One of A’s current  favourite characters is the ever popular Curious George. Before I had A I already had a little corner of nostalgia  saved up for George. The monkey taught me to read after all. But, I most definetly was not a fan of ‘new’ George. I have never seen the 2006 film and the very tinklings of any song by Jack Johnson makes me want to cry.

A seemed to have found George on his own – at the library (living in Toronto is amazing for a million reasons and one of them is our brilliant library system), and I was happy for this discovery as it seemed to surplant the Thomas the Tank Engine addiction he had developed.  George has featured in our nightly reads and afternoon snuggles for sometime now, mixed in and, sometimes set aside for, Franklin or Stinkyface. The boy likes selection.

There are quite a few reasons why I keep returning to George. First, I love that the books (if you exclude the first 6 titles published) go out of their way to applaud and encourage the curiousity of George, by extension encouraging it in our children. Although, George often assists in clean up or rounding up of whatever animals, puzzle pieces or cake batter has gone flying in a particular ‘episode’ he is not yelled at nor punished. It appeals to the Gentle Parenting that my partner and I so deeply believe in when it comes to our role in helping A grow and develop.

Thanks to HoboMama and her tweets on race this week, I was already thinking about race issues when we started to read Curious George today. While reading about George and his pancake making, I was able to start a developmentally appropriate conversation about race with A by pointing out to A that the mayor was a Person of Colour. We talked about the role of leadership within a city and community and that any one who is interested in these types of jobs should and CAN take on these roles. I only just touched on the idea of racism and that so often people are judged based only on their skin colour, preventing them from the opportunities that lead to these (and other) jobs/dreams.

I was able to extend this by talking about the ‘President’ of the hospital (who George presents with a cheque at the end of the book), and how that particular woman, much like the mayor, holds a position that asks her to make big decisions. We followed that with another George story that had a female character in the role of Director (of an animal shelter).

I also dig the role played by The Man with the Yellow Hat. If you look beyond his obvious colonial whispers and look at him through the lens of parenting, it is great to see a single male parent who cares for his ‘child’ gently (but could the guy not just take the monkey with him whenever he goes out of the room? he must know George’s proclivity towards ‘clandestine accidents’ by now!). Too often children’s books offer the same family schema of mom, dad, and child, usually with the mama staying home and caring for the kid. George offers us a different view of a happy family.

When A is a little older the authoring/illustrating of the book will also serve as a tale in sexism. H.A. Rey was credited with Curious George fame in the early years of publication. Although H.A. Rey did illustrate the George texts, it was his wife Margret who actually wrote the stories.

The George books seem to have grown with society, becoming less and less ‘white and sexist’ (all the nurses are female/all the doctors are male) as the publishing dates creep closer to current time.

There are obvious problems with the text – to be sure – problems that both feminist and race studies would take issue with, but if you are open to having the conversations, I think the books hold masses of potential.

I wouldn’t suggest that Curious George is a seminal feminist/race studies box set, but I see the potential for conversation and authentic dialogue while reading with A, a lot different from the above mentioned ‘train’ stories that are, sadly, for many male-children an early ‘must read’.

It leaves me with questions though: how much do I talk to him about race right now? I have read so much about how we shouldn’t teach our kids to be ‘colour blind’, that we should point out the differences in each other and use them as jumping off points for deeper conversation and discovery. With a 31 month old, where do you stop?

I avoided blogging yesterday to protest the SOPA issue. Tomorrow I am going to share some winter activities and some thoughts on dealing with sexist/race issues in children’s songs…..

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