Watch: Book About Boy with Two Moms Tackling Bias in His Neighborhood
Kenny Lives with Erica and Martina, Pike says in the video, was inspired by one of the earliest children’s books to feature same-sex parents, Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, by Danish author Susanne Bösche (first published in 1981 in Danish and in 1983 in English). The uproar that book caused in the U.K. was a major factor in Parliament’s 1988 passage of the infamous Section 28 laws that prohibited the “the promotion of homosexuality” by local government entities, including in schools and libraries. Section 28 was not repealed throughout the U.K. until 2003.
Pike’s new book tells the story of Kenny, who lives with his two moms in a world of gray. The family welcomes two new neighbors, Jenny and Hassan, who bring color—a literal spectrum of colors—to the gray community. Many of the other neighbors, however, shun the newcomers because they are different. While the overt sense of the story is that the neighbors do not like their bright colors, it could easily be read that they are rejected because one is dark-skinned and the other light, or because Hassan is presumably Muslim. The ambiguity here seems intentional, offering children and their caregivers opportunities to talk about the various aspects of difference and acceptance. Kenny’s moms appear to be an interracial couple, too (Kenny’s own racial origins are unclear in his world of gray tones); perhaps it is the combined differences of both racial and religious difference that spark the neighbor’s hate of Jenny and Hassan? Or maybe their acceptance of Kenny and his moms is really a pretense?
Kenny tries to show the neighbors that being different is not something to be afraid of. I was afraid the story would veer perilously into “White saviorism,” with Kenny (who could be read as White) saving the day for Hassan and Jenny, but Pike, to his credit, avoids that simple and offensive trope. While Kenny does make some progress in his neighborhood, aided by a gift from Jenny and Hassan, it is too late for Jenny and Hassan themselves, who have moved out. That’s not exactly a happy ending, but feels unfortunately realistic.
There’s a lot here for parents and teachers to discuss with children. What constitutes difference? How can we each be different in multiple, intersecting ways? What are some of the effects of racism and other forms of bias on their targets? On the community at large? How can we learn to be more inclusive and welcoming of those who are different from us? How can we listen to their experiences and needs?
Pike wants to get a copy of the printed version of this book into every U.K. primary school by September 2020, when relationship education in those grades will be mandatory across the country. Visit his website to donate a copy or buy one for yourself. (It is not yet available via Amazon in the U.S.)
Tags: same sex parents
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