So, you know how most children’s books have that “happily-ever-after-suddenly-everyone-is-best-friends-even-though-the-entire-book-was-about-someone-treating-someone-else-like-crap” kind of vibe? I’ve never been a fan.
Sure, I’m all for books with happy endings. But I don’t think happy endings have to mean everyone gets along. In fact, for kids of color and many other types of minorities, I believe that happy endings might need to be about knowing who to avoid.
When books send the message that we have to “forgive-and-forget” after someone has hurt us, they fail to empower us to set boundaries promoting self-respect and self-protection. They fail to give us permission to share our discomfort or pain with those who caused the distress in the first place. They fail to explicitly acknowledge that we are under absolutely no obligation to value those who devalue us. For kids of color who are faced with overt and covert forms of racism on a daily basis, this is an incredibly self-deprecating and dangerous message.
When my son brought home the library book he had checked out at school a couple of weeks ago, I figured it would be more of the same, resulting in our own discussions about why we don’t have to go out of our way to be nice to people who are intentionally mean to us. The premise of the story Oh, No! by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann offered a delightful twist, though – throughout the story, the tiger tries to trap and eat all of the other animals, but when the elephant comes to the rescue and the tiger is the one left trapped, the other animals deny his request for help, leaving him trapped. Slightly horrifying? Maybe. Incredibly empowering? DEFINITELY!
The message of the book is so simple and sustaining. It offers a clear point of dignity that even the many books I read to my son about famous positive racial mirrors throughout history do not. I wish I had read a book with this message as a child – I can only imagine how eye-opening and powerful it would have been.
If you have elementary-age kids: Buy it. Read it. Repeatedly. Emphasize the message that we owe nothing to those who choose to see us as nothing, and we deserve to be surrounded by those who value us.