Storytime & annoying AF male characters: Can we talk about how annoying the dad is in Olivia??

If you’ve perused any children’s library in the last fifteen years, you’ve probably come across Olivia by Ian Falconer. It’s a hugely popular, award-winning book series.  A has two copies of the original book, a copy of another from the series, and has gotten multiple other books from the series out of our local library. The original book is undeniably charming—the illustrations are minimal, and Olivia herself is a strong, feminist character.  She’s opinionated and passionate and willing to try new things. I’m glad A enjoys reading such a strong, female character. 410E4S3D33L._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As I’ve read the series over and over and over and over and over for the last year or so, I have come to a realization: Olivia’s dad is so god DAMN annoying. In the original book, he’s pretty much absent. Olivia’s mom does all of the care-taking. I think he is mentioned once. Fine, whatever. I can get over that. BUT, in other books in the series, he is present and actively annoying. He sits and reads the newspaper while Olivia’s mom is feeding the baby. He undermines things Olivia’s mom said (all of this in just Olivia… and the Missing Toy). He just generally doesn’t engage in care-taking or with his children in any of the books that we’ve read from the series. Can a book count as feminist if the dad is that annoying? I’ve written before about how society devalues care-taking—this is one of the books that proves my point.

We’ve continued to read the Olivia series in our house, for sure, but not without problematizing it for A. For example, I sometimes say:

“This picture shows Olivia’s mom helping the baby and Olivia’s dad reading a newspaper. Sometimes that happens in our house, but sometimes Baba helps you and I read.”

The parents in the books are just so normative in gender roles that it is hard to ignore. There may be other points in the series when Falconer does try to disrupt gender stereotypes (we haven’t read the whole series, to be fair), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Olivia’s dad is still the most annnoyinnnngggg. Books can be charming and good in some ways, but not great in others. The Olivia series is a perfect example of that.

P.S. This reflection doesn’t even touch on class-based analysis of Olivia: the family goes on vacations to Italy, not to mention the Ballet and art museums in NYC. I was worried when I wrote this reflection that it was prioritizing a white feminist lens, rather than an intersectional feminist one. I need to reflect more on making this review more intersectional.

What to do with Dr. Seuss?

When I was reading to A before bed a few nights ago, every book he pulled out was Dr. Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in the HatOh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Fox in Socks are among the favorites in our house. It always surprises me how much he reaches for Dr. Seuss. We didn’t particularly push them on him, but there is something in them that A just gravitates towards. Something completely fun and flamboyant.

Completely timeless, though, Dr. Seuss’s books are not. Dr. Seuss is a product of his time, and I notice that in how he treats female characters and characters of color. In Cat in the Hat, for example, Sally never speaks nor has much agency in story. In And to Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street (admittedly one of his earliest and more notorious works), his portrayal of Asian characters is undeniably stereotypical. In Oh, the Places You’ll Go (one of my favorite books of all time, kid book or not!), there is a weird, racialized exoticization of turban-wearing people.  And I haven’t found a Dr. Seuss book with a human character that looks African American.

Despite that, I can’t abandon Dr. Seuss. I can’t completely censor unfair and unjust images out of A’s life, no matter how much I want to. First, I think that would breed resentment in A—when he sees his friends are able to watch certain TV shows but we don’t let him, he won’t understand and may start to look for opportunities to engage in that content outside of our supervision. Second, explicitly discussing how race and gender are represented in books and movies makes it clear to A our perspective. Color-blind parenting assumes that kids will unconsciously pick-up the messages of tolerance when we put them in diverse environments or expose them to diverse children’s literature. In reality, kids are likely picking up the unconscious biases and unfair treatment of some of their friends or some of the characters in their books. In order to counter that, parents need to have conscious, explicit conversations with kids. Because many parts of Dr. Seuss books are so great and relatively non-problematic, his books provide an opportunity to engage in such conscious parenting, without being overwhelmed by such problematic images with every turn of the page.

Complete censorship for kids is not always the best option. Dr. Seuss is not perfect but rather a product of his time. We can recognize and enjoy the parts of his canon that are absolutely amazing/hilarious/whimsical, while using other parts of his books opportunities to engage in color-conscious and gender-conscious conversations with kids.

P.S. For someone doing a way better job at deconstructing Dr. Seuss than me, look here.

Storytime and activism: A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist is a small book with a cult following. It seems to pop up in all of the corners of the web that talk about social justice & parenting, at the small local bookstores, etc. It’s an ABC book that talks about something radical with each letter: I is for immigrant and indigenous or L is for LGBTQ or T is for Trans or Z is for Zapatista, of course.


A certainly doesn’t understand everything (or even most) in it, but I think of it as a book that will grow with us. Right now, for a family with a one-and-a-half year old, it has good illustrations and a fun rhythm of the text. It gives us an opportunity to practice how we (the adults) want to start talking to him about certain topics. As he grows into the preschool years, I’m sure we will use it as a jumping off point for discussions around social issues. And because the text is poetic in nature, I think we can use it into the elementary years. As A’s understanding of poetry grows, we can unveil new meanings of the short letter-based poems together.

This book is truly a radical children’s book. It calls out democrats and republicans alike; it calls out capitalism; it calls out problematic narratives of activists (R: “’ruinous rioters’ the headlines said…really?”). It makes me want to be more accountable to my beliefs. I am grateful to have it in A’s little library, and I highly recommend it!

P.S. See some of my other children’s book reviews here, here, here, and here

Storytime & Badass grandmas: Nana in the city by Lauren Castillo

A has two pretty badass grandmas: Nana & Nene (Hi, mom! Hi, mom-in-law!). It’s not super surprising then that he’s starting to get into a new book: Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo.

nana in the city cover.jpg

The book is about a little boy spending a night at his grandma’s apartment in the city. At first, he is scared by everything going on in the city. But when his Nana makes him a red cape, he sees the city through a whole different lens: everything that was scary the day before makes the city thrilling today!

We haven’t done any ‘naming whiteness’ talk while reading the book, but we have looked at the illustrations and found racially, socioeconomically diverse urban settings. The main characters do appear White, but (and?) they are situated in representative urban spaces. The illustrations depict homelessness in respectful fashion. It depicts urban parks, taxi cabs, and street food vendors. It reflects urban life in a realistic and optimistic way. I also appreciate the fact that they are showing a male character who is afraid and intimidated by new things (gotta disrupt that toxic masculinity from the start, ya know). And an older woman living a happy, independent life.

Overall, a sweet and pleasant read! With lots to talk about (particularly in the illustrations) for parents interested in stimulating conversations about social justice with their young kids.

Happy wiping,



Storytime & Poop: Everyone poops by Taro Gomi

New favorite book alert! New favorite book alert! A has a new favorite book, and I’m loving it, too. I’ve done a mini-series on this blog called ‘Storytime & …”: Storytime & avoiding colorblindness, Storytime & decentralizing manhood, and Storytime & naming Whiteness. Well, today, we’re talking about Storytime & Poop.


My husband went to a library book sale (the kind when all of the old books are 25 cents), and came back with Taro Gomi’s Everyone Poops. It’s literally a book about pooping, complete with illustrations of turds hanging out of people’s butts. And animals’ butts. To be fair, I think that’s part of the reason A likes it: there are lots of animals. There are one-hump camels pooping; two-hump camels pooping; gorillas, pigs, pelicans, and bugs pooping. As the book says, “all living things eat, so everyone poops.”


On Thursday morning, as I was reading the book to him (trying to calm him down because he woke up in a FOUL mood), we got to a page when it talked about how “different animals make different kinds of poop. Different shapes, different colors, and even different smells.” At that last part, he wrinkled up his nose and pretended to sniff the book, then he turned and grinned at me. This is one of the things that makes this book great: it teaches A about his body. About how he uses his nose to smells things. About how pooping is natural part of being a human. And ultimately, about how he is a biological creature that has autonomy over his own body. I’m not sure if this is a chicken-egg scenario, but since his obsession with this book started, he’s even started telling us when he’s trying to poop or just pooped. That might just be a coincidence, but it also might not be (every parent thinks their kid is a prodigy, right?? Maybe mine’s a pooping prodigy!).

The author is Japanese and draws characters that are Japanese. I haven’t been explicit about talking about race in this book with A. That’s something I can add into our conversations in the future.

The one social observation I have made to A about this book regards gender (and it’s my only critique of the book). All of the humans in the book are male. They have male genitalia and/or have clear cultural symbols that represent manhood. None of the animals are gendered, but given what we know about the centralizing of manhood, many readers may refer to the animals as male (though maybe that’s not true in Japanese culture). Since we are reading it from an American perspective, though, I want to be very explicit with A: GIRLS POOP, TOO! Here’s an example of something I have said to him while reading this book:

That little boy is pooping. All the people in this book are boys actually. But girls poop, too! Mommy poops sometimes.


Happy wiping (and pooping?),


Storytime & Avoiding Colorblindness: Last Stop on Market Street

A friend of my husband very sweetly gave A the book, Last Stop on Market Street (written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson). Unlike my reviews of Tubby (part 1 & part 2), I actually love how this book presents race and family. The picture book is about a boy and his grandmother leaving church and traveling in a bus. Nana, the grandmother, has an unrelentingly positive and curiosity-seeking demeanor that she uses to gently encourage CJ, her grandson. The last stop on Market Street, we eventually learn, is a soup kitchen where they volunteer every Sunday.


Nana and CJ look African American (though the reader is never explicitly told how they racially identify). Many children’s books with characters of color deal with race in one of two ways: First, there are children’s books that use characters of color to discuss the Civil Rights Movement or slavery. Racial struggle is the central theme; these types of books have their place. They can be powerful tools to help kids understand huge topics like slavery or Civil Rights. Second, there are books with characters of color that fall into a “colorblind” narrative (the whole “my kid doesn’t see race” idea). In this type of book, characters of color and White characters interact without any recognition of White privilege or how American society organizes power along racial lines. They become weird post-racial utopias. This type of colorblind book is actively dangerous, because it risks exacerbating racial inequality. (I get this might be controversial for some. Read more about colorblindness here and here.)




It is important to me, however, to have books showing characters of color going about their ordinary lives but still relishing in and respecting their culture. Last stop does exactly that. For example, at the beginning of the book, CJ’s friend (a White boy) gets in the car with his father, and CJ asks his Nana “how come we don’t got a car?”. Those few lines, combined with the visual representation of race in the illustrations, hints as the economic realities of race in the US. There are lots of other subtle examples that prove how delicately this book deals with race.

We can’t just read this book to our kids and expect that exposure to be enough (that falls into colorblindness, which, as I said before, I believe we should strive to avoid as parents). We still need to have active, explicit conversations with them about the book and how race is shown. In a future post, I may put together a few examples of how I might use Last stop to stimulate conversations about race with A or other young kids.

I didn’t even get to touch on how disability and blindness is portrayed in the book, which is beautifully done as well! Overall, I would highly recommend the book for any parents or people looking to buy a present for a young child.

Storytime and Decentralizing manhood: Tubby, pt. 2

A has moved on from his Tubby obsession since I wrote the first blog post about the book, but I still wanted to revisit it. Last post, I talked about Tubby and whiteness. Today, I want to use Tubby to talk about decentralizing & redefining boyhood/manhood.

Tubby never implies a gender of the baby protagonist in either the words or pictures. I find myself really intentionally using the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ in reference to the baby, though I admit one of the first times I read it (of thousands at this point), I realized I had been referring to the baby as a ‘he.’ It’s not uncommon in American society for gender-neutral characters/things/animals to be assigned ‘he’ as a pronoun. There’s an awesome (and free) zoo near where we live, and I often hear parents referring to almost every animal (without obvious genitalia, lol) as a ‘he.’ De-normalizing boy/man as the assumed gender is one thing I try to be conscious of in my day-to-day interactions with A.

I am human, of course. Sometimes, I’m sure I assume ‘he’ when I’m super busy or feeling really tired. We haven’t completely abandoned gender in raising A, particularly in how we dress him, though I do try to push back at hyper-normativity whenever I can. Trucks and dinosaurs are great, but so are dolls and art and play-cleaning (he’s currently obsessed with a vacuums and brooms and all things cleaning) and science and nature and all sorts of things. Blue and red are great colors, but so are pink and green and purple and orange.

My mentality is that the world is going to smother him with trucks/dinosaurs/blue/red so much already that I don’t need to encourage it anymore. He will get those messages from school, media, people on the street. I can use our home to encourage him to be interested in things (often stereotypically feminine) that the world won’t push on him.

Using ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun when reading books or encouraging non-normative interests are small ways of decentralizing and redefining boyhood/manhood. It happens during storytime with books like Tubby. It happens when I’m buying him new kid silverware, and I pick the green & purple unicorn-themed fork. It happens in all sorts of mundane, tiny moments of parenting.

It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Storytime and Naming Whiteness: ‘Tubby’ by Leslie Patricelli

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.


Happy wiping,



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!