Monkeys and Children

I really haven’t been blogging enough so, I’ve resolved to blog every Thursday and to post interviews and reviews at least once per month this year. I really wanted to run a Black History month series this year, but the month has such a busy start that I don’t know how much I can do.

I am continuing to research around anthropomorphic monkeys in picture books and may even be developing a research project in that area. I’ve found, I believe 14 or 15 fiction picture books with simian main characters that were released in 2020. I’ve not yet looked beyond the covers to see specific issues, however there will continue to be an overarching issue as long as society sees people of African descent on par with monkeys and apes.

I can remember an illustrator somewhere once commenting that everyone knows that monkeys represent children in picture books. I so wanted to ask them who was this everyone they were referring to? To me, everyone knows of the equation between Blacks and monkeys. Some people think it’s a joke, some have accepted it as an unconscious bias and other people believe it as fact.

But, let’s get back to that illustrator representing children as monkeys. I wish I had the time and energy to build an understanding of the perception of children and childhood that developed in Britain and came to the US. Those ideals no doubt shaped our US perception. Even though immigrants from other nations contributed to the developed our U.S. culture, the British dominated in its early formation.

I have come to learn how young the early migrants from Britain to the U.S. were and how many of these young migrants were indentured child servants. I began learning about this while tracing my own family’s history. My father’s mother became one of the British Home Children at age 14. This was one of the schemes used in Britain to deport unaccompanied children who were orphans, criminals or living in poverty to Canada, Australia or South Africa. My great-grandmother was still alive, though I suspect the family lived in poverty. Once things in London open again, I’ll be able to get more information from researchers about my grandmother and perhaps learn why she left.

Until then, I’m learning more about the horrendous conditions faced by the British Home Children in Canada. It was so bad that the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown formally apologized in front of Parliament. The Australian government has apologized to children sent there, but nothing has been issued from the Canadian government where there are cemeteries where some of the British Home Children are buried. We’re looking at approximately 100,000 children who were sent to Canada under this program. While some were able to thrive, many did not. I don’t know how long my grandmother stayed there, but I do know she left and ended up in Toledo, Ohio.

Here we are with the example of a civilized, imperial leader of the western world that chooses to forfeit its own children–not families, but children– to foreign lands. What value are they giving these children and what are the implications on societies impacted by these abandoned children? So, yeah, we’re seeing one implication in how ‘everybody sees children as monkeys’, or even as ‘kids’ (baby goats), denying them their full humanity.

This same devaluating mentality that brought my grandmother and other children to Canada tends to find itself children’s literature. Racism. Xenophobia. Sexism. Ablism. Classism. Imperialism. It’s all right there in the books that we read with our children. I do think attitudes have changed and that we most often intend to do right by our children but, it’s really time to consider the unintended messages embedded in the stories we tell the next generation. For me, that means ridding our books of anthropomorphic monkeys.

Be well and do good.