The morning after the election, I took the bus to work. It was a surreal morning. California was, as always, sunny and pleasant. Students were out on Stanford campus with “free hugs” signs. A gaggle of doctors, nurses, and construction workers were playing a pick-up game of soccer on the hospital lawn. There was tension under the brave faces, though. I heard strangers talking election results in hushed voices.
That tension escalated to real fear when I slipped into the bookstore where I work. The radio show we host every week was in the middle of a fearful discussion of the election results. People wanted to know how this happened, why it happened, and what we might expect in the future. The talk turned to the children. What do we tell them? How do we protect them? And how should we let our girls know that they can still be anything when the most appallingly lewd, woman-hating candidate in American history just snagged the win?
Someone in the crowd got up then and asked, “What about our sons? How do we raise young men who are better than this? How do we teach them to respect women?”
Well, as a children’s bookseller, I’ve got an answer for you:
Make your boys read about heroes who are not like them.
I can’t tell you how many well-meaning parents walk into the store and want books about girls for their daughters, but won’t even consider them for their sons. Self-proclaimed progressives wrinkle their noses and tell me their kid wouldn’t read that in a tone that says, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
I want you to be a parent.
You need to step up your game. When it comes to books you consider “trashy” or “immature,” I can’t get you to shut up about how you want to force your child to read “more suitable” literature. Why are you silent when your son refuses to pick up a book about anyone who is not exactly like himself? Do you think your daughter isn’t going to be reading about white boys and their dogs for most of her education? You want your child to learn empathy without ever asking them to empathize. That isn’t going to work.
Make you son read a book with a girl hero. Make them read a book with a black hero. Make them read a book with a gay hero. Make them read even if they don’t want to.
If you don’t know where to start, why not stop in at your local bookstore or library and ask? I promise you, we’ve got hundreds of adventure-packed titles that don’t feature straight white boys as the lead characters. Here’s a sample:
- Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
- Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
- The Hero and the Crown or The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
- Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
- Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
- Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- Huntress by Malinda Lo
- Willful Machines by Tim Florian
- Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Now go put your money where your mouth is and raise kids who care.