Sometimes a book can restore your faith. If you are feeling ill or down, turning to an old favourite can be the tonic you need to get you through. Or you can be wading through piles of stereotypical mush, feeling disheartened and disappointed, wondering what it would take to make progress. And then a little beacon of hope can catch your eye and top up your positivity. Mimi Make-Believe has been my ray of sunshine this week. Every time I feel like banging my head against the table and giving up I think, ‘It’s ok. We have Mimi. We have Martha. We have Ella.’
I had my head in my hands this week when Anne-Marie from Childledchaos reminded me of this article. It was published in the Guardian in May 2011 and talks about the disproportionate numbers of male characters in children’s books. It has some interesting figures and is worth a read, even if just to get a big picture of the inequality. (If you are new to my rantings on this subject you may want to have a peek at this post where I talk about the effects of the overwhelming majority of animal characters in children’s picture books being male). It saddened me to think that not much has changed since this report was published. It is 2013 and this is where we are as a society. And it’s not just female characters in children’s books that get the raw deal, it’s the female authors and illustrators too. I was pointed in the direction of this piece about women and the Caldecott award by Damyanti from Overdue Books. And the inequality is not just in children’s books but in their toys too, the Keep Merida Brave and Let Toys Be Toys campaigns are a clear sign of the segregation and degradation that face our children as they learn through their play. We are in 2013 but as a society we are still teaching our children 1950s gender concepts.
And that is why I find it so important to hunt down and highlight the books that go against the gender stereotypes. And one of those special books is Mimi Make-Believe. I would like to get all the people involved in creating this book and getting it into the hands of children into a room together. Then I would like to give them all lots of cake. I would shake them all by the hand and maybe get overexcited and give out some full on bear hugs. Because this book is brilliant in so many ways. It is the kind of book that deserves much more recognition than it has had. It’s another that I think should be in every classroom across the land. Perhaps I should start a list of classroom must haves?
Mimi Make-Believe is about a raccoon called Mimi who loves imaginary play. She spends her time dressing up and playing, rescuing and exploring. But she would really love a friend to share her games, so when a beaver moves in next door she hopes that he will want to join in. On the surface this is a gorgeous book about making friends and having adventures together. But there is so much more to it than that. This page says it all.
Mimi is the rescuer. She is brave. She chases away the dragon. All through the book Mimi is at the centre of her imaginary play and she is the strong, positive figure. This is a book that celebrates imaginary play and childhood. It doesn’t pander to gender stereotypes because it is too busy showing children being children and having fun. Hurrah! More like this please! Imagine if this book was propped up in every role play area in every classroom. It shows girls and boys using their imaginations to turn cardboard boxes into castles and toy boats into pirate ships. It shows them working together equally and having adventures together. It portrays the power of imagination, creativity, and friendship. One little book could have such a positive impact on so many areas.
So, Claire Freedman and Gemma Raynor, I salute you and all who worked with you to get Mimi onto bookshelves everywhere. I will certainly be buying lots more copies of this book. Surely everyone should have one.
Source: The RhinoReads bookshelves. You can buy your copy here.