941

3-7

Curious George

Margret and H.A. Rey

1941

4-7

The Poky Little Puppy

Janette Sebring Lowrey

1942

Baby to age 3

Goodnight Moon

Margaret Wise Brown

1947

Baby to age 7

Blueberries for Sal

Robert McCloskey

1948

3-7

Home for a Bunny

Margaret Wise Brown

1956

2-5

Corduroy

Don Freeman

1968

3-5

I encourage you to take an afternoon and read some of these older children’s books and some of the newer selections mentioned in this article. The table below* lists the books addressed in this article that are read on YouTube. I have provided the direct links to these readings.

John Donovan became the head of the Children’s Book Council in 1967. In 1969, his I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip book for young adults was published. It featured the first homosexual protagonist in books for kids. John Donovan was a homosexual and his book editor, Ursula Nordstrom, was a lesbian.

I will quote a footnote from Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus, regarding Donovan’s book:

Frances Clarke Sayers, former superintendent of work with children at the New York Public Library, had written JD [John Donovan] privately to state her objections to the “new realism,” of which she considered his first novel a prime example. Sayers believed that such books robbed children of the period of innocence to which they were entitled. JD wrote back that innocence was a luxury that most people in contemporary society could ill afford. (page 281)

Has a child’s innocence been exchanged for a mess of pottage?

 

Deborah DeGroff
whatsinsidechildrensbooks.com

Between the Covers: What's Inside a Children's Book?

 

*Click the book title to go directly to the YouTube reading.

Title

Author

Ages

# Pages

Subject

Time

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Dr. Jill Biden

4-8

48

election

16:39

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity

Theresa Thorn

4-8

40

Gender identity

5:44

Race Cars: A children's book about white privilege

Jenny Devenny

5-8

40

White privilege

12:48

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness

Anastasia
Higginbotham

8-12

64

White privilege

8:47

My Maddy

Gayle E. Pitman

4-8

32

Gender identity

3:49

They, She, He Easy as ABCThey, She, He Easy as ABC

Maya Christina Gonzalez

3-7

36

Gender identity

6:43

Hear My Voice

Compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify

8+

96

Detained Migrant Children at the US/Mexico border

Trailer:

1:16

A House for Everyone

Jo Hirst

4-8

32

Gender identity

11:13

 

 

 

 

 

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