The Time I Called Out a Children’s Book Author For Letting Girls Down
A few years back, I read a children’s book about the moon landing to my then-3-year-old daughter. It’s a great book in so many ways. But one thing stood out to me: Men.
Men, men, men. The word men over and over, in glowing terms, and nowhere a mention of anybody else.
The book, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, written and illustrated by Brian Floca, is a gorgeous, informative read, made to inspire another generation of stargazers. Unlike many dry books on the topic, this one has a gripping narrative. It managed to keep even my 3-year-old engaged.
Still, as I read I found myself changing words to make the story more gender-inclusive. Instead of “men,” I said “people,” “astronauts,” “scientists.” I wanted my daughter to be able to picture herself on that rocket ship, or in Mission Control.
Our storytime happened to take place in October 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was starting to gain momentum. Women were going public with stories of sexual harassment and outdated, gendered power structures. My own #MeToo stories were swimming in my head when I read Moonshot to my daughter. That night, I could not abide one more message of men’s competence alongside women’s invisibility. Fired up, and bursting with anger at the patriarchy, I did something I don’t usually do: I wrote the author to complain.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t a very tactful email. I started out by sharing the many elements that I appreciated about the book — the art, the poetic feel, the spark of curiosity that it inspired for my daughter. But soon, I was funneling my feminist rage.
I told Floca about how I changed the gender of his characters. I tried giving him (some) benefit of the doubt — after all, the era of space exploration described in the book was notoriously hostile toward women and minorities; maybe this modern children’s book was simply tone-deaf in trying to sound more like the times. Other points were less forgiving: “My husband’s take is that you clearly have an agenda (men’s rights sort of thing) and made this choice very consciously,” I wrote, adding that I hoped this wasn’t the case.