My son has had a favorite book for the last few months—Tubby by Leslie Patricelli. It’s a sweet tale about a baby during bath time, with a mom, dad, and a surprise dirty dog on the last page. I’m guessing he loves it because the baby’s face is particularly expressive or maybe because I make a funny ‘bbbbbb’ sound with my lips on the page when the baby is pretending to be a motorboat. Either way, it’s almost always the book he holds out to me insistently repeating “doh, doh, DOH” (which seems to be baby for ‘please read this to me!’).
First, I want to state what I think is obvious but still worth stating: it’s not bad that my son reads books about a White family with heterosexual parents doing a sweet, mundane ritual like bath time. Being White isn’t something I want my son to be ashamed of. But the goal of this blog is to be conscious of how the banalities of parenting are some of the most powerful moments that communicate lessons around power and social identities. So, let’s take a moment to be conscious…
He sees a White family with heterosexual parents doing bath time at least twice a week (did I just admit to only bathing my son twice a week?!). The problem is not that the characters are White, but if and when he becomes exposed only to White characters. When White becomes the invisible norm that he learns not to see.
By the end of the day, when its bedtime and he’s holding out Tubby insistently–I’m tired but he’s being so freaking cute–I can’t help but read it one more time. In those little moments, I sometimes say something like this:
“This is a really nice book about a family just like ours. What isn’t as nice is that there are only characters with a skin tone like ours, because most books written for you already show people that look like us. But there are people with lots of different skin tones in the world, so it’s not very fair that most books only show people that look like us, is it?”**
It’s my hope that these types of comments gently refuse to allow Whiteness from becoming the invisible norm against which all else is compared. Naming Whiteness is the start. It’s not sufficient, but it’s something.
Surprisingly, there’s a lot I want to say about a book with only 72 words in it (yes, I counted), so I’ve split up my comments into two posts. I’ll post ‘Tubby pt. 2’ soon.
Yes, I know my son is only twelve months old. Yes, I know he really has no idea what I’m saying. I want to give myself a few years of practice/habit-making in making comments like this!
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