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Last weekend, my 2½-year-old daughter walked up to me at the library with a board book in her hand: Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice!, by Loryn Brantz. The book was full of bright, cute illustrations and girl-power messages—“Feminist babies stand up tall! Equal rights and toys for all!” My daughter stood by my knee patiently as I read the book aloud. She asked no questions, made no comments, and was off to the train table before I closed the last page. I was left sitting there, wondering who the heck this book was supposed to be for.
I knew about the recent glut of feminist biographies for young readers—your Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, your Bygone Badass Broads. But until my daughter surfaced this one for me, I didn’t know that, in the years since the 2016 election, publishers have produced many “feminist” board books for the youngest not-yet-readers. On Amazon, I found a small virtual shelf of books in this genre: three installments of Feminist Baby, including one intended for “feminist baby” boys; a book called Baby Feminists, which reminds readers that a string of celebrated women, from RBG to Malala, were “once babies”; one called This Little Trailblazer, with cheerful cartoons of famous women like Rosa Parks and Florence Nightingale; and An ABC of Equality, with entries for “LGBTQIA” and “Oppression.”
In case this needs to be said: I’m a feminist, I plan to raise my daughter as a feminist, and I know, of course, that these books have the very best of intentions. But since having a child, I’ve also become hyperaware of the fact that we often misunderstand very young children’s minds and expect a lot more adult thinking from them than we should. The organization Zero to Three surveyed parents in 2016 and found that respondents expected qualities like self-control and empathy to develop a year or a year and half earlier in a youngster’s life than they actually do. Kindergartens and even preschools have become much more academic than they once were—a state of affairs that specialists in child development regard with alarm. Board books are traditionally intended for children ages 0–3. Should we really expect toddlers to have the capability for abstraction that’s required to understand a concept like “LGBTQIA”?
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