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Tuesday, March 18th, 2014
My first favorite book was The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food. My mom read it to me so many times that I could eventually recite it from memory. I have no doubt that all of those hours spent reading with my parents when I was little became the foundation for my career as a magazine editor.
Now, part of my job at Parents is handling our coverage of children’s books. Every day, I get boxes and boxes of books in the mail (I often have to make two trips to the mailroom because there are too many to carry!) I love poring over all the stories and pictures that will shape the minds of young kids—and maybe even change some lives.
So naturally, I was intrigued by this Let Toys Be Toys campaign in the U.K. to stop labeling gender-specific books and toys. The petition—which has been gaining momentum as booksellers and writers lend support—calls for publishers to stop labeling books for a particular gender, either in the title or on the packaging. “Telling children which stories and activities are ‘for them’ based on their gender closes down whole worlds of interest,” the petition states. I couldn’t agree more. Children should be able to decide for themselves which stories and activities they find interesting.
Here in the United States, I occasionally see a book labeled for one gender, but it’s not as common as it appears to be in the UK. Still, it’s evident that even if publishers aren’t declaring books specifically for boys or for girls, they’re still marketing some of them that way. Books for girls are covered in pink flowers and cupcakes, while boys get trucks and cars. But what about the boys who like baking and the girls who like construction vehicles? We should let children decide what interests them as an individual, rather than pushing them towards one topic or another. Besides, we should want girls to learn some science and spatial skills, and we should want boys to develop some nurturing behavior. Let’s encourage our kids to be well-rounded.
While the Let Toys Be Toys campaign is not focused in the US, we could still borrow some of its tactics. We can reach out to publishers to let them know that we want books marketed for both genders. It’s so easy to reach out through an online petition or Twitter, after all. We can also spread awareness of the issue to others. But above all, it’s up to parents to encourage their children to select stories that interest them, regardless of any social stigmas or what companies are pushing towards them.
On a brighter note, I also see plenty of wonderful books here in the office. Each month, I’m bummed that I don’t have room in the magazine to cover all the creative and imaginative stories for kids of both genders and all ages. These are the tales we want to share with our kids. Looking for a place to start? Check out our Best Children’s Books of 2013 list.
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Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
By Warren Hynes
Warren Hynes is a teacher and freelance writer. This post originally appeared on his blog, The Pitch: Baseball & Life.
For the past 12 years, I’ve found it fascinating to be a father to daughters. My two girls have brought me on an eye-opening cultural journey that has covered Elmo and Dora, Disney princess dresses, American Girl dolls, pretend-school lessons, pet guinea pigs, and performances of Wicked both on Broadway and in our living room. Lately, their activity has focused on some songs from the soundtrack to Disney’s latest animated feature, Frozen – the album that stands behind only Bruce Springsteen’s new record among the best-selling LPs in the nation. The songs, which sound more Broadway-ready than the typical multiplex fare, are bolstered by the voice of Idina Menzel, the actress who originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked and Maureen in Rent.
In our home, the girls have been blasting the Frozen songs from our little Bose speakers and lip-synching their way through the whole show. In the car, even with no music on, they’ll practice certain lines together. They’ve seen the movie twice, and are clamoring for thirds. When our youngest turned nine three weeks ago, she asked for a cake in the shape of the film’s snowman character.
Now I’m no cheerleader of Disney’s traditional portrayal of young female characters. The funny thing about this movie, though, is that even though all of the typical princess set pieces are there – the castle, the gowns, the big eyelashes, the handsome love interest – this film is ultimately about none of those things. It’s about two sisters, and their overriding love for each other. It’s about how far you’ll go to protect and save the best friend you have in the world. In our house, that’s a story worth some attention.
As my girls sing along to the film’s song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” we hear the story of a younger sister who is being pushed away by her older sister, and can’t understand the reason for it: “We used to be best buddies / And now we’re not / I wish you would tell me why.” The younger sister asks once more for some play time, but after being told to go away, she hangs her head and sings, “Okay, bye.” As I hear my girls singing this together, I recognize that we’re getting close to the time when this exact scenario will play out in our home. Katie is 12, and she’s spending more and more time in her room trying on makeup, watching YouTube videos and, yes, texting. At nine, Chelsea is more interested in playing with her older sister than in spending time alone in her room. More often than not, Katie still plays with Chelsea. But those moments of rejection are nearing, like the gathering of dusk before night falls.
When it comes to music, I find it incredibly annoying to hear the same song over and over. But as my girls sing the Frozen tunes together countless times – and, to be honest, they’ve got a third singer in their group in the form of my wife – I can’t help but feel some relief amid the repetition. Because it seems that Katie and Chelsea have found something that transcends age differences and hormonal swings. They share a love for music and performance, and that love may connect them when other things do not. My brother and I are three years apart, just like my girls are. As kids, we had our stretch of time when I needed my space from him. But we always had our sports, be it a Yankees game on the TV or a 1-on-1 basketball game in the backyard. Even when we shared few words, there was still plenty of communication in the form of a last-second jumper on the patio, or a Dave Winfield home run on the basement TV.
My brother turns 40 in two weeks; I just turned 43. We talk about a lot of things now, as adult siblings do. But we still have a soft spot for the sports stuff. Years from now, I can see Katie and Chelsea spending an afternoon together, perhaps at one of their apartments, or maybe out shopping. There comes a point when they turn on some music. For fun, they click on the Frozen album. They smile, and start singing. Together.
We only have each other / It’s just you and me / What are we gonna do? / Do you wanna build a snowman?
Image courtesy of Disney.
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Monday, July 29th, 2013
“Ruthie and Tra-vis sittin’ in a tree,” my little fourth-grade classmates would sing as I jumped rope at recess.
Nina Davenport/Courtesy of HBO
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in a baby carriage.” A schoolyard game taught us the “proper” sequence of life events before we even understood them. But what if that doesn’t work for everyone?
Filmmaker Nina Davenport examines the new trend of single women of a certain age having children without Mr. Right in her autbiographical documentary “First Comes Love,” premiering Monday, July 29 on HBO.
Davenport always wanted to be a mom, but as she got older she felt her chances of finding a man to have children with were fading along with her “rapidly diminishing ovarian reserve.” At age 41, Davenport decided to stop waiting and go it alone. “You can have the child and you can have the loving partnership for the rest of your life,” counseled her sister-in-law. “It’s just going to happen in that order.”
Using her friend Eric Oleson as her sperm donor, Davenport underwent fertility treatments before becoming pregnant and giving birth to her son, Jasper. Over the course of the film, Davenport found support in some—like her best friend and birthing partner, Amy Meselson—and scrutiny in others, like her father. But aside from confronting the difficulty of becoming a single mom, particularly at an advanced age, the movie raises important practical questions. Would Davenport be able to afford all of the expenses of a child? If Eric doesn’t want to play a larger role than sperm donor, and Amy’s commitment does not officially extend beyond delivery day, where will Davenport find the longterm help she needs?
Davenport’s film tackles tough issues as members of her own family cast their doubts over her journey into motherhood. “What about having a child is going to make that [financial] stressor go away?” questions Davenport’s other sister-in-law. “You don’t expect to provide a worse life for your child than you had. Do you?”
And aside from a potential financial burden, Davenport’s friends Howie and Dara seemed to be in awe of the motivation driving her to become a mom no matter what. As a new dad Howie said, “In all seriousness you have a much harder time because I see what it’s like with two people and you are alone so…wow! That’s going be twice, even more than twice [the amount of work].”
Throughout the film, Davenport consults with other single women in their 40s who have either had kids on their own or are trying to. Though limited, her pool of women all seem to be successful in their careers, independent, and confident in the people they have become. But as these women reflect on their paths, is all this self-investment and personal growth at the expense of finding a suitable parenting partner?
As women in Davenport’s documentary forego the romantic relationship in favor of a parental one, they may also give up the financial stability of two potential incomes, the emotional support of entering parenthood with a partner, and the physical sharing of time spent with the new baby. If that baby cries in the middle of the night, there is no “It’s your turn, honey.”
But as more women take full control over their reproductive future, the community of single mothers by choice will continue to grow. With that choice they choose the love of a child before the love of a partner, showing that truly “first comes love.”
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