How to review a book without reading it

SPIEGEL: Why is it important that children see suitable identification characters in books??

Jammeh seal: This influences the development. A child can only become what he or she sees. If there’s nothing there to act as a role model for the child, it’s going to be difficult. If the child sees only white doctors* and politicians*, they don’t think they can go into those professions. They believe that it is not their identity. It was no different for me. My children’s books were full of white princesses, so I didn’t think I could be one. And even very young Children of Color don’t take it for granted that they are featured in books. My nephew beams every time he gets a book of Black children from me as a gift.

SPIEGEL: What book are you reading at the moment?

Jammeh Seal: Right now my son is very interested in elephants, so we are reading ‘Our elephant neighbors’ by Monica Bond. It is set in Tanzania and accordingly black people and children appear in it.

"Children of Color read stories about white kids all the time, why wouldn’t it work the other way around?"

Tebbi Niminde-Dundadengar and Olalolu Fajembola Have together the online store "tebalou" founded for diversity in the children’s room.

MIRROR: What did you miss about the children’s book sections in normal bookstores, so that you founded your own online store??

Fajembola: Even in bookstores with well-stocked adult sections, the children’s book section is too often thought of as "Welcome to the 1950s". And that’s on all levels. This is not only about the representation of different skin colors, but also of family models. The mother is at home, the father works and generally only normative families are depicted.

Niminde-Dundadengar: It’s not that there aren’t various children’s books there, but then at most one on a certain topic. We thought: It would be nice if different tastes could be served as well.

SPIEGEL: What criteria do you have for book selection?

Fajembola: We first pay attention to who the protagonists are and whether they are caricatured – or framed by an appreciative and realistic environment. Overall, it is important for us not only to take up topics that many children can identify with, but also to look at popular topics differently. We therefore also include books in which girls are allowed to be princesses. Especially for Children of Color it is important to be able to see their princess dreams in a book, even if the trivialization is problematic from a gender perspective.

I am different from you – I am like you: a turning cardboard picture book about diversity and similarities from 3 years (The Big Little Ones)

02.02.2022 17.49 pm

And of course there are also classics in this area, such as the books by Constanze von Kitzing. Her latest bestselling book plays with the differences and similarities of diverse children and the pigeonholing of adults. Instead of the "obvious" ones Embracing differences, the difference between a white kid and a black kid in the book, for example, is that one loves spaghetti and the other prefers pizza. This breaks reading habits and expectations. Von Kitzing’s books have also been awarded the KIMI seal of approval. This is a seal for diverse children’s books initiated by journalist Suse Bauer and disability activist Raul Krauthausen.

MIRROR: Does diversity mean more to you than different skin colors??

Fajembola: Yes of course. There are also individual titles that manage to cover intersectional issues, such as Julien is a mermaid by Jessica Love. In this, Love, a white author, writes about a little Black boy who wants to be a mermaid and is helped in this dream by his grandmother as they go to an LGBTIQ mermaid parade together. This story is told with few words, but with very tenderly painted pictures. These are these very special books that are magical, of course, but can be counted on one hand.

Julian is a mermaid: read-aloud book for children aged 4 and older

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MIRROR: What do you think – what’s the reason for that?

Niminde-Dundadengar: I don’t think publishers are ready yet. "Julien is a mermaid" is a very successful book that has won awards. It goes on our shelves and is immediately sold out again. So it can’t be because of the buyers. I think publishers misjudge the audience and forget who the books are written for, all children. It is not, in this case, an exclusive issue for the Black LGBTIQ community. It is simply a beautiful children’s book that everyone should have on their shelf.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Extraordinary Women

02.02.2022 17.49 o’clock

Fajembola: This can be seen in the bestseller "Good Night Stories before Rebel Girls", which, after several publishers had rejected the book, was financed by crowdfunding. In the meantime, the book has been sold millions of copies in different languages. At this point, you have to ask yourself who actually sits in the publishing houses and how much these people know about transforming society. Parents are tired and bored of having to read the same stories to their children over and over again. New ideas are gratefully received. And white children should also read stories in which they are not the center of the story. That’s the only way they can be empathetic to others’ biographies and get out of a narcissistic point of view. Children of Color read stories about white children all the time, why shouldn’t it work the other way around??

MIRROR: Which books can you specifically recommend?

Fajembola: There is a series on injustice and racism by Louise Spilsbury and Hannah Kai. In it, social issues such as racism, homelessness and poverty are explained in a child-friendly way. Or the book "ABC of Equality, In which different forms of discrimination are explained. It is simply very important that children are taken along with these topics, because otherwise we only debate among adults. Yet our knowledge of racism is not much greater than a child’s, so even adults should start with the ABCs. In general, it can be said that not only can children learn something from books, but parents can also take away a lot from the books they read aloud.

"Publishers always delay in daring to tackle supposedly difficult subjects"

Carla Heher, 35, is a mother of two, a primary school teacher, and in 2012 started the blog cofounded. Instead, and for Missy Magazine, she is passionate about reviewing progressive and diverse children’s books.

Photo: Sophie Nawratil

SPIEGEL: Have you read classic children’s books like Pippi Longstocking or Jim Button with your children?

Heher: We don’t have any classics in our household, nor have we read fairy tales. We’ve gotten by without Pippi Longstocking, and I feel no loss in that. In our house, however, Christine Nostlinger – a left-wing Austrian author – is an issue. Nostlinger, for example, has not been very progressive in the debate about the N-word in children’s books. She’s still an author we read, though we leave out the books that use these terms. I believe that there are many ways to expose children to racism and history, you don’t have to read a book that reproduces racist terms. I would just leave them out because of that. There are alternatives.

SPIEGEL: What do you think of these alternatives?

Heher: I look at the program previews of the major publishers twice a year and then still look for books that are self-published. I then decide intuitively whether a book might fit or not. And even though I look forward to the publishers’ previews like Christmas, they are always pretty disappointing. According to some catalogs, I have been lucky to find two or three books. With some there is not a single suitable one.

SPIEGEL: In your opinion, the big consumer publishers have a gap in their program?

Heher: Yes definitely! There is far too often no awareness of issues like racism there. In the past years, diverse and queer children’s books have come out again and again in small publishing houses or completely without a publisher, the entry into the large publishing house programs they had then only a few years later. Publishers always dare to tackle supposedly difficult topics only after a little delay. But of course there are exceptions. "Pembo – half and half makes you twice as happy" From Carlsen Publishing, for example, is about a Turkish girl who comes to Germany with her family. The children’s book was written by the German-Turkish author Ayse Bosse.

SPIEGEL: How important do you think it is that the author in this case is herself German-Turkish?

Heher: When publishers decide to publish books about racism, the authors and illustrators are usually white. I think it’s good that they write about it and don’t pretend that racism doesn’t exist or that only white people exist. But what’s definitely missing are own-voices books, so where affected people can share their perspective."

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