Reading to Babes, Part II: It Can Get… Stereotypical

I was thinking the other day about the reading tastes of my seven and five year old grandsons and I’m afraid I’m onto something that is a bit disturbing.  They don’t like any book or movie with real humans in it.  Think about that.  No ordinary humans with ordinary families and ordinary problems like Jake Starts School or The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy. No humans. Humans don’t interest them.

As babies and toddlers they were read to; everything you’d expect, like  Goodnight Moon, Little Rabbit, and a particular favorite, Binky, since they both dearly loved their binkies and cozies.  But as soon as they could put a phrase together and toddle to the book shelf they began to be very particular about the books that are read to them and a pattern began to develop. Gone were Bob the Builder, Jack the Builder, Trucks, and Backhoes–preferences turned to personified animals: The Berenstain Bears, Peter Rabbit and The Little Train That Could (one I remember from my own childhood,) and various other animal classics.  So far so good; I didn’t see the serious implications.

The first warning, and I must confess that I missed the earlier signs, occurred when the older boy began a love affair with rock music (parents’ influence,) and suddenly he wanted books with instruments, about “guitar guys”.  I found a wonderful book here at Portrait of a Bookstore entitled Story of the OrchestraIn no time at all he had memorized the name of every instrument, including the alto, bass and tenor versions. He needed more books about music.  I scoured the web for books about boy musicians and found none.  So I wrote a story myself, rhymed it, and did the illustrations of a boy hero and his pals, who start a garage band.  I proudly presented it to my grandson, who barely looked at it, didn’t want me to read it to him, and has yet to express any interest in it.  I was puzzled: here was everything he was interested in, being a rock star, starting a band, having a guitar,  but he wouldn’t look at it.  I wondered whether it looked too homemade or maybe the drawings weren’t realistic enough… I wondered and wondered. Eventually, I realized that the only real problem was that it was about a human boy!

When the two grandsons had sleepovers at my house as a special treat I would rent a DVD and we would have “movie” night with popcorn. In all those evenings through their pre-school years the only movie with real humans that they would watch was the old black and white “Heidi”, starring Shirley Temple. I think it was scary enough without being too scary.  But every other (animated) movie they chose had either heroes or talking cars and other non-human characters. If I suggested a movie and it starred real people, even kids, they were not interested and wouldn’t even consider them.  Still I didn’t think it frightening, only odd.

I’m now convinced that it’s not just my grandsons but almost all boys this age who shun real humans.  Why is that?  I volunteer in a local kindergarten classroom two days a week so I observe many children writing stories and poems and drawing pictures.  The little girls are usually drawing their families and houses, their friends, or fairies and princesses, but they are all human with arms, legs and faces that resemble those of humans.  Not the boys.  The boys are either drawing Pokemon, BeyBlades, Super Heroes or making up their own renditions of Transformers, Star Wars, Astro Boy or some other monsters. There are explosions, whams, kabangs, kerploys and every other kind of mayhem in their drawings. What are the implications of this?  Are we doomed from an early age to not relate to the opposite gender? Will the Men from Mars ever really relate to the Women from Venus?  Are girls/women always going to yearn for home and hearth in a romantic setting?  Are boys/men always going to fight the fight, pound the enemy, use the weapons, destroy the imaginary monsters as well as the real villains?  Or will it always be, as a friend said recently, Boys like Toys, Girls like Relationships? And, yes, boys have always played truck driver to girls’ homemaker, boys have always whamed and kerployed their way through childhood… but to actively avoid human characters?

What do you think? Am I making something out of nothing or are things as disturbing as they seem?


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