Books about age-related discrimination against young folks
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- I can’t pin down a clear answer to whether ‘childism’ or ‘adultism’ is the one that stigmatizes and oppresses youth, so let’s go with ‘adultism’ for this.
- Paternalism is tied to this too – assuming we, as adults, know what is best for our children when it comes to subjective experiences such as the comfort of clothing or the way they learn.
- Many toxic parental rages are tied into the expectation that our children should show us respect, obey our commands, and accept ‘because I said so’ as a reasonable response in a dialogue between two people. (Because kids owe it to us, since we are adults and have more authority.)
- Calling someone ‘childish’ or ‘immature’ is an insult. Why would we use age as a pejorative? (hint: kyriarchy!)
- Even I do this. As an adult, I have power over toddlers. So when I say “I don’t go to bed because am a giant toddler who avoids bedtime,” I’m making broad generalizations about people who are younger than me, and making a joke at the expense of a group of people and stereotypes against them. It’s really hard to break this habit, particularly because I find toddler jokes HI-LAR-IOUS.
- Adultism, as we’re defining it here, is the biased and incorrect assumption that the thoughts, experiences, perception, pain, and experiences of adults are more valuable than those of children.
- By extension, because children don’t matter in our society, those tasked with caring for them also don’t matter (parents, particularly primary caregivers, and early childhood educators).
- Public spaces are designed for adults to the point where many adults will sneer and get hostile – usually directed toward their caretakers, in keeping with the assumption that children are incapable puppets dragged along by adults. See: Every plane, restaurant, even grocery stores or public parks where children are shamed for behaving in a way that resonates with their cognition and ability.
- Just like every oppressive jaw of the kyriarchy, this puts children in a bind – they are simultaneously expected to perform up to adult standards in public (sitting still, minding manners, somehow being born knowing how to behave like an adult) while also perceived as incompetent, worthless, and too ignorant to know what is best for themselves (tickling them when they say ‘no,’ telling them to toughen up and stop being ‘cry babies’ when they express pain, and insisting they conform to education procedures designed for adults.)
- children are not adults in construction. children are not tiny adults. Adultism relies on the assumption that humans are flat characters off a cartoon sitcom – consistent, static personalities and hard drives for hard facts who do not change, learn, or grow over time. Which is utterly ridiculous.
- Over the years I’ve noticed that adultism is uniquely US-intensive. Stories from other countries (even Europe), at least the ones that make it to our library in the states, are more sophisticated ask for more consideration and thought from kids, and expect kids to rise to meet complicated story lines.
- Which leads into a white parents’ tendency to protect a child’s innocence (obliviousness) about systemic oppression, injustice, and the way they benefit from white supremacy – because it’s easier, and because they can.
- Reframing this to a healthier paradigm:
- a child has a right to honesty and truth with age-appropriate disclosures and education from the adults charged with caring for them.
- a child has the right to be interdependent – to rely on people who have more power and abilities than them (adults, usually)
- a child’s contribution is as valuable as an adult’s contribution. Creating a dividing line between play and work is a uniquely adultist concept. As opposed to say, drudgery and ikigai, which are not concepts socially connected with age, even though, just like experienced adults tend to produce higher impact work, more experience lends work closer to ikigai.
- The work we do here for BFL directly and intentional plays off the ignorance of adultists.
- The fact that we are perceived as nonthreatening and irrelevant to ‘real’ social justice work and spread via a network of people who are considered less valuable and competant (children, and the educators and parents charged with caring for them) is one of the reasons we’re able to fly under the radar.
- They are wrong. We are tricksters. We will burn the kyriarchy to the ground and they won’t even see us coming.
- All of this is intertwined with the infantilization of disabled adults.
- Claiming a 27-year-old has the ‘mental age’ of a 7-year-old is bigotry. They have the mental age of a 27-year-old, regardless of how their cognitive disabilities are divergent from an average 27yo brain.
- Non-disabled (or even adults with physical but not cognitive disabilities) often presume incompetence for adults with cognitive disabilities. This compounds the challenges with maintaining agency and self-advocacy as a disabled person.
Quick & Messy Book List:
Books that validate the frustrations kids have when dealing with adults & older people who assume they know better.
- No Water, No Bread
- Teeny Tiny Toady
- Elena’s Serenade (Geeslin) – both 4.5 & 6.5 LOVED this. it was fun to read, it feels like a fun romp into magical realism as she travels to Monterrey to learn glassblowing. After her dad brushes her off for being a little girl (childism & sexism) she dresses up as a boy and heads to monterrey, and becomes a fantastic, one of a kind renown glassblower in high demand, comes home on a giant glass bird, and wows her father, then gets to work along side him from then on. as typical, juan’s characters present as fat, so it works well for adipositivity, validating girls of color, silly, fun. she helps coyote, road runner along the way with her music.
- Downsides: Not #OwnVoices – white author appears to fetishize Mexican culture, so it’s likely there is something missing in this. 1-star review on amazon from a person from Mexico (but does not specify Monterrey) points out this book is full of stereotypes – but also says they are full of “prejudices” (suggesting the reviewer might not understand the difference between stereotype [assumption] & prejudice [action]) particularly about drunks (there are no drunks in the book). Mostly seems miffed that the story is set in the desert, pointing that that the Mexico isn’t all desert. Which is true… except it’s based in Monterrey, specifically, which DOES contain desert, and you might have to cross some desert to get there. Says they have never seen a burro – but burros are an animal in Mexico (as are road runners and coyotes) and if you google Monterrey and burro, there are plenty of pictures of burros in and around Monterrey. This reviewer has no other reviews on Amazon for any other book, so seems to feel strongly about only this book, in particular.
- The Red Lollipop – I’m sure you’re getting sick of me suggesting this book but it. is. so. good.
Books featuring families who respect a child’s abilities
- Because Your Mommy Loves You – (Clements) Mom keeps her hands off and supports (but does not do for him) him in doing challenging things. Sadly, the companion book to this, Because Your Daddy Loves You is the exact opposite (see the problematic section). Kid appears to be about 5-6, and mom gives him the tools he needs to figure things out. Works well to debate and discuss, as my kids perceive mom as being mean, and I see her as being respectful toward him on a higher level than it first comes across. Additional keywords: single mothers, independence. Ages 4+
- Anything by Allen Say – Say doesn’t spell things out for kids, and allows space and layers for kids to think about the story and come back to it. His books are fantastic to grow with.
- Most Inuit folktales, particularly by Inhabit Media
Books featuring families who DO NOT respect a child’s abilities
- Whitewashing: When white adult authors appropriate the voices of BIPOC children – terrible twos, willful misbehavior, and teen angst is a common trope in books where white authors write from the perspective of a BIPOC. It’s not just me who finds this odd – many BIPOC critics including Beverly Slapin in De Colores and A Broken Flute& Deb Reese in AICL have brought this up in several reviews. Assuming ALL kids go through a rebellious stage is something white US settlers (and assimilated Asians) tend to do, but doesn’t really happen in cultures where adults presume competence in children and don’t hide things from them to protect their innocence (aka keep them oblivious).
- The Long March (Fitzpatrick) – Irish author makes the protagonist, a Navajo teen, pull some whiny white teenager attitude that just wouldn’t happen in a family in that time and place. While the book has some merits, it’s worth noting that the thing that the Long Walk and residual plight of the Navajo people and the Great Hunger of the Irish was British Colonialism. Presumably the white author thought this would be too much to share with kids, which again – adultism.
- Encounter (Yolen) – Adults wouldn’t blow off the concerns of a Taino child like they do in this story – which leads to a rather victim-blamey tone to the book. Presumably the adults were so lured by greed (trinkets) and curiosity they ignored warnings from the child. Beyond that, Bill Bigelow mentions in ‘Rethinking Columbus’ how the Taino people just kind of roll over and take it in this story, which isn’t historically accurate, and feeds into a pitiful/noble savage trope. Closing monologue paints them as extinct (they are not.) “We lost our land / We gave our souls to their gods / We took their speech into our mouths.”
- Because Your Daddy Loves You (Clements) Indulgent dad shows his love by indulging his daughter, doing things she is perfectly capable of doing, and generally not expecting her to do much. The stark contrast between this and the gender swapped one is intensely sexist and problematic – much more so than if the Mommy version didn’t exist.
- Intersectionallies – I’m doing a patreon problematic video for this one, which I’ll link to later. This book is a sloppy mess.
- I have the right to be a child – serres – Beyond being boring AF, it’s written for adults ABOUT children, even though it’s targeted toward children. Introduction to the UN Convention of the rights of a child, which feels ironic. Could have gone without the reference to orange juice, which both had no point and reinforces the idea that kids eat different foods than adults. (and also introduces the idea of juice to my kids) “I have exactly the same right to be respected, whether I am black or white, small or big, rich or poor, born here, or somewhere else.” Which was a little confusing for Q because he’s neither black nor white so… yaaay for erasing all non-black POC! Also references “I have the right to be helped by my parents, my friends and country, if my body doesn’t work as well as other children’s.” Which makes me cringe from the abelist language, insisting disabled bodies don’t work. Also I call bullshit on the simplified “I have the right to go to school and to refuse to go to work. I’ll choose a job when I’ve learned everything I want to know!” dude no – that is childism, kids can, should, and DO work – the issue is adults are the ones defining ‘work.’ The intent behind the right is to protect kids from intense evil forced labor, but no – children work and contribute to society. They are equally responsible. Also who the f would ever consider themselves ‘done’ learning? “I am afraid of guided missiles and smart bombs.” Um yeah – everyone is, buddy. Why is that even in there? EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT NOT TO BE BOMBED, not just kids. Q asked me what a smart bomb is and I’m like, I don’t know? What weird specificity there! Illustrations are a little creepy, particularly for a book intended for kids – hands with eyes, emaciated alien-eyed kids, suggests the author doesn’t understand the cognition of kids and the basic manners behind not inspiring nightmares.
- When I grow up – chen – bland and boring, suggests that you can only conribute or ’be’ a thing when you hit adulthood, as if childhood is just training for being an adult. lines like “will i be funny or smart?” imply those are mutually exclusive, and that a child cannot yet be truly funny and/or smart. Worth noting that despite the fact that Chen is AAPI, the characters are white, which is a thing Asian makers lean toward, to sell more books. Sellouts.