Motherhood

Baby Feminists: The Book All Activist Babies and Parents Need

baby feminists book

When I was asked to review Baby Feminists by  Libby Babbott-Klein and Jessica Walker I could hardly contain my excitement! I was SO excited when I got the book because — hello Baby Feminists!

The book is visually stunning, and the lift the flap make it fun for the readers! I read the book alone first, and then I showed it to my seven year old son and HE read it to his little sister (who is 18 months).

I watched as my son was flipping through the pages, and he would get excited with the characters- especially when we got to Frida Kahlo. He said “she’s my favorite”. He also enjoyed seeing Barack Obama in the book.

The book was a good opportunity to have conversations with my son about other characters in the book (I got to tell him that I had met Gloria Steinem and we talked about what a feminist is. He was proud to share that he had marched for women’s rights in school.)

I hope you enjoy this interview and make sure to order your copy of Baby Feminists today!

There are so many incredible feminist icons both nationally and globally that you could have featured in BABY FEMINISTS. What led you to choose the people you did?

Choosing who we would feature was the most challenging part of creating this book! Starting out, we knew we had to have Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Jess and I both find her to be such an inspiration, and then once Jess started illustrating her, we knew we couldn’t do the book without her.  

After that we spent months researching all kinds of people. We always thought of our feminists as a team, and we knew we wanted a team that represented people who had a diverse range of accomplishments, looked different from each other, and of course — had fought tirelessly for gender equality. We also decided that we wanted people who were relatively current, and we wanted a mix of known and lesser known figures. So we put all that together, we spent months reading articles, watching documentaries, and crowd-sourcing recommendations on social media, and this is the group we came up with. 

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Children’s books have tended historically to portray kids from the dominant social group.  Can you speak to the importance of representing diversity in children’s literature and how you aimed to do that in this book?
Representing diversity was at the core of what we wanted to do with this book. One of the first things we teach young children are the colors of the rainbow.  And whether we talk to children about it or not, they see color in people. They don’t ascribe meaning to it that adults do, but they do see it. So if we only read them stories about people with one skin tone, then they begin to ascribe meaning. Then they begin to think — what about everyone else?  What is wrong with them? Why don’t I see anyone like me? What is wrong with me?

We wanted a book that as many children as possible could look at and think, that person looks like mommy. That person looks like daddy. That person looks like me.

We hope that this will be one of the first books that children encounter in their lives. So we hope that this book (and other books like it) set the stage for reading for our children for the rest of their lives. We hope this sets their expectations that the best books are about all kinds of diverse people. We hope that this sets their expectation that all kinds of people — can do anything.

Did you create this book with an audience of young girls in mind, or both sexes?

We imagined this book to be for little girls AND little boys. I’ve got a little girl; Jess has a little boy. They both love this book. We hope to instill in all children that icons can be male and female. We also hope to begin to instill the message that it is everyone’s responsibility to fight for equality, regardless of gender.

 

Have your experiences as a parent made you more aware of the differences in how we raise boys and girls?  
I’ve always been aware of the different colors we use to dress boys and girls and the different types of toys we give them, but since becoming a parent, I’ve become much more aware of the way we communicate with girls — both verbally and non-verbally.

Verbally, I frequently hear caretakers say things to young girls like:

·        “Be careful.” This drives me crazy. What does that even mean? It just means “be afraid” it doesn’t actually translate any information. It just instills a general feeling that girls should not trust their own instincts and not take risks. (As an alternative, try assessing the situation and giving specific useful advice. For instance, if a girl is at the top of a slide, rather than say “be careful”, try “hold on to the side.” If she’s running with a stick, then say “put down that stick.” etc. )

·        “You look so pretty” or “what a pretty dress you are wearing.” This also makes me cringe every time I hear it. Why are adults telling my child that what is valuable is how she looks?  Instead I try  to encourage people to say “you are so smart” or “You are so funny” or (if she’s running) “you are so fast.” Or really any other adjective that describes some intrinsic quality, or something she’s doing, not just the way she looks.

Non-verbally what I notice is that adults are much more touchy-feely with girls then they are with boys.

Adults frequently ask girls for “a hug” or “a kiss.” Adults frequently squeeze, tickle, tossle, poke, or otherwise touch our girls without asking our kids’ permission first. This greatly upsets me. We cannot expect our teenage girls (or grown-women) to feel that consent is their right, if we’ve been teaching them the exact opposite from birth. If we watch our children we will see — they do not want to hug strangers. They do not want to be poked. What we need to be doing is encouraging our girls to listen to that inner voice, not teaching them to ignore it.

(To be clear, I see this with young boys too, but I notice the unsolicited prodding/hugging/kissing/poking fading as the boys look less and less like infants).

baby feminists book

 

What are some ways caregivers of young children can build on the message of the book to raise young feminists?

1.     Seek out books and stories that include girls and women. So many picture books don’t include any female characters or pronouns at all.

2.     If you have books that you love, that have no female characters, just change the pronouns. Make them about girls.

3.     Try using female pronouns when describing animals, toys, stuffed animals, or other inanimate objects with children.

4.     Teach children about inspiring men AND women.  

5.     Focus on consent. Make sure that you (and particularly adults who are not primary caretakers) ask before touching your children.

6.     Be conscious and creative. Think about your own ways to incorporate feminism into your home in ways that work for you and your family.

 

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, how do you think/hope representations of gender dynamics in children’s books will change?

One of the major changes that I see as a result of the #MeToo era is that we are finally beginning to trust women and their stories. What I hope this means for children’s books is that publishers will take chances on stories and authors that they might not have believed in before. I hope that it means we will see a broader range of books published with more female characters — and more books that take risks in challenging gender stereotypes.

 

What role do you think children’s books can play in the resistance to a presidency defined by its hatred and intolerance towards minority groups?

Children’s books can give us hope that the next generation can be different.

As children, these early books are the stories they will never forget. They can define our children’s very sense of what a story is, what a book can be, and who are the characters that they’ve never not known. 

When it comes to resistance, children’s books can shape our children’s expectations of how they expect the world to be for the rest of their lives. Books can instill a version of the world that our children can aspire to make. They can also demonstrate what resistance looks like, and instill that resistance is a crucial value as a citizen of the world.  

 

How would this book be different if Hillary Clinton had won?

If Hillary Clinton had won, I think this book would have felt like a trophy — a book about victory — look how far we’ve come! I also think she would have been in the book if she’d won. In fact, maybe the whole book would have been just about her. Look, HRC was a baby! And now… PRESIDENT! So basically, it would have been an entirely different book.

However, HRC did not win. So, I think this is now a book about resistance. It’s a book about fighting, it’s a book about beating the odds. It’s a book that says — equality does not come easy, and we can’t give up now. We ended up not including Hillary Clinton. She is amazing and inspiring, but her loss still feels very personal and raw, and it felt too sad to be celebrating her at this moment. It just felt too personally painful.

 

Barack Obama is the only man in the book. Why did you decide to choose one and only one man, and why was it him?  

We both felt very strongly about including men in a book about feminism. In the same way you can’t maintain a patriarchy without the support of women, you can’t smash the patriarchy without the support of men. Men and women do live together and we need to be on the same team. 

However, that said, we were mostly interested in featuring women, so that’s why there’s only one man. 

We chose Barack because we wanted someone current, well-known, someone who has publicly identified themselves as a feminist and whose actions have supported women and feminism. Then, we loved the idea that Barack gets into the book because of his own accomplishments but also because of Michelle. Women so often only get recognition through their spouses, so we liked that Barack’s feminist work is so connected to his wife. He wouldn’t have made the cut if it weren’t for her, and we like the subversiveness of that.

 

What was the AHA moment when you said “this would be a great book” or “we need this book”?

 

For me (Libby) it was right after the Women’s March. We took our daughter, Zip, with us to the New York March (she was only about 8 months at the time). The March in New York was electric. And it was filled with kids. And I just felt — babies don’t get to choose the times they are born into. These kids are living in a Trump presidency. We, as women and as supporters of women, are fighting back the best we can, but these kids are going to have to fight back, too. And it was an empowering feeling — sharing the streets with so many people who felt so strongly about equality, and in particular gender equality — I looked at all the kids and thought about how they would fight  — just as the generations before them have fought. Just as prior generations have achieved change, so could they.

Also, I really was in awe when Zip was born that every human started life as a baby. In fact, I still can barely believe it.

Was it difficult to narrow down the list of babies featured?

Yes. Yes. And YES. That was the hardest part. Jess and I considered hundreds of people and we kept making changes. We felt a deep commitment to showing a range of different types of people. We wanted people who had fought for gender equality in different arenas — politics, sports, arts, government, science etc — and we wanted people who looked different from each other.

 

We wanted a book that babies from all different backgrounds could see themselves and their families in. We also wanted a book that kids could relate to, so we showed the babies doing activities that are familiar to them. We hope to use those activities as a starting point for kids to begin to understand what the feminists did as adults. Frida Kahlo has a paint brush, Billie Jean King has a tennis ball. The Obamas are playing with blocks. Since we wanted each of these figures to be different from each other, it was more like building a team than choosing individuals. And if we changed one person then we often changed everyone else.

 

Anyway, yes. It was hard! There are so many incredible feminists. We kept having to remind ourselves that we were not writing the definitive history of important feminist figures — we were trying to make something that was appealing to babies and their families, and could introduce the concept of fighting for gender equality in a fun and accessible way.

 

 

Was the idea for the book hard to sell?

 

I have to say that to us, it has seemed like a long and arduous process, but I think in the grand scheme of what first-time authors typically go through, we were incredibly lucky. From the very first “what-do-you-think-of-this-idea?” kind of email I sent, the responses we got were incredibly positive. So many people feel some combination of sadness/anger/confusion/despair about the Trump presidency — and this book feels like a tiny little act of resistance. It’s a reminder of the positive change that has come in the past, the positive change that can come in the future, and the little babies of today that will be part of making it happen.

 

Also — the book is really is fun to read with little kids. Even very young kids quickly pick up on the repetitive tempo. They love lifting the flaps and finding the babies, and once they learn to say the word, they love being able to respond to the questions and tell the adult reader the answer — “a baby!” (Note from Diana: This is EXACTLY what my daughter says!)

 

The book is meant for toddlers, but do you hope this book will inspire conversations for older children?

Yes. Absolutely. We hope this is a book that babies and toddlers will enjoy for the fun of lifting the flaps and finding the babies, but we also hope that it is a book that older kids will revisit. One idea we loved in creating the book was that kids would never remember not knowing who these figures are. We hope that these will be names that will stick with them, and as they get older they will be drawn to learn more about them. And we hope that they will return to Baby Feminists as a beloved item from their younger years and over time begin to unpack more of its layers.

 Do you have other books in the works?

Yes! Jess and I are working on Baby Feminists Too. As mentioned above there are so many extraordinary feminists. The truth is we really couldn’t narrow it down… so the only solution we could think of was to make another book!

 

YOU CAN BUY “BABY FEMINISTS” HERE!

 

You can follow Baby Feminists all over social media, (so you don’t miss the updates for the next Baby Feminists Too!)

 

Twitter: @BabyFemsBook

Facebook: BabyFeminists

Instagram: @babyfeminists 

Diana Limongi
welcome! I'm a Latina working mom from Astoria, NY, mom to a trilingual four-year old. I blog about motherhood, Latino issues, women's issues, work/life balance, food, parenting and raising my multilingual and multicultural son!

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