Tuesday, October 03, 2017

BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED by Zetta Elliott; illustrated by Purple Wong

Update from Debbie on Feb 18, 2020:

On Feb 13, 2020, Ashleigh (she’s 13) from OfGlades (the OfGlades group publishes Indigo's Bookshelf), wrote a series of tweets about my recommendation of Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged. With their permission, I am sharing the tweets, here:
Ms. Debbie has taught us a lot & shared sensitive information, so I was very sad to see that she chose Benny Doesn’t Like to be Hugged by Zetta Elliott as one of her fav bks. My little sister Vi is autistic. It’s good Ms. Debbie writes ‘autistic’ instead of ‘child with autism,’ but that’s where the good stops. This bk is full of painful stereotypes. Vi likes hugs as much as me! I can be fussy too.  Don’t understand what Ms. Debbie means by “unique traits.” Vi doesn’t exist to teach everyone to “accept our differences.” (This is more than 2 tweets, but I have a lot of feels). We all saw the numbers about disabled ppl in bks. This 1 doesn’t help, tho we love other books by Ms. Zetta. Follow @BeingKaylaSmith 2 learn more. TY.
It is crucial that I listen to readers, especially when the reader is sharing personal experiences with a book.  

An #ActuallyAutistic person responded to OfGlades, saying that as a child, they hated being hugged, and found Benny Doesn’t Like to be Hugged affirming. OfGlades replied by sharing book covers for A Friend for Henry (written by Jenn Bailey; illustrated by Mika Song), and I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism (by Pat Thomas), saying:
We’re glad it resonated with you. Unfortunately, stereotypical behavior is pretty much the only subject of picture bks about autistic kids. The one on the left is an award winner from this year—the other has almost the same exact cover image. Today’s kids want & deserve more.

Clearly, the OfGlades group is seeing a pattern in how children’s books are depicting autism.  I have work to do on intersectionality. I’ve learned from OfGlades and am grateful to them for the work they do. 


BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED (original post on October 3, 2017)

A few days ago, I added a new feature to AICL. I called it "Reviewed on Twitter." It is for books that I talk about on Twitter, in a series of numbered or threaded tweets. Earlier today (October 3, 2017), I did one for Zetta Elliott's Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged. Here's the description for Zetta's book:
A little girl uses rhyming verse to describe the unique traits of her autistic friend. Benny likes trains and cupcakes without sprinkles, but he can also be fussy sometimes. The narrator doesn’t mind, however, because “true friends accept each other just the way they are.” A gentle story encouraging children to appreciate and accept our differences.

I like the immediacy of Twitter, capturing and sharing joy (or frustration) when I get a book and want to say something about it, right away. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I'm @debreese. So here you go... tweets I sent out about Zetta's book! 

In my mailbox today! 's BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED.

Zetta and I have lot of terrific conversations about children's lit, and some about institutional racism, too. I admire her a great deal.

One time when we were talking -- online, I think -- I said that any of the kids in her picture books might be a Native child.

I wasn't talking about that "culturally neutral" thing some people like. That is a bogus concept that I reject.

What I meant was that a Native person's identity is not determined by dark hair/eyes/skin, or, ummm... cheekbones!

Native identity is based on citizenship, or kinship relationships, in a specific tribal nation.

We talked, then, about how a writer might signify or hint at a character's Native identity, in a picture book that isn't abt Native ppl.

And how to do it, without resorting to stereotypical markers (long braids, fringed clothing, moccasins)...

Where I ended was 'how about a t-shirt' that a Native kid might wear, one that shows that kid's pride in something Native.

Zetta follows my work and knows I'm a huge fan of 's SUPER INDIAN.

A few weeks ago, she wrote to me to ask about having Super Indian on the t-shirt. I was PSYCHED at that idea. I introduced her to Arigon.

In my head, I was remembering working with Pueblo kids at Santa Clara. I showed them SUPER INDIAN. They love that bk.

And, I had a Super Indian tote bag that gave me. It, too, was much-loved by them.

So! In BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED, there's a Native kid in one scene, wearing a Super Indian t-shirt as he plays basketball:

Zetta's in NYC. There's a lot of Native people in NYC. That character might seem a small thing to some, but I think that...

... any Native kid who happens to read this book and knows Super Indian... is gonna go WHOA!!!

They're gonna say "LOOK!!! It is Super Indian!" Thanks, Zetta. I think this is way cool.


As I sent out that series of tweets, two Native women--Chelsea Vowell and Adrienne Keene--who I admire tremendously for their work, too, were reading the tweets and then enthusiastically shared them with their followers. Repeating what I said on Twitter: this might look small to some people, but to me and the Native people who are sharing it on Twitter... it means a lot.

Get a copy of Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged, and get Arigon Starr's Super Indian books, too!

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