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Keeping Women In The Kitchen with ‘Jimmy Zangwow’
Sharing this post on social media? Use this image description to make it accessible. [Image description: Illustration from ‘Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-This-World Moon-Pie Adventure’ by Tony DiTerlizzi. Jimmy stands in the kitchen and looks up at his mother, whose head is cut out of the frame. Mom addresses Jimmy wearing a dress, house slippers, an oven mit, and wields a wooden spoon dripping with green glop.’]
Picture Book, Best for (exposing sexism & erasure with) kiddos 2.5+
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If we’re not looking closely, this seems like a fantastic adventure
With a tiny bit of a fright and suspense (easily tempered with a silly voice for the ‘monster’ who turns out to be a nice guy) and some great elements of sharing and playing make-pretend.
The only downside is out of 1003 characters – there’s only a single, faceless woman
And it’s Jimmy’s mom, who appears from the shoulders down only, in the kitchen, wearing an apron and house slippers.
This book was written in 2000 and it’s a great example of fun adventure romps that forget that kids of all genders like to see themselves reflected in whimsical adventures. And to see that women have roles outside of motherhood.
Question: Do you read as many children’s books normalizing girls of color as you do that feature white dudes?
Parenting is Praxis
For a lack of fun adventures with a diverse cast, we read this book together when Q was little – before we were able to find the tiny handful of books featuring trans and gender-fluid characters.
I cobbled a quick-fix with this with replacing ‘Jimmy‘ with ‘Janey,’ asserting that Janey was gender creative.
But gosh, after reading thousands of adventure stories filled with daring white boys, am I sick of having to edit on the fly as I read. Eventually, we just donated the book. It’s exhausting to do all those mental gymnastics. That kind of emotional labor – trying to insert ourselves back into a world that pretends we don’t exist – it’s draining.
I still haven’t found anything quite like Jimmy Zangwow that grabs such a sense of adventure and absurdity.
We’ve had an explosion of books featuring girls of color in the last few years. A small cohort of protagonists who are almost overwhelmingly Black girls with light skin and tightly regulated hair. Almost entirely written by white authors, pages filled by white illustrators.
Many of them are great! But there’s always something underneath them – a lesson on the scientific method, mindfulness, patience, the gift of rich melanation. I can’t think of any books featuring girls of color who just do whimsical shit like fly to the moon in a DIY jalopy.
You might like: Understanding the gender spectrum with kids books
This is your go-to book for…
- Showing kids the role of erasure in normalized oppression
I repeat – ONE THOUSAND AND THREE CHARACTERS, and only one of them is a faceless woman, slipper-footed in the damn kitchen, and she didn’t even get the dignity of having the back of her head in the frame.
- Talking about sharing & sacrifice
There is a nice little element in here where Jimmy gives up his cookie for others.
- Discussing sexism – who’s role is it to get dinner on the damn table?
Mom’s got a full stove on and it looks like she’s barely keeping it together. Why isn’t Jimmy helping out?
I’d read this in rotation along with…
Any damn book where everybody is white, abled, thin, young, straight, comfortably wealthy, etc. Really all you need to do is pick up the closest book and ask your kids – who is missing?
You might also like: Are you complicit in the white supremacy of kids’ literature? Understanding & Subverting Gatekeeping with Zetta Elliott
Is this #OwnVoices?
Author & Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi (he/him)
Sure. At least he’s not trying to be something he’s not. And unlike many white authors who have tried to make a half-assed attempt at diverse inclusion, at least he’s consistent. DiTerlizzi’s picture book universe consists of, and revolves around, white boys. A supremacist utopia where anyone else is just an accessory or an obstacle.
He’s even got an enticing story about victim-blaming, where a daffy lady fly (a uniquely feminine trope of being both oblivious and delicate) falls into the trap of a nefarious master-manipulator spider. The story is engaging, suspenseful, and fun to read! Except for that pesky message.
If she didn’t want to get eaten, she shouldn’t politely accepted an invitation from a neighbor, talk to or make friends with men, ever be alone with a man, or hesitate to say ‘Stop. I’m getting uncomfortable, I’m leaving now.’
Or just like, I dunno – put the responsibility on a man not to attack a woman just ’cause she exists, and he can?
She should have stayed in her own damn kitchen! How dare that lady fly fulfill all of the social training women are are pressured to do so she can stay in our society, and then get killed for it! What a dippy dame. ( <- Sarcasm.)
I emailed him to ask (very nicely!) about why he doesn’t include women in his books, years ago. He didn’t reply.
How we calculate the overall awesomeness score of books.
You might also like: Kids Stories Honoring Single Mothers
Transparency & Cahoots!
I purchased a used copy of this book a long time ago, and then donated it to our local library when we were done (which we also support with donations). We screened it with my kiddos roughly at ages 2-3. This post was originally on the BFL Facebook group (now retired) in 12/20/2014.
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