Amazing Grace – Mary Hoffman/Caroline Birch

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 2 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point.

This book is exactly the sort of thing this blog was designed to highlight, and it ticks (almost) all the boxes for me. We have a flying Bechdel pass – with Grace, her mother and her Nana all having conversations about Grace and what she wants, as well as at least one named other child in her class (Natalie).

We have a protagonist who is a spirited black girl who sure as hell isn’t going to let people tell her she can’t do something because shes black OR because she’s a girl, and in addition, we have a classroom of children in all the wonderful shades of the human race.

The book is very clearly about these facts – Grace wants to play Peter Pan in the school play and is told variously that she can’t because she’s a girl, and because she’s black. Her Nana takes her to see a ballet of Romeo and Juliet where Juliet is danced by a black woman. There is a clear message here that you can be whatever you want, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

As you will know if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, the stories I love most are the ones where these things just exist in the world and it’s not the point of the story. Gay people have ordinary lives. People of colour are not “inspirational” or “overcoming of odds”, they are ordinary people with ordinary lives (which do sometimes inspire and overcome odds, but you know, I hope, what I mean). I want ‘diversity’ normalised.

That being said, these stories are important for kids, because the world is not there yet, and a black girl who wants to play Peter Pan will still, even today twenty-five years after this book was published, probably get push-back about it. And stories give children ammo for those moments.

But my favourite thing about this book was the moment when we were reading about how much Grace loves stories, all stories, how she acts things out, pretends to be the characters, and my white, Kiwi son turned to me and said, “Mommy, she’s just like me. I love doing those things too.”

Mommy. She’s just like me.

Guess I’m doing this parenting thing right. 🙂

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