WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
Reviews for children’s books are not high on the list of cultural indicators. Yet, as the primary resource for library and bookstore buyers, who in turn funnel books into the hands of kids and parents, they’re worth noticing. That’s why this particular book review sounded an ominous note, even though the book in question seemed as sunny and blameless as a church picnic.
One Big Family by Marc Harshman pictures a reunion at the old homestead, where Grandma sets a groaning table, Great-Grandpa tells stories, dads pitch baseballs, and rambunctious cousins (many sporting red hair and freckles) bed down on the floor. The anonymous reviewer for Kirkus Reviews acknowledged the child-friendliness of the text and pictures—“However, the too-familiar European-American, middle-class family featured in the story lacks diversity of any kind.” No single parents, disabled children, or same-sex couples add authenticity to this family portrait, making the book “regrettably nostalgic.”
Picture-book authors take note: The cultural ideal of a traditional family is not only retrograde, but regrettable. There’s a “national discourse on inclusiveness” going on, and children’s authors and illustrators have a responsibility to contribute to it.
Kirkus, more than other industry journals, has accepted the mission of promoting inclusivity to the nation. Its children’s book reviewers now routinely identify protagonists by race, sexual orientation, or gender identity (even if the latter is in doubt). Depictions of families with same-sex parents or transitioning progeny are likely to get more respectful attention than their craftsmanship may deserve.
“Inclusivity” is a noble concept, and when it means accepting all people as human beings worthy of respect, no Christian should argue. And it’s a sad fact that throughout history not all families conformed to the father-mother-and-children model. Death often carried away one parent or both; wars wreaked havoc; polygamy flourished in some cultures and slavery in others. Children orphaned by death or neglect lived a perilous existence that many did not survive.
But it’s a long step down from the failure to live up to the ideal to the failure of the ideal. Those who vigorously promote inclusive families forget that families are by their very nature exclusive. Visitors are welcome and outsiders may be adopted in, but the open, fluid, ever-accepting vision promoted by forward thinkers doesn’t apply. In a family, the very things that are seen as limiting—organic ties and mutual obligations—are the things that bind its members together. The kind of “inclusivity” social justice holds up actually undermines what makes families work. Even what is necessary for them to survive.
The normalizing of single parenthood chips away at the unique (but separate) strengths of moms and dads.
In a family, the very things that are seen as limiting—organic ties and mutual obligations—are the things that bind its members together.
Same-sex parenting undermines the necessity of biological ties.
Transgenderism—the latest, and possibly most destructive crusade—questions kids’ individual bodily integrity.
As for parental authority, that’s mainly something to be bypassed. “Woke” librarians and booksellers write blogs and publish tips on how to go straight to the young reader. An independent bookseller told Publishers Weekly a couple of years ago how she addressed junior patrons before parents. “[The kids] know that reading is not just about reflecting the reality they see every day but also expanding it.” She likes to offer copies of George, a middle-grade novel about a boy realizing he’s a girl, to 10-year-olds: “By focusing on children’s literature’s true audience, the child, you bypass the parents’ ideologies and give the child the authority to decide for herself or himself.”
Given children’s limited knowledge and experience, their impressionable brains, and cultural influences that aren’t constructive, authority to decide is the last thing they need.
Isaiah speaks about another kind of “hand-selling,” from the highest authority: “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21). This is the way is just what we don’t want to hear when it regards our private lives, and families are where private life plays out most tellingly. To a culture that lazily assumes “it takes a village to raise a child,” families are negotiable. But what it takes to make a village is a lot of stable families.