I write a lot about books, because reading is so important to me. I'm a lifelong academic with two bachelors degrees and a masters degree and, as a researcher and a writer, devouring books has become a way of life. It also fueled my body positivity and feminism and continues to do so. I've instilled that into my children as well – not only are we the stewards of a pink doghouse-turned-Little Free Library, we are avid users of our public library system. My kids have had their own library cards since they were toddlers, and we are at the library at least twice a week, picking up books on hold or attending baby storytime or borrowing movies or going to fun kids art classes. As a writer and an artist I've been asked to teach classes and workshops there as well.
Our home library is bursting with storybooks for our three children, and finding quality kids lit is sometimes tricky. Here are six of our favorite body positive books for kids, in case you're looking for a gift for little ones in your life, or an upcoming birthday gift or just more quality books for your home library. I do most of my shopping via Amazon (holla 2-day Prime shipping!), but our local bookshops also carry most of these books. And, of course, your local public library probably does, too, if you're more of a borrower like we are.
Brontorina by James Howe, 2010
This is probably one of my favorites this year, and my seven-year-old daughter Alice’s, too. Brontorina wants to join in a ballet class but can't find shoes that are big enough nor a studio that is large enough to accommodate her. She's enthusiastic and kind, but all the other children are worried that she's going to smash them with her large body or knock them over with her long tail. Until the instructor realizes that “the problem is not that you are too big. The problem is that my studio is too small.” So they make an outdoor dance academy that animals of all sizes and shapes can enjoy, expanding the love of dance for all to enjoy. We got this at the library but I love it so much that it's now on my shopping list.
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, 2013
A Caldecott Honor Book, Flora and the Flamingo is about dance and friendship between a chubby child and a lean bird. From the dust jacket: “In this innovative wordless book, a tentative partnership blooms into an unlikely friendship between a girl named Flora and a graceful flamingo. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony.” We love wordless stories in our house, as we make up different words each time. I think this is such a creative way to experience a book with children.
Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, 2007
Yep, this one is written by THAT Julianne Moore, the famous actress known for her acting chops and beautiful red hair and freckles. However, as a kid, she wasn't so fond of either, and her freckles were always something everyone commented on. She was embarrassed by them and tried to scrub them out and cover them up until she met others with red hair and freckles who helped her learn to live with them because, after all, the things that make you different also make you YOU. Freckleface Strawberry is a sweet little girl who grew up to be a frecklefaced woman who realizes : who cares if you have a million freckles if you have a million friends.
Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson, 2004
Lucy, now 11, received this book as a Christmas gift ten years ago from a dear friend and it's become a favorite in our house. Hilda is a hefty hippo who loves all types of dancing, but she's so large that she shakes the earth when she moves her fat body, much to the chagrin of all the other animals around her. Unfortunately, they convince her to try out hobbies that are quieter and take up less space, like knitting, but she hates them and ends up synchronized swimming, combining water and dance. She loves it, ultimately, but I kinda hate the part where everyone else makes her feel bad for moving her fat body because it disrupts their peaceful world. I wanna yell, “FUCK THAT, HILDA. Make some noise and live large!” so I add that part in to the story whenever I read it to my kids. Minus the f-bomb, of course.
Sesame Street's We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Jane Kates, 1992
This book came out of our Little Free Library, where we often pick up some treasures. The story goes through ways we are all different, like how our noses look, featuring drawings of human noses of diverse shapes and skin tones along with Muppet noses, like those belonging to Snuffaluffagus and Big Bird. The next page talks about how our noses are the same, as they all breathe and sniff and sneeze and whiff. It's goes on like this and is darling and the familiar characters are like salve to my soul. Plus, it’s so fun to introduce the Sesame Street beloved to my one-year-old son, Arlo.
It's Okay To Be Different by Todd Parr, 2001
Another of my favorites, I ordered this a long time ago when I wanted to teach my kids about diversity in a unique way. Kind of like the Sesame Street book, it highlights ways that we are all different and that is what, in fact, makes our world such a beautiful interesting place. It's okay to have two dads, it's okay not to have hair, it's okay to get mad, it's okay to need some help, it's okay to be different. You are special and important just because of being who you are.
These are all messages I can get behind, and while I can (and do) tell my kids over and over that all bodies are good bodies and that there is no wrong way to have a body, it's so nice to expose them to other voices, artists, and stories in addition to mine. I truly believe that books can change the world and that as parents, we have the greatest influence on our children. Here's to raising readers and radicals.