Top critical review
A detailed, lengthier kids' version embodying the liberal white woman's 'Live, Laugh, Love' mantra.
Reviewed in the United States on June 20, 2020
I bought this book to see for myself if it was as tone deaf as many radical thought leaders and activists have said. Spoiler: it is indeed much worse.
First, I would just like to say, as someone who recognizes that children are incredibly intelligent little sponges, I appreciate books that don't pander and treat kids as completely incapable of grasping complex concepts. Unfortunately, this is quite the exact opposite. The worst part of it is, even after finishing the book, I was still utterly confounded about what exactly the message was that the authors were pandering about in the first place.
Reference Picture 1: Everything BIPOC have said about this book is true: it does indeed perpetuate colorblindness. In the first picture, you can see that the authors actively encourage kids to "forget" their differences. This is an extremely harmful narrative to kids; we are all different, and the path to racial equity is not to deny those differences that we so*clearly* see, but to acknowledge them, so we can acknowledge that our differences *are* okay and embrace them, and therefore learn how to uplift each other in the many different ways that best serve each of our needs. By insisting the reader "forget" the differences, the authors inadvertently end up perpetuating the belief that differences are negative, and something to be ashamed of by dismissing the topic so readily, and not acknowledging that differences of other people are indeed a topic worthy of discussion.
Reference Picture 2: It's great to include a kid with a disability in this book - if you actually portray them realistically, and don't just use them as a prop for "inclusivity points." You can see in the picture that the kid in the wheelchair, along with the other fully able-bodied children is demanding "more playgrounds" as well. Tell me, how exactly would a kid with a wheelchair be able to enjoy the use of the typical school playground? The way that they portray the kid here, but refuse to acknowledge their *difference* and how he would need special accommodations to enjoy a playground like the other able-bodied kids is perpetuating further erasure of the struggles of people with disabilities. But the authors have deliberately steered away from any direction that could lead to engaging in any such conversations because again, we are supposed to, "forget our differences."
Reference Picture 3) This is the reason I gave my review the title I did. There is something called toxic positivity - which in this context seems to be the belief that filling your life with positive beliefs, actions and attitudes is the key to creating a better world - that belief is not inherently negative, in fact I encourage an optimistic worldview - but presenting positivity as some kind of alternative to "differences" is in fact very toxic. You can indeed carry yourself with a positive attitude through the world, while ALSO acknowledging that other people may be at different points in their life, because of their differences, and that way you can help them get to where you are.
I don't know if the timing of the release of this book during a global uprising against racism was coincidental, and this was something the authors had been planning for months, or years - or whether this was a spur of the moment publication penned as their reaction to the current events - but what I do know is that they did not consult any people of color, or people with disabilities for this book - or if they did, there were definitely not enough of them on their team.
I also want to add, I don't know if Bell and Hart have championed or marketed this book as an "anti-racism" book - but that is irrelevant, because regardless of their intentions, it is the tangible impact of their tone deaf messages that will have a very real effect on kids' minds.
It is glaringly obvious that Bell and Hart did not do the work to educate themselves on how to portray the people portrayed in their book(people of color, people with disabilities, etc.) in a dignified, fully realized, and humanized way. But, I guess that is one of the advantages of celebrity - you can just churn out a slap-dash book without a second thought, no solid foundational background or research, and it will still garner high reviews and accolades simply because your name is recognizable. And that is one of the things that is so frustrating about the many positive reviews: the authors' white privilege not only allows them the choice to avoid talking about race/racism and confronting it directly, but now they are enabling other white people to skirt and dance around the topics as well by publishing this book; white people would rather avoid the difficulty of navigating conversations about race/racism with their kids by burying their heads in a book spouting positive liberal platitudes, because that is much easier to do.
As an NBPOC, and the former director of an anti-racism non-profit organization, I cannot in good faith recommend this book. It will ultimately do more harm, than good to expose a young formidable mind to it.
Instead, read anti-racism books penned by people who have the experience and knowledge, such as: "The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences.” or "Anti-Racist Baby" by Ibram X Kendi, etc. There are plenty of other narratives that effectively meet kids at their level of intelligence and teach them how to be anti-racist.