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What if there aren’t “Ten little fingers and ten little toes”?

When I was choosing my books for storytime last week at the library (due to some staffing changes, I am now doing the occasional storytime! Slightly petrifying but satisfying when it goes well and toddlers and caregivers leave happy!) I found a classic on the shelves: The Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury.

The refrain of the book, told in rhyme, is

And both of these babies, as everyone knows,
had ten little fingers/and ten little toes.”

Upon re-reading this time, I was struck with the conundrum of… what in the world would I do if a child with a hand or foot animality came into this storytime? What rules do you follow when dealing with truly exceptional uncommon differences?

I do not have the hand anomalities sometimes associated with Moebius syndrome (although I do have rather crooked index fingers!), and clubfoot and residual issues from that, but I kind of thought about this the way I think about the colloquial use of smiling in our lexicon. If I got truly offended anytime something – a song, an advertisement, a common phrase – mentions smiling, I would truly spend my life offended.

And honestly, there aren’t statistically that many of us who cannot smile (or have “unique” smiles) that it makes sense that it doesn’t figure into the scope of thought. While it’s great to point it out, and helps awareness and understanding, I have also learned to take a deep breath and look holistically at these things. But children usually don’t have that perspective. I know I spent a few years very offended when people mentioned smiling, no matter how innocuous. The last thing you want to do is offend someone from a simple book.

So this takes us back to the seemingly innocuous children’s rhyme… What in the world do you do? “And both of these babies, as everyone knows, had ten little fingers/and ten little toes… except for the ones with hand and foot anomalities, who may not!?” I didn’t say that this time, but it made me pine for some great very basic books about children with disabilities. It’s tricky to find disability literature for children that isn’t too saccharine or implausible – the Schneider Family Book Awards are wonderful, but they tend to award picture books for older readers (as well as middle grades and young adult) I have a ton of resources for middle grades and even late elementary, but a storytime appropriate book about those babies who may not have ten little fingers and ten little toes would be magnificent.

Young children are so receptive to differences and are sponges… I would love to harness this openness for awareness of differences both big and small. So that is my resolve in a few weeks when I next do storytime, to search for good books about differences that will teach that even though babies might not all have ten little fingers and ten little toes, they are all equally loved and special.

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