THE RIGHT TO have short hair; the right do any job they want; the right to wear pink.
These aren’t the typical things you think of when it comes to rights, but they’re the rights of boys and girls according to a new book published by Ireland’s Little Island Books.
The book, originally published in France and written by Élisabeth Brami and Estelle Billon-Spagnol, is double-sided and sets out 10 rights for children of both genders. It’s part of the latest wave of books to eschew the idea of defined gender-roles, in an effort to encourage kids to just be themselves.
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Siobhan Parkinson of Little Island Books told TheJournal.ie that the publishers first came across the book at the Frankfurt Book Fair and “really fell in love with it”.
It was originally published as two separate books, but Little Island decided to combine them “because you’d have both genders reading both sides of the story”.
“Also, parents can be a bit reluctant to think of boys as embracing their ‘feminine’ side but they’re quite happy for girls to be spicy and smart,” said Parkinson. “So we thought the best thing would be to do it under one cover.”
It was a two-person job to translate the book – Parkinson’s husband helped translate the French into English, while Parkinson concentrated on trying to find the best way of expressing the words in English for the intended age group.
The translation brought some funny incidents – such as the moment just before going to print when they realised a trail of the letter ‘r’ going up one page was supposed to be a trail of ‘z’s to indicate sleep.
“It was tricky enough but great fun,” said Parkinson. And they’re so passionate about the book, they were happy to put all the work into it.
“We feel very strongly about the content of the book, that it’s very positive for kids,” she enthused. “One of the things that really attracted to us to the book was the message in the main part of the text is quite – I wouldn’t call it heavy, but it’s quite ‘not very negotiable’. You have a right to do this and the other – it’s slightly formal. What I love about it then is the illustrations interpret the text in a very joyous kind of way, it really explodes into the illustrations.”
It’s a comic booky – it’s fun and the kids sing silly things to each other. I just think the whole thing works together so well, you have the quite serious underlying message presented in a happy quirky way.
Parkinson was mainly drawn to the book because of its message, which matches how Little Island Books approaches publishing.
“Children are completely over-channelled into gender roles very young and they’re very strong in their views about gender as well: this is a boy thing, this is a girl thing. ‘Girls can be pretty and boys can be strong’. So it’s a thing that’s always annoyed me,” said Parkinson.
When my own son was a boy I was going looking for clothes for him that weren’t khaki or grey. Up to about five, you can get things that are yellow and blue and bright and fun, and then after that everything is really boring school colours. So I was aware of it really all along, that the boys were expected to dress in a certain way.
“People are more aware of the pressure on girls – girls tend to be sexualised and made prissy and silly in their clothes whereas it is a bit more subtle with boys,” said Parkinson.
“Boys’ toys then are very gendered as well, it’s all diggers and cranes and hammers and construction kids, and then girl things are all kitchens. So I’ve always been aware of it as a human being, as a mother, as a person and I’ve always tried to counteract it.”
Parkinson said that one way to counteract this phenomenon of gendered items “is to give children books rather than toys”.
“As a publisher I’ve made that also part of my agenda – as a publisher we try to reflect a more egalitarian way of life for kids, so this book is the most outspoken or the most obvious example of that,” she said. “It would definitely be a thing we would be aware of in everything we do, showing strong girls and boys.”
The book shows “there is another way to think”, said Parkinson:
You can have just as fun a life in a ungendered way. You can climb trees or bake cakes, all kinds of things.
She said that at Little Island Books, they are always aware of having strong girl characters, while they also think it’s important “that you have a boy character who can have another side to them”.
“Boys can show great tenderness,” said Parkinson. “That’s there and they aren’t allowed express it. We don’t go around telling our authors ‘please have strong girls and soft boys’ – we would tend to choose books that do that. Although our main criteria when we get books in is: is it any good? I wouldn’t be publishing books that would be toeing that traditional line very much.”
Parkinson said they have been delighted with the reaction to the book.
“One bookseller, when she saw it she started to cry,” said Parkinson. “She was so moved by the book.”