This post is a part of my “Board Book Beauty – Savoring the small as I read to my toddler” series. To see all of the posts in the series, go here.
I read Corduroy to Katie for the first time recently. It was an instant hit. In the intervening days, we’ve read it many, many times.
She enjoys the small stuffed bear in his green overalls. She laughs at his antics, making the appropriate sounds of excitement and surprise when he goes up the escalator, when he knocks over the lamp, when he hides under the covers of the bed.
Still, when she asks to read this book, it isn’t the “Corduroy book” or the “story about the bear” she requests. No. In this home, it’s known as the “Li-sa Book!!!” (Always said with the name drawn out and multiple exclamation points).
I don’t know why this is. Perhaps she feels more affinity toward the little girl than she does to the bear. Maybe she recognizes who the hero in the story really is. Most likely, she finds Lisa’s name easier to pronounce than Corduroy’s.
Whatever the reason, the “Lisa book” it is. And, as I’ve been reading it to my little girl, I’ve noticed something about it that I didn’t realize (or had, perhaps, forgotten) from previous encounters:
Lisa is black.
It isn’t remarkable that a main character in a children’s book should have a different skin color than my own, or at least, it shouldn’t be. Children of various ethnicities show up in a number of Katie’s books. Were it not for the stories that have filled my newsfeed in recent months, the reports of rising racial tension in the United States, I might not have given it a second thought. But current events have pushed such things to the front of my mind, and I note the difference each time we read.
I am unqualified to speak about race; though my mom is Chinese, I’ve always identified as Caucasian. I live in a county that, according to the 2010 census, is 91% white, and that’s only marginally less diverse than the county in which I grew up. I don’t know how to contribute to the current conversation around this topic, because I have no way to know what it is to be black or hispanic or anything other than white in this country. I don’t know how to improve things in the here and now, how to usher in a more just and equitable system, how to address the problems and divisions and hurt and anger that threaten to rip us apart. I’m hesitant even to mention such things here, in this space, because there are so many ways to get them wrong.
I don’t know how to fix things and I don’t know what to say, but these things I know I can do: I can listen to those who are speaking. I can hear their stories, their pain, their frustration. And, perhaps, most importantly, I can teach my girls what it means to love. I can encourage them to make friends with those who come from different backgrounds than their own. And I can read to them, letting them fall in love with characters like Lisa, in the hopes that their generation is the one that finally achieves Dr. King’s dream of a society where we are judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.
It seems so small in the face of such turmoil. The road seems too long. But this is what I can do here, now.
Katie hasn’t mentioned the fact that Lisa has a different skin tone than her own. She seems not to have noticed. It isn’t remarkable to her.
I hope that’s always the case.
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