Still struggling with finding the right Christmas gift for your toddler? American book publisher Penguin Random House says it has “the perfect gift” for your child, a book it is proudly promoting as part of its new offering, “PRH Education Classroom Libraries.”
“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs,” says Laura Robb, an author and teacher featured in the program’s promotional materials.
So what does PRH recommend this year?
Once upon a time toddlers drifted off to sleep on a diet of bedtime stories that grew out of folklore, depended on magic or were just enchantingly simple, like Goodnight Moon, Charlotte’s Web or Where the Wild Things Are.
But not anymore. According to PBH, bedtime is now all about getting woke, so it’s promoting “Antiracist Baby Picture Book” by Ibram X. Kendi as part of its new initiative.
“With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism.,” says PRH. “Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.”
“Critical conversations at the earliest age” about racism? Kendi, author of the bestselling book How to be an Antiracist, wants parents to proselytize about antiracism to babies. That’s right. Babies.
Somebody obviously is buying the book and its message. After all, the book has been at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List and was chosen as one of National Public Radio’s 100 favorite books for young readers.
But does that mean you should buy it and read it to your baby?
Is your toddler ready for text such as:
“No one will see racism if we only stay silent. / If we don’t name racism, / it won’t stop being so violent.”
“Knock down the stack of cultural blocks.”
“Antiracist Baby is bred, not born./Antiracist Baby is raised to make society transform.”
Kendi told the Harvard Gazette parents should start talking to their children about racism as early as preschool and kindergarten. “We know that by 2 years old, children are already consuming racist ideas,” Kendi said. “They’re already discerning whom to play with based on kids’ skin color, and so if we wait till they’re 10 or 15, they may be a lost cause, like some of us adults.”
That’s a pretty bleak point of view.
I much prefer the view of David Schonfeld, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “In these early years, your task is to lay positive groundwork, addressing hate by cultivating its opposite—compassion and tolerance. Luckily, your child has a head start: an innocent indifference to what sets people apart. Kids are very aware of ways we differ, but they aren’t born identifying people with a particular race, gender, or ethnicity,” he says.
A Goodreads reviewer echoed Schonfeld’s observation. “… the main problem with Kendi’s) book is that conceptually it does more to divide than unite,” the reviewer commented. “How can anyone set out to write a book for toddlers with the intention of making some of its tiny listeners feel guilt and shame (for nothing they have done wrong), and others feel wronged (for nothing they’ve experienced), before they barely know what a duck or a bike or a picnic are? The presumption seems to be that every baby is racist until taught not to be, when the opposite is the reality – it is racism and division which are taught – and I worry that is exactly what this book, if unwittingly, achieves.”
Jay Caspian Kang, a writer for New York Times Opinion and The New York Times Magazine, conveyed my thinking in a New York Times essay, Do I Have to Read My Child Antiracist Books, Even When They’re Bad?:
“… I admit I find myself a bit repelled by some of the more inelegantly antiracist books, which, at least in coastal cities, have become a main draw in the children’s sections of bookstores. What does it mean, really, to have an antiracist baby? Are these books actually written for kids, who, as far as I can tell, mostly like stories about dinosaurs and cats? Or are they a commodity for white parents who want to prove their progressive bona fides?”
I can’t help but agree. As another reviewer commented, “If you’re looking for a tool to help you indoctrinate your kids into a worldview of racist white-hating woke intersectional progressivism then this is the book for you.”
My advice – spare your toddler the divisive lecturing. Skip Kendi’s book. Go for something like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or If you give a mouse a cookie.
You’ll both be better off.