Motherhood

A Great Book for Kids

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There’s nothing more mysterious to my toddler than what adults do at work (he always asks if I used a “ma-puter,” his word for “my computer”), so it was no big surprise when he beelined for this book at the bookstore. But it was surprising — and refreshing — to see how up-to-date it is about gender and race. Here are a few pages…

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For example, a soldier, electrician and civil engineer are women, and an astronaut, doctor and school principal are people of color. What Do Grown-Ups Do All Day? came out this year and features vibrant illustrations and descriptions by Virginie Morgand of more than 100 jobs and workplace scenes. Bravo!

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I also love that this book has a cross-referenced index! (“Army, see ‘Soldier.'”) Because I’m a nerd.

What other children’s books do you like? (Joanna recently flipped through this career-themed one from 1968 and was shocked by how outdated it felt. Look at this page, for instance!)

P.S. Children’s books with diverse characters and female protagonists.

  1. This made me think of this book that I came across a couple of years ago- Mamma jobber på plattform (Mom works on an oil rig) http://www.plattformboken.no/index.php . Its a pretty good book as it focuses a bit more on untraditional jobs that can be a bit more difficult to explain to a kid, as opposed to for example a policeman.

    I myself work in HR, and I’m not sure how I’m gonna explain that to my kid once he’s old enough. My colleague tried explaining it to his kid as “taking care of the workers in the company”, to which his son replied, “oh, like a nurse?” Haha

  2. Love stumbling upon this book post. Even though I’m always pumping up both of my kids – a girl and a boy – with lots of “girl power,” I still catch myself assigning some careers to one gender or the other, not both. Ugh. Will def have to add this to our collection. Killer illustrations!

  3. Oh wow, that’s definately something I will be buying for my nieces and nephews! The book’s illustration is pretty cool too!

  4. Victoria says...

    I got my copy this morning from Community Bookstore in Park Slope!
    Joanna, you might consider linking to either IndieBound or to the publisher’s product page (if it exists) rather than to Amazon. I’m not against Amazon per se, but I think it’s nice to make it just that much harder to divert business from your local store. Did you hear Book Court is closing? :(

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      That’s where we discovered and bought the book! Small world. ;)

  5. Jenny says...

    That book looks amazing! I love the primary colors in the illustrations. My only qualm: “gym teacher” — I’m the daughter of a physical education or P.E. teacher and she basically transformed her school’s program making it less about being “athletic” and more about taking care of one’s physical health over a lifetime. She also incorporated things like dance and meal-planning… Anyway… games and sports are important, but “Gym Teacher” leaves a lot to be desired!

  6. My boys loved Richard Scary books. The books kept them so occupied especially the house book where all the rooms are named and everything in them is labeled. It’s weird that I did not notice the dominant male thing going on. I just thought they were hilarious cats. This new book looks great. Once when I asked my son what he thought I did for my job he said, “Mommy pees on the potty”. At that time I was working from home and very pregnant with my second son and yes, I was running to the potty a lot.

  7. I love the look of this book! I am a mum:mom of 4 children under 6 so I am always happy to find new books to read to make sure we have plenty of variety and I don’t go mad reading the same old favourites!

    We read all the classics too but I wrote about my top books for preschoolers that they won’t already have, here:

    https://themumandthemom.com/2016/12/10/books-to-give-to-children-that-they-wont-already-have/

    …thanks for another great post!
    H

  8. Kate says...

    This reminds me of a modern version of Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All day?” I loved that book!

    • Kate says...

      Edited to say that I read through the comments and have just realized that the Scarry books have (for the most part) been updated for current norms and families. I greatly appreciate this effort, and will certainly buy the newest versions of most when I have my own children, but I have such sentiment attached to my book, which has been duct-tape binded and has my mom’s handwriting. I hope that I can explain to my kids the wonderful changes in the world that have happened since I was small, and use that book as an example.

  9. belinda says...

    my 3 year old daughter thinks I go to work and that her dad plays Basketball. He plays twice a week at night, but is a primary school teacher by day. He loves that his daughter basically thinks he’s a professional basketball player.

    • Katy says...

      My 3 year old thinks Dad makes dinner all day. My husband works from home, and I when I get home from work, after picking up kids from daycare, dinner is on the table. So he figures that’s it, that’s what dad does all day. When we leave in the morning, he says “Good luck making dinner today!”

  10. Definitely getting this! My toddler is currently obsessed with “work” and what his dad and I do. It’s fascinating. He knows dad works at a museum, and he wants to also. He told us “I work at a big museum and have a corner office with no windows. I make many phone calls.” He concept as to what I do is trickier (I work at a public art organization). First, he thought I worked in the subway (since I take it to work every day), then when I tried explaining what I do, he said “Mommy, I say you are a teacher because you say ‘Let’s look at this. Let’s investigate this’ and you tell people all the good things.” He gets to go to events and openings at our jobs and enjoys it so much. This past weekend, while getting ready to go to something he said “Yay! I love going to the work!” I love that he thinks work is a positive thing.

  11. heather says...

    I recently ordered a print of the segment from HRC’s concession speech where she says: “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to achieve your own dreams.” I was so moved by these words and ordered the print to hang in my daughters’ room. Then I thought, wait a minute, is this the right message? Do these words – all by themselves – assume that little girls WILL doubt themselves? Would I ever hang this in my son’s room? Would anyone ever even say “little boys, never doubt yourself”? But then I see books like the one above and I am reminded of just how many messages children are getting all the time about what chances and dreams they ought to be having, and that we do actually need to point out these outdated standards.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a great comment, heather. made me think. thank you!

  12. Grazyna says...

    This is almost scary! I just ordered this book for my friend’s son for Christmas few hours ago and the next thing I read about it on Cup of Jo! Coincidence? :) I cannot wait for the parcel to arrive and I am not sure if I am going to be able to part with the gift…

  13. shannon says...

    I love this! I nannied for about 4 years – and it never occurred to me that this sweet little toddler assumed mom and dad were together all day because they were both at ‘work’! When she was old enough to say that, we were much more clear on where they actually were and what they did while they were there. Who knew…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so sweet!!

  14. I love books like this because my daughter (and most kids, I suspect) crave information. She wants to know specifics, and wants to know why things are done the way they are. It can take a long time to explain details that seem tedious and mundane to me, but I keep dong it because of that serious, concentrating look on her face

  15. Leanne says...

    I’m good friends with the children’s librarian in our town and she was telling me how she was constantly having to review books that just don’t meet modern standards.

    I just thought I would mention “The Ultimate Construction Site Book” by Anne-Sophe Baumann and Didier Balicevic. It’s got really cool flaps (on top of flaps) for kids to play with and it definitely tries to be inclusive of women in a male dominated field. Plus it uses highly technical terms for all the machinery which makes my kid happy. (heaven forbid a book mention “diggers” instead of backhoes or excavators)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank for the recommendation!

    • Sarah says...

      My son loves “The Ultimate Construction Site Book” but I don’t think it’s so great. While it does include women in male dominated fields I think it is subtly racist. If you look closely at the number of faces in scenes that are “work” related (eg, the fishing boat), you’ll notice that it shows pretty good representation of people of color. If you look closely at the “leisure” transportation (especially the big cruise boat) I’ve noticed that the number of people of color is greatly diminished (I don’t have the book in front of me, but I think it is zero on the cruise boat, a few on the airplane). This is subtle, but I feel like a lot of racism is.

      Also, I hate how the book advertises that it shows transportation from around the world, but it is really Western-centric. We have city maintenance from France, a city bus from London, most road, construction, and farm vehicles look like it is from the US, and what seems like token vehicles from Asia/Africa. Yes, I love that there is a traditional fishing boat from Senegal but I wish there were more than a few items (and that those items had more flaps because my son is not going to be interested in something if there isn’t a flap involved). If you’re going to try to represent the whole world, please try to represent it fairly.

  16. Ooh this book looks great! My son would love it. (In case no one has mentioned it, a lot of the Richard Scarry books have been updated recently to be more inclusive, etc.)

  17. I think this seems like a terrific book – children wonder exactly that! And it can be difficult to summarize a profession in a way that a child can understand. Having a visual for each job makes so much sense!

  18. Jenelle says...

    I tend to collect older, secondhand versions of books so I run into this problem a lot. My boys are young enough for me to change the words to be more inclusive. And I do, every time! Thank you for highlighting a more current book.

  19. Dee says...

    I completely agree about the need for an update to Richard Scarry”s classic to better represent POC and women but can we give it some credit for that first line- putting money in the bank for later or delayed gratification is something we could do with teaching our children.

    • Vanessa says...

      Yes! The 1968 book also looks more entertaining and has fun moments happening everywhere. The new book being reviewed seems to be a little static in comparison. Glad to read one of the comments that said the older Scarry books have gotten a refresh. And grateful for options!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, many of the older books have gotten updated, but not this one. there are so many outdated moments in the book, i really think you’d be shocked if you read through it!

    • Annabelle says...

      Yeah and actually it does give credit to mommy for working, too!

  20. MA says...

    This book looks fantastic. My kids loved books like this when they were a bit younger. It reminds me a bit about “In the Town, All Year Round”, which has no words, only big pictures. You follow the same cast of characters through different scenes throughout the year. Great diversity in terms of age, color, gender, etc.

    • My kids love ‘In the Town, All Year Round.’ They could look at it for ages!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great recommendation! toby read this book for years!

    • Katy says...

      I bought In the Town based on a COJ recommendation a long time ago, and it’s our kids favorite book by far. Like, we have to get a new one soon, b/c of wear and tear, favorite.

  21. This looks soooo cute!! I have to ask my library to order it for us! I post our library haul with favorites on my instagram every Wednesday, fun to look back and give other moms ideas. #chichireads her favorite recently was “I don’t want a cool cat”!!

  22. KatyKey says...

    The Richard Scarry books have been updated over the years. Upworthy has a whole post about it with side-by-side comparisons.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes I LOVE the side by side comparisons. Here’s a great post too:
      http://kottke.org/15/11/a-more-progressive-richard-scarry

      But this particular Scarry book doesn’t seem to have been updated (we looked all over) and is sold on diapers.com, Barnes and noble, etc. Kind of nuts that it’s still considered a current enough version!

  23. Sally says...

    We’ve read Ada Twist, Scientist about a thousand times since getting it out of the library last week! And we just had to return The Color of Us (also read many, many, many times).

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      So glad!!

  24. Sarah says...

    We have this book! My son loves it. I was really glad to see women represented in adventure jobs and in positions of authority. And how the jobs in general are more modern and spark good discussions!

  25. Robin says...

    Ha! We have the copy of What do people do all day that my parents gave me when I was a toddler, back in the 70s. My son LOVES it. ‘Everyone is a worker’ was our bedtime reading for weeks. I had to do some selective editing of the text! I’ll have to track down this update and see if I can get my younger son hooked on that instead.

    Thankfully our bedtime reading the last week has been a lovely book called Tea Party in the Woods (http://www.kidscanpress.com/products/tea-party-woods). Beautiful illustrations and a sweet story, with no editing required!

  26. Alice says...

    Just ordered for my neice! Thanks Lexi!

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      Awesome! It’s definitely a book that would work for a kid from 2.5-7 at least.

  27. Madie says...

    Thanks for this! I actually had the Richard Scarry’s version (What Do People Do All Day) in my Amazon cart, but just subbed it out for this awesome-looking book!

  28. Jules says...

    Sounds like a good book for my three year old who said “Daddy goes to work and grabs money”. Haha.

  29. “She earned it by taking such good care of the house.” Yiiiiiiikes!

  30. This book is great – both the lessons and the aesthetics. Pinning for future reference :)

    When I was around 6 or 7, we made booklets at school where we wrote about what our family members were like. I wrote that my mom “worked half the time typing.” She was a part-time graphic designer at the time. It really was a mystery what she did all day!! She really loved hearing that I thought she only worked half the time, haha.

  31. Sarah K says...

    That book looks awesome. I have to put in a word for the Richard Scarry book, though. My kids love that one–and even though I choke a little on that line about “she earned it by taking good care of the house”, it’s a fact that that is some women’s reality, by their choice! In fact, it’s my choice–and although I wouldn’t use that exact phrase, I think it’s important to remember that a woman who chooses to stay at home is still working, and if she gets a new dress or something it’s not like she’s spending her husband’s money–she is contributing and earning in her own way. That said, I want my daughters (who each have a different color of skin) to feel that the world is open to them, whatever their ethnicity and whatever their career choice–astronaut, homemaker, maybe both at different times of their lives. So I will try to add the new book to our collection too!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I agree with you! Staying home with young children is a wonderful thing to do. But that particular book feels so outdated to me — almost every person with a job outside the house is a man, and the book says things like “daddy gave mommy money to buy groceries.” Also, the brother and dad sat down to eat breakfast while “mommy cooked, and sally helps her serve it.” There must be a better way to convey a loving equal partnership where one parent stays home with the children.

    • Alisha says...

      I was about to post a similar comment as Sarah k who expressed herself better than I can. A woman who stays home with her young children is still working and contributing to society–of course! We have the Richard Scarry book and yes it is outdated, but I don’t think it is offensive. Hard working mums deserve respect– I’m lucky I can work outside my home 30h/week and I feel that spending time with your children is irreplaceable.

    • Sarah K says...

      To Joanna’s reply–thanks so much for interacting, and I hear what you’re saying. I would definitely do some commentary when reading the part about the mom and sister serving food while the guys sit down–like “Tomorrow the dad and the brother will dish up the food!”. I think I just feel concerned that if we eliminate all books that are “out of date”, we could end up impoverishing our children’s literary and historical exposure. I’m not talking about exposing them to overtly racist or offensive material, but I do think it’s valuable to read them books that show bygone lifestyles and terminology (like the Little House on the Prairie books, which contain stereotypical gender roles and antiquated descriptions/attitudes about Native Americans) and discuss those with them in an age-appropriate way. In LHOP there is a really disturbing scene where Laura sees a Native American baby going by with its family and she wants to TAKE the baby. She sees it as some sort of doll, not a real person with a real family that loves and cherishes this child. That is totally out of date and rightly so–but the books are such great works of literature, so I read them with my kids but we discuss the fact that Laura’s attitude is wrong, not through fault of her own as a child but because she has not been taught any better, etc… in a similar way, the Richard Scarry books portray the vanished world of 1950s-ish German small towns. I don’t want to emulate all the particulars of that way of life, but I do want my kids to know it existed.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, that’s such a great point, sarah. thank you.

  32. Vicki says...

    I do love Richard Scarry, but some of those pages make me cringe! “She earned it by taking such good care of the house”? Yikes!!
    And I must be a nerd, too, because an index IS pretty exciting — so many kids’ books don’t have them! How are you supposed to find what you need to know without an index? I mean, really.

  33. Sarah Kang says...

    the book looks great! i am always trying to find books that will help show our daughters that they can be anything they want to be. when i had girls, i realized how many books have male main characters!

  34. Alex says...

    This is awesome! I love the civil engineer being female (being a female chemical engineer myself), but the coolest part is definitely the representation of POC. Progress like this makes me hopeful for the next generation :)

  35. J says...

    Please support independent bookstores rather than Amazon by linking to IndieBound (http://www.indiebound.org/spread-word) in your book posts. Buying through IndieBound is easy and helps small business owners. If you love taking your children to bookstores, we need to make sure bookstores are around for many years to come!

    • Yes! I always link books to Powells in Portland OR or Indiebound to support local bookstores. I know amazon gives affiliate links, but I think it’s so important to support the local businesses!

    • Lauren E. says...

      Yes! Thank you for this. Indie bookstores need all the help they can get.