the pages of a book

girl-reading.jpg

About a 160 or so pounds ago when my son was fussy and pudgy, I sang to him. You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both and there you have the facts of life gave way to Temporary layoffs! Good times! and a rousing Oh well we’re moving on up! To the east side.

Yes, 70s and 80s sitcom theme songs. I didn’t know lullabies. No matter—he was soothed.

And when I started reading to him, I didn’t know about Goodnight Moon or The Giving Tree or Where the Wild Things Are.  I wasn’t read to.

When I was about 7 or 8, my mother bought me the thickest book I’d ever seen—fairy tales from The Brothers Grimm. I read them to myself. There were beautiful color pictures of magical animals and wicked witches and maidens with ruby lips and skin like the driven snow. I don’t remember questioning why there were no damsels in towers letting down their beaded cornrows. I didn’t expect to see myself in those worlds.

I read in last Sunday's New York Times Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books? that of the 3,200 published last year, only 93 of them were about black people. I don’t know what the numbers were when I was a girl “at that age where the edges of the woman she would become are just starting to press against her baby-round face,” as Christopher Myers writes in the companion opinion piece. I just know there were worlds I didn’t see myself in.

When I was 16 and a junior in high school, my 32-year-old brother home for one of his rare visits from an Army base far, far away, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

“A medical technologist,” I said, not really knowing what that meant. I just knew that it involved health and science and was different from what any of my peers at Western Harnett High School in Lillington, North Carolina had in mind.

“You should go all the way and become a doctor,” he said. “Because you can.”

He saw something in me I hadn’t recognized in myself. Until that moment, the thought of becoming a doctor had not occurred to me. There were no doctors in my family and I had never seen a doctor that looked like me—not in life, on television…or on the pages of a book.

girl reading