Sparkle Boy arrived direct form the publisher Lee & Low Books in a distinctly non-sparkly drab brown media mailer. I knew what the package contained. I had been checking my PO box like a rabid rubber ball for the past week. It was here. I tore open the envelope and was greeted with my very own copy and a nice note from the staff intern Santiago. It. Was. mine.
I “met” Lesléa Newman via email only a few days ago. An unassuming email popped into my web site’s inbox asking if I would review her book her new book Sparkle Boy. Of course I would, I love to do reviews knowing how hard it is first hand to get the word out on your own published work. If I can share some love – sure! Then I started reading about Sparkle Boy. Then I started digging into Lesléa. I consumed her web site, stalked her through past interviews with press. I read each and every book review on her previous picture book releases. This was someone I wanted to support. This is someone I could get behind. This was the reason I was doing reviews.
Sparkle Boy sat unopened on my coffee table until I picked up MiniMe from camp that afternoon. At four (AND A HALF!) years old, she is already a force of nature. I needed to experience this with her first. She picked up the book immediately. The cover has a gorgeous spot-varnish of sparkles that makes it stand out against the other volumes currently stacked up beneath it. She handed it to me to read. Perfect. We settled in and made it through cover to cover without comment. I asked her if she liked it. “No”. Was all I got back. Then she immediately asked me to read it again.
I read it again. She was still quiet this time, but felt compelled to point out the little dog when he showed up throughout the book. I asked her again if she liked it. “No.” She replied again. “Why not?” I asked hoping I would get some feedback. “Boys don’t wear sparkles.” Hmmmmm “Don’t you think everyone should wear whatever they want?” “No” I got again. “Boys wear boy clothes and girls wear girl clothes.” Huh. No wiggle room so far to talk about this, so I mentioned that “jeans and t-shirts are boy clothes, but you wear them, yes?” No answer. “And some boys wear bright colors and some boys always wear dark colors?” No answer. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all wear whatever made us happy and smiling?” She looked up at me, arms still crossed but the scrunch lines across her forehead were gone.
I pulled out my phone and started flipping through all the images my friends had posted from the St Pete Pride Parade. Anything went. She was excited by the tutus, the glitter, the funny shoes, the bright colors and all the rainbows. No more mention of who was wearing what. Then she was up off the couch and gone. She came back with two tutus, two sparkly bracelets, two sparkly rings. She said “I’ll be the big sister, and you be the little brother and ask me to wear my skirt.”….ok, I’ll play along…. “I love your skirt, can I wear a sparkly skirt, too?” She put her hands on her hips “Most boys don’t wear tutus, but some do! Sure!” We reenacted the book a few times about selecting items that boys don’t traditionally wear and let her decide that it was ok with her that I could wear them.
This book opened a dialog that I really didn’t know needed to be had. At four (AND A HALF) she had already built the foundations for some very steep walls around what was acceptable and not from her daily input of classmates, television, teachers… She had clearly questioned, tested and concluded at some point that boy and girls had certain lines they did not cross. As a mom, I feel like we need to crack into more of these topics before any real damage is done. I feel like I need to ask her about sports, about science, about everything. Kids pick up so much so fast. We talk about how they just absorb learning material “like little sponges”, but that is not all they absorb. We can’t pick what they filter in to become part of their mindset as they form their personalities, but we can challenge it – IF we know it needs to be challenged. Sparkle Boy has become a ‘gateway drug’ to opening both our minds, and I look forward to sharing it far and wide.
Check out the video below of the eventual ‘takeaway’ from our discussion….
I also had the amazing opportunity to interview Lesléa Newman! Did I mention she is the author of Heather Has Two Mommies? Come on, you remember Heather Has Two Mommies – it was the second most controversial topic of the 90’s. Falls in right after the O.J. car chase fiasco.
Read my upcoming interview with Lesléa Newman in the fall issue of Story Monsters Ink Magazine!
Lesléa Newman is the author of seventy books for readers of all ages. She has received many literary accolades, including poetry fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and has served as Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts, from 2008 to 2010. In addition to creating her own books, Newman teaches writing for children and young adults at Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. She wrote this book to celebrate all the “sparkle boys” she knows. Newman lives in western Massachusetts, with her spouse, Mary Vazquez. www.lesléakids.com
Julianne Black has written and illustrated several books, including “Sleep Sweet” the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book. She is an internationally recognized graphic artist, fine artist and freelance contributor to Story Monsters Ink Magazine. She can be reached at www.julianneblack.com