RMT Sunday: Mixed messages

I have a question for you. Have you heard of the new book “A is for Zebra?” I got a bit of a look at the book thanks to a Twitter post from “Wired”. Here’s a screen shot I took, please click on it to enlarge it so you can get the gist of what today’s post will be about:

"Be careful little eyes, what you see."
“Be careful little eyes, what you see.”

Who wrote the book:

The book is designed by Sean Tejaratchi and published by Chloe Eudaly. If you haven’t heard of these two, that’s okay. Mr. Tejaratchi is from CA. His work is noted by Rolling Stone magazine, Vice website. Not usually where we find children’s illustrators, but, hey it’s a free country. When I searched the internet to learn more about him, his work, most of what I saw would certainly be considered for adults only. While part of me hopes his illustrations in this new kids book is a new turn in his career, another part of me is curious as to how and why some of the illustrations got the approval for a kids book in the first place. My search revealed his latest Twitter post, his handle is something I will not share. The post?  Not the message I would want my kids to get.

As far as Chloe Eudaly, while also a noted art person, she is co-founder of the Independent Publishing Resource Center. The IPRC has ties to foundations like the National Endowment of the Arts, which just this past summer released the CCSS aligned national art standards.

The two are friends, and it appears, this book is not their first joint project. However, it is worth delving into for several reasons. In our modern educational landscape what is being created, offered, and sold has to be carefully considered. We parents, educators, and concerned citizens are looking not so much at what’s said or pictured, but what is suggested, what’s NOT being said. For example, the picture above shows a pair of men fighting. Is this really what we want our kids to associate the letter ‘f’ with? Another picture in the “Wired” story, showed the letter “u”. A lady washing her hands, looking anxious is the represent OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Again, at the tender ages, these kids will be looking at these books..is this really the message we want to send?

What we see matters:

Researched as long ago as the 1800s, scientists have found what we see matters, especially if we see it over and over and over again. Take for example, what “Psych Central Encyclopedia” says, “Mere Exposure Effect”, A psychological phenomenon whereby people feel a preference for people or things simply because they are familiar. Also known as the exposure effect and the familiarity principle.” While this writer, Josh Kennon is using the effect for a lesson in finances, I really like the way he explains ‘mere exposure’: “The mere exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle, describes a phenomenon that causes humans to rate or feel positively about things to which they are frequently and consistently exposed, including other people.  All else equal, you will buy products, invest in stocks, frequent establishments, and engage in behaviors that are familiar to you based on past exposure.  This can lead to suboptimal decisions and results and has no basis in rationality.  It can also pin you in to situations that repeat past outcomes, which may not be desirable.” Using his explanation, think about this from a small child’s view of the same material over and over. Seen enough times, they’ll connect the image and message. Now, go back and look at the picture, is it wise to suggest ‘f’ is for fighting, fear, and fists?  I know if you read the “Wired” article, you’ll see the book serves both kids and their parents. Parents appreciate kids books that aren’t dull. Maybe I’m too old fashioned, but I think an ABC book doesn’t need updating to include modern images. There are plenty of modern things to look every day. Why not keep ABC simple? ABC books, after all, should be more about the fun that OCD descriptive pictures.

Here’s a You Tube video about mere exposure effect, try the tasks for yourselves:

So, how did you do? I did okay on the tasks. My point, put this in the context of “A is for Zebra”. Want to see more of the book? Want to find out more about the pair of artists and their views on the book? Here’s a quote from the publisher, Eudaly, “I’m a pretty permissive parent when it comes to what my kid is interested in.” “I appreciate subversive content in kid’s book, but as a bookseller I err on the side of caution when it comes to what I expose other people’s kids too.”  Here’s an excerpt that describes a few more items, ‘hypodermic needles used by IV drug users and people with diabetes alike, stayed in, as did ashtrays.’  The illustrator of the book said this, “It’s a big, scary world out there, but I think children can handle complex ideas, including smoking or hypodermic needles,” he says. “And acknowledging a thing’s existence is not the same as endorsing it.”

Here’s what I spied with my little eyes:
“A” has alcohol bottle, “B” has brass knuckles, “C” has handcuffs, “D” has pills (drugs), “E” features an electric chair, “F” we’ve seen. “G” gives you a gas mask, “H” shows a two headed person, “I” displays the crescent moon and star symbol found on the Islamic flag, “J” has a judge who looks positively mean, “K” has a very scary looking man with 2 horns and a pointed tongue, “L” displays a cigarette lighter, “M” has a large Medusa (sorry, I think snakes coming out of a woman’s head is scary for any little person), “N” stands for a nuclear cloud and a vintage nightie worn by a lady, “O”, was featured earlier, “P” shows you a prisoner, “Q” has a couple quarreling, “R” stands for revolver, “S”shows soldiers, sailors, and skeletons, “T” shows two men where one is being threatened, while a bit to your right a couple is toasting martinis, “U” has a man using a urinal in a bathroom, “V” has among its images two men, where one is violently hitting the other over the head, “W” shows wrestling, “X” has several exacto knife blades, “Y” shows a boy yelling. After this there’s an ampersand picture where you’ll see beer and wine, cop and robber, sickle and hammer (found on the old USSR flag). Finally, “Z”, gives you an illustrated version of a Christian zealot (something about Jesus and the serpent) and a very detailed zodiac. I will share with you that the drawings are good, the illustrator didn’t show homosexuality either..at least that I could see. However, I think the whole idea is better suited for adults, not kids, especially when so many mere exposure effects are gathered and on display.

IF you’d like to see these for yourselves as well as the other symbols being used to teach our kids their letters, http://readingfrenzy.com/shoppe/art_prints__posters/

You can click on each poster to enlarge it to see the images. The site does feature a disclaimer that some images may be considered offensive. How sad, that an ABC book has to have a disclaimer for offensive materials. So, as I leave you today, what are we aligning our children’s books with? An agenda? A message?

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