An exciting stage in a child’s reading journey is the transition from absorbing to analyzing information. Realizing that the animals don’t really talk in words like our own or wear clothes was Lil’ Z’s first observation. She later realized that some things are “silly” and defy logic or natural order. But her most poignant observation to date, in my opinion, is the recurring theme of absentee fathers in children’s books.
Exhibit A: Mama Bird leaves the nest to secure food for her unborn baby bird. When the baby bird hatches, it is in the nest alone and ventures out looking for Mama Bird. After asking several animals and objects “Are you my mother?”, the baby bird is returned to the nest just as Mama Bird returns with a worm.
Lil’ Z’s Reaction: “Where’s her Baba (i.e. daddy)?”
Exhibit B: A curious little monkey opens a cage of bunnies to play with a little bunny. The little bunny runs off and is lost. The said monkey enlists Mama Bunny to help in finding the missing baby bunny. Baby bunny is found and all of the bunnies sleep safely in the cage with Mama Bunny.
Lil’ Z’s Reaction: “Where’s the Daddy Bunny?”
Noticeably in both cases, the stories center around animals and it can be quite common for male mammals to reproduce without child rearing. But as Lil’ Z tries to understand the world around her, she’s not going to accept the absent father figure and rightly so. Lil’ Z can’t imagine life without her own father. I might be the one she calls in the night, but he’s the one she calls by day. When she wakes up she searches for her father to greet him in the morning and will often choose his company over my own when she has a choice. When he spends the day at home, she can’t leave his presence long enough to nap and I can totally understand. The girl is head over heels in love with her dad.
Interestingly, she is conscious of his approval and validation. When she puts on a dress or I’ve just finished braiding her hair, she has “to show Baba” and awaits his reaction. His vote of approval is meaningful to her and I believe his affirmation of her just as she is, will echo in her subconscious for many years to come. Her butterscotch skin and fluffy, black cotton hair are not always reflected in the stories and images around us. Therefore, Urbndervish and I are vigilant about her appreciating diversity and her special shade in the spectrum.
Maria Montessori recommends books that root a child in reality before spiraling off into fantasy and make-believe. We totally agree but somehow ended up with a lot of books of cats who wear shoes and mice who go to school. Though this wasn’t our preference, Lil’ Z recognizes the difference between the two and enjoys both in context. In future book purchases, we not only need to look for cultural relevance, moral values, and animal treatment, but now the subtle messages that a book conveys about family life and society. Hopefully the next time she’s looking for an absentee father in a story book, we need only turn the page to find him.