Checking Our Biases When We Check Out Books

Checking Our Biases When We Check Out Books

by Laura Koennecke
The other night I was telling my son about a book I wanted to read to him called Little House in the Big Woods; it was one of my favorites as a child. He really likes non-fiction, so I told him that it’s autobiographical, explaining that meant it was based on a real person’s life. I thought that might stoke his interest. I’ve been itching to get him interested in a good story, but aside from Frog and Toad books, which are amazing by the way, and a few Dr. Seuss books, we mainly read facts.

I also told him that I especially liked that I share my name with the main character, Laura. He thought that was pretty cool.

As I was telling him about the book, a weird sense of doubt surfaced. I wondered if Little House was a girl’s book. I wondered if that mattered. After all, little girls read books with male characters all the time. My Side of the Mountain was about a boy, and I loved that book. I had no trouble identifying with Sam.

But there were other books that I read and identified as being girls’ books, like Misty of Chincoteague, even though it has both a boy and girl for main characters. That one I chalk up to the fact that most of the girls my age at the time were obsessed with their Breyer collections and all things horse-related.

So if I identify certain books as being girls’ books based on my own childhood reading, does that mean I shouldn’t read them to my son? Of course not, but how much do we unwittingly withhold from our sons this way. It really bothered me that I considered not reading him a great story based on a little voice that said it was for girls.

When my daughter was younger, I was always happy to see a strong female lead character. She latched right on to Tamora Pierce’s books when they were introduced to her by a grade-school friend. And as parents more actively look for female protagonists, they have a great resource for girl-empowered books in, which provides characters from many different cultures that young girls can identify with.

This is great, but what if we also started reading stories to our sons with girl protagonists – asking them to see through another person’s perspective?

As the 48-year-old mother of a 6-year-old son (advanced maternal age I’m considered), I sometimes think there’s a cultural divide between myself and younger parents in their 30s. I worry that I’ll become the old person who says the awkward things at the soccer field, you know, uses the words that expose my outdated, uninformed biases like the drunk uncle at a family gathering that everyone rolls their eyes at.

After all, my childhood was firmly in the 1970s. And the fruits of second wave feminism were just starting show themselves. For my older sister to change into jeans after leaving the house was an act of rebellion and a strike against gender norms. Now everyone wears jeans and nobody thinks twice of it. She also wanted to be an auto mechanic and go across country with our cousin Karen who wanted to drive an 18-wheeler. This raised some eyebrows at the time, but now women are excelling in what used to be traditionally male job markets. And the idea that they wouldn’t is simply foreign to many women born in the 1980s.

It’s quite possible that younger parents don’t think twice about gender when they pick out a book, that deep into third wave feminism people don’t project gender norms onto their kids. They say to each other “Let’s get David this biography of Danica Patrick – he loves race cars.”

But we all know that for the most part that’s not true. Just look at the uproar Target caused by removing gender-based signs from their toy sections. Side note: For a fun response to that check out Renegade Mothering (unless you are satire-averse and don’t like salty language, then don’t).

Anyway, as the mother of a son, I’d like to see feminism work for him too. I don’t want him cut off from strong female role models, and I don’t want him walled off from the empathy that comes from reading about people who are not like him. Empathy can only help us all. So dear parents, young and old, maybe we can turn down the little voices that tell us what’s meant for boys or meant for girls, and use books to break down barriers instead of reinforcing them. Let’s loosen the reins and see what happens.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years. She first started contributing to Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook in November of 2015 with her essay titled, Another Christmas Story. One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.


Review: The Turnip

The Turnip
by Jan Brett
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (November 3, 2015)
Ages 3-5

My Rating: 4 Stars

A friend and I recently went to see Jan Brett at a signing for her latest book, The Turnip. Jan Brett is probably most famous for The Mitten, first published in 1989, yet she is a prolific author/illustrator with a large catalog of work, including The Umbrella, Hedgie’s Surprise and Mossy.

The Turnip begins with Badger Girl finding an enormous turnip in the garden. When autumn arrives she tries to pull it up, but it won’t budge. Badger Boy offers to help, but it still won’t come loose. Mother Badger, Father Badger and a long line of characters, including Hedgie, pull on the turnip together, but it’s no use. The snow starts to fall. If it freezes, they won’t get the turnip out until next spring, and everyone is hungry for turnip pancakes. Finally, a rooster trying to stay out of the cooking pot comes along and says he’ll give it a go. Just as he’s giving it a tug with his beak, out flies the turnip with the rooster on top. The illustrations on the side of the pages show that all along a mother bear has been preparing her cubs for hibernation. When they find the turnip in their bed, they kick it out so they can get some sleep. The rooster, seen as the hero for pulling up the turnip, is invited to stay with the Badger family as long as he wishes.

As someone with a preference for simple illustration, it took me several readings of this story to really appreciate what is going on. It’s a lot to visually take in at first, but once my brain settled down a bit, I finally saw the magical world created by Jan Brett that is full of character and humor. The ornate details are fitting for a story inspired by a Russian folktale. Jan Brett’s illustrations essentially force you to slow down, have some patience and really look.

If her book tour travels near you, I recommend going. She gives a presentation where she lets you in on some of her illustrating secrets and gives an inspiring talk to the young future illustrators and storytellers in the audience. Hedgie comes along on the tour to take pictures with the kids, and you get to meet another special character from the book.

The Turnip is a lovely addition to Jan Brett’s body of work.
What’s your favorite Jan Brett book? Let me know in the comments section.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Kid Magazines: 3 Reasons to Subscribe for Your Child

My copy of Ladybug magazine arrived in the mail a couple of days ago. It’s always colorful and full of stories and poems to read, plus it’s not junk mail or a bill, so I get a little excited whenever it comes.

Do you remember being a kid and getting something in the mail with your name on it? I do. It made me feel special, adult-like, as if I really existed. That special feeling is just one reason why a magazine makes a great addition to a kid’s reading resources. What else does a child receive when you give them a subscription to a magazine?

Activities that engage
Most kid’s magazines have at least a few activities in addition to stories. These puzzles, cutouts, recipes, experiments and more encourage a child’s natural curiosity. They offer parents of young children ways to further connect with their kids in a manner that goes beyond reading. Magazines for older kids will often have crossword puzzles that children can accomplish on their own and drawing or writing contests that allow kids to engage in creative endeavors with a wider community.

Cultural exposure
Children’s magazines often contain stories about cultural differences and similarities. A story about the games children play in countries around the world or a poem about the bedtime rituals of children living in the city vs. the country, for example, show children what they have in common with other kids, plus some fascinating differences. There are books out there, of course, that address tolerance of other cultures, but children’s magazines provide steady exposure to these types of stories, which ask kids to think outside their own worlds.

Comforting routine
As adults, we have our routines and rituals that help keep us sane in a hectic world. For some of us, it’s a cup of coffee and reading the morning paper or news websites. For others, it’s hitting the gym before work. Kids need routines just as much, if not more than, adults. The arrival of a beloved magazine on a regular schedule acts as a symbol of stability. Regular characters that show up in the mailbox in the form of a magazine story can feel like good friends coming to visit. Ladybug magazine, for instance, begins every issue with a story called Max and Kate and ends with a cartoon called Molly and Emmett. Plus, throughout each issue there’s hilarious commentary from a trio of delightful characters: Ladybug, Muddle and Thud.

Do you think a magazine subscription would be a great gift for a child in your life? Here are 6 sites to explore to find just the right one:

1. Cricket Media publishes a variety of magazines for different ages and interests, including literary fiction, such as Ladybug, and non-fiction, like Dig.

2. Highlights publishes three magazines, each for a different age range. These publications are chock-full of activities and brain-stimulating puzzles.

3. National Geographic Kids, much like the adult version, is for kids curious about exploring the planet, natural science and geography.

4. For your little sports lover, there’s Sports Illustrated Kids.

5. U.S. Kids puts out two magazines, one for ages 2-6 years called Humpty Dumpty and one for ages 6-12 called Jack and Jill.

6. Does your kid love to help you bake or cook? Ingredient might be just the right magazine to spark their own culinary creativity.

In addition to these, there are also super niche magazines for kids who are into things like riding horses and creating their own fashion designs. They can easily be found by going to any of the magazine subscription sites like

Did you have a favorite magazine when you were growing up? Do your kids already have a favorite that they can’t wait to receive in the mail? Let me know about it in the comments section below.

Building a Joyful Life: A Beautiful Legacy

GrassRoots 2014
Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble at the 2014 Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival

Life is not all about books. I know this is hard for some of us to grapple with, but it’s true. At the very least, we need to eat, sleep and stay in touch with others. And then there’s all the stuff we’d rather not do – the stuff that feels like drudgery – but needs to be done.

There is a rhythm of life that involves the pleasant and the unpleasant, the necessary and the frivolous, the yin and yang. Life is both chaotic and beautifully ordered. We may not get to choose some of the things that happen to us, but we do get to choose the tone of our song. And, we can choose to give our energy and time to activities and thoughts that bring us happiness. I believe that this is, in part, how we build a joyful life.

My version of a joyful life is filled with books, obviously, but it is also filled with music. That’s why I’m taking a break from reading for the next four days to enjoy the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance with my sister and her family. There will be music and dancing at four different stages. It isn’t for everyone. Not everyone likes music or the type of music played here (Roots, Bluegrass, African, Zydeco, Reggae, Latin and more), and some think four days of this is torture, but that’s not me. I love music! The GrassRoots Festival has become my annual pilgrimage – my yearly reminder that there’s more to life than working to make a living. You’ve got to enjoy the living. As an added bonus, the GrassRoots Festival donates its profits to local education and health programs, including its own initiative called Roots in the Schools, so I know my vacation money is doing some good in the world.

All by itself the GrassRoots Festival is a great time, but one of the most fulfilling parts of my annual trek to Trumansburg is watching my young nephew revel in the music and dancing. He’s the kind of kid who can’t stop himself from dancing when he hears a great song. It’s enough to warm the coldest of hearts.

Without delving too deeply into the nature vs. nurture argument (I believe most things this is applied to are a mixture of both), I will say that I have a deep appreciation for how my sister and her husband expose their son to a wide array of culture. How do they do this? They take the time to enjoy their own lives. By appreciating the world around them, they immediately teach him how to do the same. I think that is one of the greatest gifts they give to their son. It’s a beautiful legacy.

How are you passing on your love of life to your children?

When you’re not reading, what do you enjoy doing?

Leave a comment below, and let me know how you’re building your joyful life.

Here are some of my favorite pics from past years of the GrassRoots Festival.

GrassRoots Festival 2013 Happiness Parade
GrassRoots Festival 2013 -Happiness Parade
GrassRoots Festival 2013 - Happiness Parade
GrassRoots Festival 2013 – Happiness Parade
Prayer Flags - GrassRoots Festival
GrassRoots Festival 2014 – Prayer Flags
Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble - GrassRoots 2014
Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble – GrassRoots 2014
GrassRoots Happiness Parade 1014
GrassRoots Festival 2014- Happiness Parade