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Dilemma: Black Parents, Bibles, and Bedtime

February 26, 2018

Disclaimer: I am married to a husband who has been a part of this process from the beginning, but this post will very much be from my perspective as the primary owner of “the bedtime routine”.

 

I’m still a very new parent. 

 

I’m still learning.

 

As the mother to a toddler, who is my first and likely only child, I will always be in this state of learning.  As she ages and enters into new stages of life I’ll enter into new stages right along with her.  We’ll both face new obstacles, new challenges, and we’ll both create new ways of overcoming these challenges.

 

I was excited about becoming a parent. 

 

I read all the blogs, all the books (well likely not all the books, and not all the blogs either…I mean, let’s get real here), but I read some of the books and a great deal of the blogs.  I joined the mom-groups, I attended the classes on how to nurse, and then I planned, and planned, and planned and planned.

 

One of the consistent themes in all of the blogs, the books, and the groups was - routine.  Create a routine for your child.  Establish a flow for their lives that they can rely on and expect…and…ensure that you have nailed the most important routine of all…bedtime. 

 

Let’s talk about this bedtime routine.  

 

Bedtime routine is not just about setting up and meeting the expectations of your child each evening - you know, carefully and craftily creating a flow that helps to naturally move them from excitement to rest, from day to night, from activity to peace - but it is also a way to move the parent to peace.  Nailing the bedtime routine is an exercise in nailing the peace of the parent and potentially opening up an evening of uninterrupted stillness.  Nailing the bedtime routine means putting the child down and they STAY down.  It means getting out the last giggles, the last bit of energy, turning lights down low, and saying “I love you’s” and “goodnights” without having to revisit any of these until the sun comes up again in the morning.

 

Okay - pause - I know that infant life is nothing like this, and those early walking/talking days will require some repeated practice at leaving the room, but in general we all know the ultimate goal of an effective bedtime routine.

 

I remember reading that I should start early, start in infancy, keep it consistent, make small tweaks as necessary as the child gets older, but the bones stay the same.  And quite honestly, very little has changed in the bedtime routine established with my daughter from newborn until now.

 

To put it in a nutshell, the big buckets of our bedtime routine are: Brush, Bath, Book, Bed.  

 

Of course there are other nuances involved like creating a bedtime playlist of mellow and worshipful music. Once the routine starts the music starts and plays on repeat until we start the book. I do this to intentionally trip the psyche into associating those songs with rest and to start the process of calming down my child - three years later, we use the same playlist.  I also installed a soft blue light in her bedroom, it’s dim but still bright enough for us to move around.  I do this to start adjusting her eyes so once we leave the bright light of the bathroom the light only becomes more and more dim until it is completely dark.  We start the sound machine, another way to associate sounds with rest.  After the bath she is thoroughly moisturized from head to toe.  I pull out a combination of creams and apply them in the same order all over her body, she is massaged in the process and moved into a disposition of calm.

 

After the moisturizer session, pajama application, and the donning of silky head scarf or stocking cap (what you know about that stocking cap) it is time for the book.  Oh the book.  It was so much easier when she was an infant.  I read what I wanted, she wasn’t mobile, she couldn’t go anywhere, she didn’t pay attention to the pages, she didn’t direct me on where to go, she didn’t recite the words, she couldn’t demand “another book!” And “another book!” And “another book Mommy!”.  Because of the ease of the book section of the bedtime routine, when she was still a baby, I easily came to memorize the all-too-famous “Goodnight Moon”.  First of all, the rhyme was perfect, the words were descriptive, and when she did start paying attention to the pictures, the artwork was colorful and engaging.  

 

Furthermore, when I got to bedtime routine in her early years it was a lot easier to move her through the steps.  There is far less resistance from an infant than a toddler.  After fighting traffic to get her to daycare, then working a long day, then fighting traffic to pick her up from daycare, then rushing into dinner execution and preparing for the next day - all while trying to get a rambunctious and head strong toddler to go where you need her to go and do what you need her to do - by the time we get to bedtime routine these days I am absolutely wiped.  As I sit in her dimly lit room, I too am holding on for dear life, struggling to keep my own eyes open, and trying to hold it all together.  This is why the book is so important!  The book is the last real hurrah before the lights go all the way out and we say prayers, sing songs, kiss cheeks and close doors.

 

Now that she is three and fully engaged in the book part of the routine, I have to be intentional with our books.  I have to be very, very, very intentional.  

 

First: I must ensure that the images in her books (if they portray people and not animals) display characters that look like her.  I need to see brown skin, I need to see curly hair, I need to see complete black families.  At minimum, I need to see a breadth of diversity as opposed to a sea of blonde hair, blue eyes, and bleached skin.  Sidebar: If the book does portray animals, and that animal is a monkey, I need to think carefully about how that monkey is depicted and what that monkey represents…this is very important.

 

Second: I must ensure that the content is engaging and uplifting - not just for her but also for ME.  Again, the fatigue I’m fighting in my own body at this stage in the day is oh so very real.  So when I start reading a book that has been well written and especially consists of compelling, unforced, rhyme, then I am re-energized in the process.  A great rhyme partnered by a great story infuses energy into the parent as reader and it pulls in the child as active listener.  A great rhyme allows my daughter to capture the flow of the story and eventually she begins to recite along with me.  Being prompted to bring the words to life through the way those words were authored is a tremendous skill but also a necessity for my family.  Great writing is a necessity.  Rhyme is a necessity.

 

Third: I must ensure that many of her books highlight our faith and values.  The focused attention of the child during the book section of a bedtime routine allows for an amazing opportunity to instill and reinforce the most important values of the home.  We value kindness, science, the arts, positive self-worth, love, and our faith in God.  Most of the books in our daughter’s library will bring attention to one of these values and when it does, it must do so in a way that allows me to relay the information effectively and allows her to retain it.

 

Fourth: I want to be intentional about supporting authors and illustrators of color.  This is one of those behind-the-scenes areas of focus that is important in my family and important in the homes of many black families that I know.  At this stage of the game this will not matter much to my child, but as she matures and begins to research these authors and begins to choose books for herself and begins to think about what she wants to be when she grows up this will matter greatly.  Imagine the disappointment if she discovers that all her books were only written by members of the majority culture?  What will this subconsciously communicate to her about who can publish mainstream literature?  What will this subconsciously communicate to her about acceptance and who warrants support?  What will this subconsciously communicate to her about perceived quality?  What will this communicate to her about perceived standards of beauty?

 

Enter “the children’s bible”.  How well does the average children’s bible hold up to my criteria of a great bedtime book?  Not very well…let me tell ya.

 

 

Before I had given birth, I had already been gifted three different children’s bibles to help introduce our faith to her at an early age.  I actually have four in all because I was gifted the same bible on two different occasions.  Let’s weigh these bibles against the criteria:

 

1) Characters that look like her? - Negative.  All of the images in all three of these bibles were white-washed.  There was one little brown boy that popped up way at the end of one of the books, but that was it.  All main characters: Adam and Even, Moses, Noah, Jesus…were definitively drawn white and even the supporting cast consisted of the majority of individuals being drawn with European features.  With many of the Biblical stories taking place in the Middle East and Africa…something is very wrong with this picture.

 

2) Engaging content with compelling rhyme? - Negative.  First, only one of the three bibles attempted to rhyme and in doing so missed the mark.  I would find the flow and then get tripped up over a lazy rhyme or a forced rhyme or a poorly executed rhyme.  Second, because of the minimal effort to rhyme well the story was also minimally explained.  Third, whether it was a rhyming Bible or not, the stories were so watered down that they won’t hold up to my child once she passes age four. I know that these stories are important so I want them presented in a such a way that my child can engage with them AND I want to be re-energized in my role as the tired-parental-reader.

 

3) Book highlights our faith and values? - Yes.  This is the only plus.  This is what allows us to keep trying.  This is what keeps us coming back.  These are the messages rotating in the minds of many Christian parents: 

“Must.Instill.Biblical.Values.In.Child.”

“Must.Introduce.Bible.Stories.”  

“Must.Introduce.A.Relationship.With.God.” 

At this toddler stage in the game…during bedtime routine…I’m not getting as much support I need from the books designed to help facilitate this process.

 

4) Authors and illustrators of color? - Please. Negative.

 

In other news, here are some books that appear do this very well:

 

 

 

“I Like Myself”

-Artwork on point

-Black child image on point

-Rhyme scheme on point

-Message on point

 

 

 

“When God Made You”

-Artwork on point

-Black child image on point

-Rhyme scheme on point

-Message on point

 

 

“Ava Twist Scientist”

-Artwork on point

-Black child image on point

-Rhyme scheme on point

-Message on point

 

These books check the first three boxes perfectly and excellently.  I can always count on these books (and a few others not centered on people: Llama Llama Red Pajama, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Giraffes Can’t Dance) to bring the energy back to book time.  My daughter has come to learn the story so well that I can easily pause and let her complete the rhyme.  She’s engaged, I’m energized, she’s seeing herself, she’s getting a positive message, and our values are being reinforced.

 

But what about the behind-the-scenes of these wonderfully created books targeting children of color?  I wanted to know more about the amazing black authors and illustrators that brainstormed and teamed up in order to produce these positive images and messages.  So, I pulled out the Googles.  Did I find amazing black writers and illustrators whose work I could continue to follow and support?  No.  Each of these amazing books were both written and illustrated by one of my Anglo brothers and sisters.  While I have no personal issue with any of these white authors or illustrators, I did feel immediately bamboozled.  I could “feel” the targeting in the marketing of these books, that absolutely worked on me, as a black parent.  I could “feel” the intentional marketing and brainstorming that took place behind the scenes and in money-making publishing offices, who had no problem utilizing white individuals to tell a black story and to focus on the not-so-secret struggle so many black parents face in trying to get their children to accept their skin and their hair.  One of those books was purchased in a small bookstore that intentionally stocks their shelves with children’s literature featuring urban communities, authors of color, and people of color.  What a sham.  What a scam.

 

In an effort to not be too long-winded, I don’t have the time in this post to fully explain to you why it is not healthy for POC and especially children of color to be fed their worth from only members of the majority culture. Nor do I have time to explain why it is not appropriate for white authors and illustrators to consistently get the backing and funding of major publishers in order to market books and images to black families.  I’ll just say that recognizing and acknowledging and employing the talent within the community of the community you want to target is important.  Representation is important.  And the danger of entering into a “white savior complex” is destructive.

 

I need to partner the artwork, rhyme and quality of an “I Like Myself” with the important stories of the Bible and I need them to be written and illustrated by a person of color.

 

Essentially I need: 

Quality POC illustrations + Great rhyme + Thorough content + Biblical stories + POC author + POC illustrator = BEST BEDTIME BIBLE EVER

 

I did the Google search, I went in the bookstores, and while I won’t detail all my results here, just know I didn’t find what I’m looking for.  If you know of anything that checks ALL these boxes, let me know!  In the meantime…I’m setting out to do something about it….stay tuned.

 

P.S. I want to give a special shout out to author Trillia Newbell and illustrator Catalina Echeverii on their book “God’s Very Good Idea”.  This book has amazingly colorful illustrations that captivate my daughter and allow her to see herself in the art while also highlighting all kinds of diversity found in the humans around us. In this book, Adam and Eve and even Jesus are portrayed with dark skin and dark curly hair.  And while it does not rhyme, it still tells the story of God’s love for us and pursuit of us in a compelling enough way that it is a frequently requested bedtime book in our home.  Both the author and the illustrator are women of color and they are women I would have no problem directing my daughter to follow and research further should she express an interest in writing or drawing.  This book is the closest thing I’ve seen to the children’s bible I desire to own so please check it out.

 

 

 

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