Subliminal Messages in Children’s Books

Dear Dumplin,

Lately I’ve noticed subliminal messages in children’s books.  The books aren’t recently published but they all have a black girl as the main character.  Picture this…  I find a beautiful book with a gorgeous black girl as the lead character.  The illustrations are gorgeous, the story line is cute, and then all of a sudden… TIME OUT.  That’s right, this beautiful brown cutie-pie did something wrong and now needs to sit in time out. In the book…

You put the little girl on time out?


Don’t get me wrong, as my child you of all people know that I do not like misbehaved children.  It’s important to me that you know how to act in public as well as be considerate of others.  But that does not mean you are constantly in time out.  However, it does mean that I talk to you.  It means that I explain to you my preference versus what you may see when we are out around other people.  And it also means that when you are acting in a way I don’t approve, I tell you.  All children have to be disciplined at some point.  It’s just the name of the game.  But do I want to see little brown children get punished in books I buy for you?  No.

Remember here, where I told you the statistics about how only a small number of children’s books have characters of color?  There is even a smaller amount featuring protagonists that are Black girls.  When I do find out about a new book with a black girl, I buy it immediately.  Thanks to the internet and especially Instagram, there are a lot more resources to find books with characters that look like you (shout out to Here Wee Read who has one of the most comprehensive blogs about children’s books out there).  When I do find one, I don’t want to see the little girl get put in the “quiet chair” or the “time out chair” or told to get out because she’s getting on someone’s nerves.  No.  I don’t want to pay to read about that.  The more I think about it, the more I’m certain that I haven’t found one single example of a book featuring other ethnicities and where the kids are put on time out.

The little black girl makes a mess? Time out.

The little black girl gets in the way? Time out.

The little black girl wants to play with a phone?  Time out.

Well what can she do?

What does this say to the little reader about the types of treatment she can expect?  I buy these books because I want to uplift and encourage you.  I don’t want you to read these books thinking about how you need to change your behavior out of fear you may be put in the “quiet chair.”  It really irks my nerves.  Yeah, there may not be a lot of books that depict this scenario but I want to make sure I don’t see anymore.  I don’t want to see any more little black girls being punished.

Please, no more children's books putting little black girls on time out. Click To Tweet

Now before I show you the examples, I feel that I should add a disclaimer.   Some of these authors have personally asked me for blog reviews which for the most part, I complied.  Individually, I looked at each book and sincerely thought I had found a beautifully, well written and well thought out piece of work.  The characters are gorgeous, the stories are sweet, and you enjoy them. But collectively? I started to get a twinge when I read them.  I wondered if I was teaching you something unintentionally.  I wondered if I was subconsciously teaching you to be ostracized and kicked out.  Was I preparing you for a world of “go sit over there and be quiet”?  No, I have to do better.  I don’t want that message for you.  Even one wrong message is one too many.

An excerpt from “Ada Twist Scientist” by Andrea Betty:

An excerpt from “Lottie Paris Lives Here” by Angela Johnson:

An excerpt from “Keilah West the World’s Greatest Klutz” by Katina Chimney:

We still read these books.  The difference is that now I stop and explain my perspective.  I say that the treatment is a little harsh and how the characters could have handled the situations differently.  Another difference?  I stop to read entire books in the book store before I buy them.  I want to minimize having the wrong message presented to you in your own home.  A third difference? I now make active use of Marley Dias’ 1000 Black Girl Book Resource Guide.  If there are to be any subliminal messages intentionally delivered, it will be that you are beautiful, strong, playful, sweet, inquisitive, and do not need to be punished regularly.



PS – The below page comes from a very popular book.  Do you see a subliminal message?

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