Thursday, December 25, 2008

Santa Witch!

Scrooge Loose!

Liko and I love Gumby, although when was a kid it creeped me out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chrismahanukwanzukah Daddy Books

I'll be taking the rest of December off from blogging, but just in time for the holidays, I'm posting a revised, updated version my list of children's books that depict men as caregivers (originally written back in June). If you're looking for books to buy, you might also take a look at my family's list of most-loved children's books. Have a nice Chrismahanukwanzukah! See you in January!

It's an empirical fact that fathers are comparatively rare in children's books — when economist David A. Anderson and psychologist Mykol Hamilton studied 200 children's books in 2005, they found that fathers appeared about half as often as mothers. Mothers were ten times more likely to be depicted taking care of babies than fathers and twice as likely to be seen nurturing older children.

No surprise there, of course. Moms are still the ones most likely to be taking care of kids and there’s no point in nursing a sense of grievance over the invisibility of fathers in children’s books.

But where does that leave families who don't fit the traditional mold? And how does that help parents who want to provide caring role models to their sons?

There are books out there, few and far between, that depict dads as co-parents and primary caregivers. In an effort to find them, I consulted bookstores in San Francisco as well as my local children’s librarian.

My list is not exhaustive; these are only the ones I can recommend, and there are many titles I found online that I wasn’t able to read in real life. And because these kinds of books are so rare, I’m willing to bet that there are plenty out there that few people know about.

I look forward to reading your own suggestions!

My list is arranged according to target age, from youngest to oldest:

Mama’s Home! By Paul Vos Benkowski, illustrated by Jennifer Herbert (Chronicle Books, 2004; ages 1-3): I bought this board book, which tells the story of a stay-at-home dad and toddler waiting for mom to come home from work, for Liko when I was taking care of him. It turned out to be a genuine comfort for him to read (over and over!) in the hour before his own mom came home from work, and he delighted in the simple, fanciful storyline: “Is that Mama? / No, that’s not Mama….that’s just a pirate ship.” Strongly recommended.

Kisses for Daddy, by Frances Watts and David Legge (Little Hare Books, 2005; for ages 1-5, I’d say): This is a simple, lightweight picture book with bears, whose title pretty much says it all.

When Bunny Grows Up, by Patricia and Richard Scarry (Golden Books, 1998; ages 1-5): Baby bunny's family tries to guess what he will be when he grows up--a fireman? a lion tamer? a train conductor? Nuts to all that. Baby bunny wants to be a full-time daddy when he grows up. Originally published in 1955, When Bunny Grows Up was way ahead of its time, and it's perfect for families with a stay-at-home dad.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George, by Margaret and H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1941-1966; ages 1-5): Is the Man with the Yellow Hat the equivalent of George’s father? If not that, I’m not sure what he is.

Daddy’s Lullaby, by Tony Bradman, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2001; ages 2-5): Dad comes home late from work and sings a lullaby to his baby. A very tender book, which shows a working Dad in a caring role.

My Dad, by Anthony Browne (FSG, 2000; ages 2-5): With one or two lines of text per page, the goofy pictures dominate. Dad (in a bathrobe, PJs, and slippers) engages in various fantastical adventures, from jumping over the moon to singing opera with Pavarotti. Silly and sweet.

A Father’s Song, by Janet Lawler, paintings by Lucy Corvino (Sterling, 2006; ages 3-6): A simple, somewhat solemn verse story about a father and son’s day in the park, beautifully illustrated.

Mama’s Coming Home, by Kate Banks, pictures by Tomek Bogacki (FSG, 2003; ages 3-6): Similar to Mama’s Home (above), a solid and heartfelt portrait of a reverse-traditional family in action. Dad and the kids clean up, cook dinner, and set the table, as a parallel narrative shows Mom trudging through sleeting rain and New York subway stations on her way home from work. Especially recommended.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2004; ages 2-6): Why is this story such an instant classic? There's something about Willems's tone, pacing, and combination of words and pictures that kids think is tons of fun, and I confess this is one of the books I most look forward to reading to Liko. Don't miss the sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too. Willems's daughter shares a name with the protagonist of his books, and these stories feel like mini-memoirs, depicting a dad who shares life with his growing little girl.

Daddy Calls Me Man, by Angela Johnson, paintings by Rhonda Mitchell (Orchard Books, 1997; ages 3-6): Dad doesn’t actually appear until near the end. And yet I think every previous page points to that moment, as a little boy paints a picture of everything that’s most important to him.

Papa, Do You Love Me? By Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee (Chronicle Books, 2005; ages 3-6): A father in a Kenyan village tells his son how much he loves him. This is a lovely book; the images in the words might be even more evocative than those in the pictures.

Tell Me One Thing, Dad, by Tom Pow, illustrated by Ian Andrew (Candlewick Press, 2004; ages 3-7): Dad reads Molly a story, but she’s not sleepy yet. She asks to hear one thing he knows about polar bears, crocodiles, and so on; at the end, Molly tells Dad things that she knows about him. This is a gentle, beautifully written, unusually paced, and interestingly illustrated story.

Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1940; ages 3-7): You probably already know that Dr. Seuss was a genius. Not just a genius, but probably one of the most successful progressive writers of his day. From environmental responsibility (The Lorax) to anti-racism (Sneetches & Other Stories) to resistance to tyranny (Yertle the Turtle & Other Stories), Dr. Seuss could tackle any topic, no matter how terrible, and teach children something about how the world really works in ways that are inspiring and fun. In Horton Hatches the Egg, Dr. Seuss gives us an elephant hero who hatches himself an elephant-bird baby--and in the process, gives children an archetypal model of male caregiving.

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, 2005; ages 3-7): This picture book tells the somewhat-true story of Roy and Silo, two boy penguins in Central Park Zoo who shacked up together and adopted a baby penguin of their own, named Tango. And Tango Makes Three isn’t a boring “message” book that tries to teach your kids to be tolerant. It’s genuinely fun for kids to read. Gay dads might also want to check out Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite.

A Father Like That, by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (HarperCollins, 2008; ages 3-7): This picture book is actually about a boy who doesn’t have a father, but fantasizes about all the things they’d do together if Dad was around. In the end, his mom assures the boy that while he might never have the dad he wants, he could grow up to be the father he imagines. Yes, it’s somewhat depressing, and yet I think this could be a great Father’s Day gift for boys who really don’t have a dad in the picture. Single moms raising boys, take note.

Finally, for older kids, I’d like to mention Danny, Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Knopf, 1975; ages 8-12): “When I was four months old, my mother died suddenly and my father was left to look after me all by himself,” says the narrator, Danny. “There was just the two of us, my father and me.” This is a beautifully told, amusingly imaginative, politically radical, and profoundly emotional tale of a son’s devotion to his father and a father’s devotion to his son. I read this out loud to my 3 year old. He followed the story and liked the characters and incidents, especially the bit when 9-year-old Danny drives a car. However, the plot is driven by the father’s desire to poach a rich man’s pheasants, which was too far outside of Liko’s experience for him to find it interesting. But this book is an outlaw classic that older kids (boys especially) may find evocative and thrilling.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Enforcing heterosexuality

Two brothers were attacked, and one killed, when a SUV full of homophobes saw them walking arm in arm:

[Jose] Sucuzhanay (suh-KOO-chen-eye) and his brother Romel, 38, were walking arm-in-arm after a night out when a sport utility vehicle pulled up near them at a Brooklyn stoplight, police said.

Witnesses said they heard the men in the car shouting anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs at the brothers. The attackers jumped out of the car and smashed a beer bottle over Jose Sucuzhanay’s head, hit him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat and kicked him, police said. Romel Sucuzhanay was able to get away; the attackers drove off after he returned and said he had called police, authorities said.

Alas, A Blog comments:

This reminds me of stories my father tells of when he used to walk arm-in-arm with a blind friend of his, and people would shout epithets at them out of car windows.

Both of these would, of course, be equally reprehensible if they involved actual gay couples. (In my father’s case, I think the harassment would be much more reprehensible if it had involved an actual gay couple, because my father and his friend could laugh off the insults in a way that would have been more difficult if the insults had functioned, as intended, as a way of reinforcing second-class status based on sexual orientation.) However, situations like these do remind me of something else that strikes me as important: Occasionally, I see discussions cropping up about why many men in America often aren’t physically affectionate with their each other. Well. There you go. A man’s being physically affectionate with a brother, or a male friend, isn’t just a violation of taboos about showing femininity. It’s assuming a risk of harassment and violence.

The lives of gay men are more affected by this, of course, in shocking and horrible ways. But the enforcement of masculinity and heterosexuality is bad for many men, gay and straight.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Fail to walk the air"

Something really freaking smart from Ta-Nahesi Coates:

In the arena of racial progress, I know of only a few more destructive forces, than the black pathology disciples, the coterie of writers, editors, scholars and pundits who see black folks mainly as pure-bred descendants of slaves, and the worse end of a gaggle of socio-economic data. This isn't a left-right deal. The theory of the black automaton programmed simply by oppression, on the left, or dysfunctional culture, on the right, leaves no room for Rakim, for Zora Neal Hurston, for my woman's clear, beautiful skin, for actual humanity.

This is why neither lefties nor righties can get a handle on this blacks and gay marriage thing. Instead of asking how groups who've been oppressed have traditionally behaved toward other groups under duress, they posit a black version of the madonna/whore complex, in which blacks are supposed to be this font of American liberalism, and are ripped when we don't live up to that standard. It's a trip. This country was built by white people fleeing oppression. Yet to hear these fools tell it, you'd think that experience stopped them from slaughtering the Indians and enslaving blacks.

And therein is the ultimate upshot of reducing black humanity--it ultimately reduces white humanity. It pretends that whites are always perfectly rational, and that their interactions with race aren't complicated and contradictory. Dig's Arana implicit proposition, for instance, that there is some pure strain monoracial strain of black--or even white--and how it basically eradicates one of the great unspoken crimes of slavery and Jim Crow--the widespread rape of black women. Once you understand your own fraility, your own contradictory nature, once you understand (to take it back to Baraka) that you yourself are beautiful though you "sometimes fail to walk the air," once you get your own flawed genius, you'll understand ours. Because in the end, there is no fundamental difference.

Supremes uphold rights of lesbian moms

Good news from bad:

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a ruling that Virginia must enforce a Vermont court order awarding child-visitation rights to a mother's former lesbian partner.

The high court Monday declined to hear the case of Lisa Miller, who claimed that the Virginia Supreme Court improperly ignored a state law and constitutional amendment that prohibit same-sex unions and the recognition of such arrangements from other states.

The decision let stand a victory for Janet Jenkins, who has been fighting for visitation rights since the dissolution of the civil union she and Miller obtained in Vermont in 2000. Miller gave birth to the daughter, Isabella, in 2002, and the child was at the center of a legal battle closely watched by national conservative and gay-rights groups. (Associated Press)

I can't post this without noting that this family is obviously in a terrible situation. As Mothertalkers notes, "Few things annoy me more than a lesbian mom who splits from her partner and then sues for custody on the basis that the ex's sexual orientation makes her unfit to parent"--which is, in fact, what happened. But this is still a victory for the rights of lesbian moms.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Thank you for clarifying this very sensitive issue"

'Gays Too Precious To Risk In Combat,' Says General

Transracial adoption

Via my pal Howie, here's an imperfect but interesting essay in the Seattle Stranger about transracial adoption:

It would be easier for white people if race did not exist. Or if everyone could agree that race did not matter, that is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "transracial" first appeared publicly in a 1971 Time magazine article. The article introduced transracial adoption, or adoption across racial boundaries—most often white parents adopting children of color—and reported a strange phenomenon. According to a study in Britain, some white parents "tended to 'deny their child's color, or to say he was growing lighter, or that other people thought he was suntanned and did not recognize him as colored. Sometimes the reality was fully accepted [by the parents] only after the very light child had grown noticeably darker after being exposed to bright sunlight on holiday.'"

It's such an outrageous finding that it sounds like a joke. Stephen Colbert's dimwitted white-guy alter ego has a joke like this, when he says on The Colbert Report, always in the most ridiculous of situations: "As you know, I don't see color." The joke is funny because in so many ways it's true. Plenty of white people don't see color. We refuse to look at it, prefer not to see too much difference, because difference almost always makes us feel bad by comparison.

Transracial adoption is awkward to discuss at first, because although it is designed to chart a radically integrated future, on the surface its structure repeats the segregated past. Just look at the basic structure of a family and apply race to the equation. The most crude way to put it: Whites are in charge, children of color are subordinate, and adults of color are out of the picture. And that's not even talking about class.

And yet there are more of these families now than ever. The exact number of transracial adoptees in this country is unknown, but the practice, which began in earnest in the 1970s, has been on the rise for at least 10 years. Twenty-six percent of black children adopted from foster care in 2004—about 4,200 kids—were adopted transracially, almost all by white parents, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect at Cornell University and the Department of Health and Human Services. That figure is up from 14 percent in 1998 and, according to adoption experts, it has continued to climb. The 2000 census, the first to collect information on adoptions, counted just over 16,000 white households with adopted black children. In the last 15 years, Americans have adopted more than 200,000 children from overseas, but that trend is cooling off, partly because international adoptions are so expensive.