Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘happiness’

“The Snowy Day”

In 1962, prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” and in the midst of the civil rights movement, a unique children’s book was published. The name of the book was “The Snowy Day”, and it was written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. The book deals with the adventures of a young boy named Peter, as he explores the winter wonderland around his neighborhood that results from the previous night’s snowfall. What separates this book from the multitude of other children’s books written about similar situations is that Peter, the story’s protagonist, is black. Perhaps even more distinguishing about this book is that while other stories attempt to highlight the child’s race or make it a central figure in the story, “The Snowy Day” does not. Peter is portrayed, quite simply, as a child. His race is irrelevant for the purposes of the story, because the plot focuses more on the beauty of the snow, the simplicity of his experiences, the carefree quality of his happiness- experiences that all children can relate to. Thus by doing so, “The Snowy Day” breaks down the barriers of race by producing a timeless story enjoyed by children of all shapes, sizes and colors, rather than targeting their story specifically towards black people (which would, by alienating other etnicities, almost constitute a form of racial segregation in itself).

Today marks fifty years since the award winning “The Snowy Day” was published, but it is worth noting that the world of children’s literature has not changed dramatically since then. According to a 1995 study by the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center)

In 1995, the CCBC found that out of 4,500 total books published, only 100 books written by African Americans, and 167 written about (without taking into account any probable overlap). (page 2 of article I used to write this post)

An even more troubling trend, according to Michelle Ann Abate in her book “Raising Your Kids Right”, is that:

Books for young readers reinforce racial, ethnic, and cultural hierarchies. (page 8, second paragraph)

Even when books are published for black, hispanic, asian or children of other ethnic backgrounds, the race of the child is highlighted. It is almost like a “for us, by us” stamp is attached to the literature, and the mere presence of this psychological stamp causes the very segregation that those seeking equality and integration vehemently oppose.

In chapter two (“Looking to Get Paid”) of Robin D.G. Kelly’s book “Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional!”, there is mention of children seeking to use the avenue of professional sports (specifically basketball) towards success because they feel that their options are limited (page 415, course packet). I found this passage about Brian Collier, an award winning artist/illustrator, (page 2,”The Snowy Day” article on the Christian Science Monitor) particularly relevant to this situation:

“I don’t know what it was (‘The Snowy Day’,” Collier said, “but when I saw that boy Peter, he looked like me. I was like, Wow!” Growing up as the youngest of six during the often snowy winters of Maryland, Collier said he knew exactly how Peter felt watching the ”big boys” having their snow ball fights. The Snowy Day had subconsciously planted a seed inside of him, Collier said. For 10 years that seed waited, while Collier dreamed of playing professional basketball like the great Dr. J. But one day the 15-year old hoops fan stumbled into a freshman art class, and the seed was finally ignited. “It was an impact, it was visceral. You just feel it,” he said.”Just like the feeling of that first art class, Collier said America felt a bit of a spark with the publishing of the landmark picture book. “I think it put so much greatness into the world, a sense of diversity,” he said. “It unveiled something that was always there. The jolt was that the rest of the world, the publishing world, didn’t get it. They didn’t really get it until they saw it.”

This work inspired Collier to pursue a field many would have said someone of his race would find it hard to succeed in. The seed of hope implanted in him by the simplicity and beauty of “The Snowy Day”, however, resonated in his youthful mind, and eventually propelled him to success in the illustration and art communities.

In Elizabeth Chen’s book, “Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture”, there is a section called “Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry” (page 358, course packet), in which she points out that (following the inspection and subsequent refuting of claims that Shani dolls’ butts were larger than Barbie dolls’)

These ethnically correct dolls demonstrate one of the abiding aspects of racism: that a stolid belief in racial difference can shape people’s perceptions so profoundly that they will find difference and make something of it, no matter how imperceptible or irrelevant its physical manifestation might be. (page 366, course packet)

It is my belief that this “stolid belief in racial difference” is exacerbated by the fact that the Shani dolls were produced specifically for black children. I believe that if those dolls had been released under the Barbie name and not under a demeaning, racially condescending subsidiary, those differences would not have been highlighted. In sharp contrast to the release of the Shani dolls was the manner in which “The Snowy Day” was presented. Rather than target the book towards black consumers, it was written as a non-racially binded children’s book. It was a book that all children could relate and identify to, regardless of the skin color of the protagonist. That to me is an extremely progressive idea, and an appropriate step in the right direction in regards to the dismantling of racist stigmas. Through the concept of understanding, of kinship readers felt towards Peter, they could learn that black children are not so different from themselves. Basic childhood experiences- laughter, wonder, excitement- are common ground that every child shares. And common ground is a huge step towards an ideology of equality in place of segregation.

Perhaps the greatest message “The Snowy Day” has left us with was summarized by the late Deborah Pope:

“As anyone who’s ever brought home a snowball could tell you, ultimately there is no color to put on children’s experience of snow.”

Cover of "The Snowy Day", courtesy of ChristianScienceMonitor.com

All Girls Are Princesses

A Little Princess movie cover (1995)

One of my all time favorite movies is A Little Princess. It is based on the 1905 book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story line follows a young girl named Sara Crewe who is born and raised in India to her wealthy soldier father. He sends her to an upscale London boarding school to receive a formal education. The headmistress, Miss Minchin, is cold and cruel to say the least. Then, when she receives word that Sara’s father was killed in the war and would not be paying for Sara to stay at the school, she tells Sara her only choice is to live in the attic as a servant or else she will be kicked out on the street. Sara never loses hope or the ability to see the good in everything. Her father always told her elaborate stories about princesses in India and she used those stories to keep the other girls at the boarding school feeling positive. They would meet her in the attic nightly and secretly listen to her optimistic stories. Miss Minchin does everything in her power to keep the girls from using this power of imagination. She believes it to be a waste of time and that they should be doing more productive things with their time. She even takes Sara’s locket, the only part of her father she has to hold on to. (Spoiler alert) In the end, she finds that her father is much closer than she thought. He is alive and recovering from an explosion with the help of a friend from India. They are reunited and Sara takes one of her new orphaned friends with  her and her father back to India after ensuring that Miss Minchin is fired.

Needless to say, the moral of the story is that imagination is a powerful tool that makes life better and can helpThe orphaned girls tell stories in the attic you through hard times. Another main point is to never lose hope in yourself or others. This is a powerful message to send to children considering, the issues we have been discussing in class. Combining my love for this movie and my new knowledge from class, an idea from our Chudacoff reading came to mind. “Advertisers quickly learned that they could merge a “backstory” of fantasy with a product to create a meaningful relationship between product and child.” (course packet) I realize this is not necessarily a product advertisement but this movie is definitely pro-imagination and the writers use this dramatic story line to drive home the point that children need imagination in their life.

We discussed in class whether or not children should tap in to this source of creativity when they play or if play should be focused more on productive ideas like easy bake ovens or toy work benches. My answer is no. The ability to be optimistic and make light of a challenging situation begins with the ability to see the good in everything. I believe this starts with the ability to be creative and expand the definition of real life.

A very important line from the movie is when Sara says “All girls are princesses”. This brings to mind the Free To Be You and Me readings and discussions. I believe this movie is very relevant to this piece. The story, “Ladies First” seems to say that girls should not claim to be ladies or princesses based on the entitlement that comes with it. However, this movie shows that this gender idea can be used for good to make a young, troubled girl feel special and loved.

 

Glitter Crayons

When I was about 4 years old, I received a set of glitter crayons from my friend Robbie in a pre-school class gift exchange. This may have changed the course of my life forever. That sounds dramatic, but my parents swear that glitter crayons were my entrance into the world of picture-making. Before, I only did indiscriminate scribble drawings, but after I got glitter crayons, I started making pictures. I had long explanations of what was happening in each drawing, which my mom dutifully inscribed on the back of the drawing. What was it about glitter crayons that attracted me so much? Well, the glitter, obviously. For kids (or at least for me), it heightens crayons from everyday color-making tools to a world of magical sparkling colors.

My first drawing with glitter crayons, December 1994.

With the glitter crayons, which were a novel item in the early nineties, I was inspired to create drawings as often as possible. Because of my newfound interest in art at age four, my mom signed me up for a parent-child art class at a local art museum one summer, and since that class, art has been a passion of mine.

Crayons in general are very important objects of childhood. Crayons are made specifically for children, and after childhood most people rarely use crayons. They are not regarded as a high art medium, although they have been used by a few artists in amazing ways. I think that crayons have impacted most of us more than we know, in how we think about, describe, and differentiate colors. Given to us by our parents as a non-toxic and easily removable medium to keep us busy, crayons are more than just that; they are generally our first experience in using color on our own.

Glitter Crayons, courtesy of crayoncollecting.com

“At Crayola, we are all about kids. Kids inspire us, our work, our products, our offices, and our culture. Our kid-inspired culture defines who we are and how we act, which enables us to be creative and allows us to think like the kids we delight everyday.”

Crayola was founded in 1885 as a company called Binney & Smith. In the first few years of the 20th century, they produced slate pencils and invented a dustless chalk to be used in schools which was extremely successful. In 1903 they came out with the first set of crayons under the name Crayola, an eight pack which sold for 5 cents. The name “crayola” came from “craie”, the French word for “chalk”,  and “ola” from “oleaginous” (oily/greasy).  According to crayoncollecting.com, glitter crayons were first released in 1993 (when I was 2 years old).

The idea of crayons as a childhood item connects directly to the course readings by Peter Stearns and Gary Cross. In the 20th century, when parents were more anxious about the development of the child and methods of parenting, “an array of new consumer products was aimed at children” (Stearns 3). Crayons are wholly an item of this 20th century phenomenon as they emerged on the market at the very beginning of the century and are still very popular today. It is also apparent in the above statement from Crayola’s website that they are completely marketing to kids.  Also, because of a “sense of responsibility for providing fun” (Stearns 5), these new consumer products were widely purchased by parents in the 20th century. Also, “a crucial shift involved consumer items for very young children” and “this new consumer practice both reflected and encouraged further commitments to the use of commercial toys to provide childhood pleasure” (Stearns 7). Crayons are commercially produced items that provide childhood pleasure; most people look back on crayons with some sense of nostalgia. The idea that “home should become an entertainment center of sorts” (Stearns pg8) emerged in this time, and Crayons were a way of keeping children entertained and busy. If one views crayons as a type of toy, one might think of them in terms of Gary Cross’s article in which he states that “playthings through the ages have served common purposes in introducing the young to the tools, experiences, and even emotional lives of their parents. But only in modern times have toys become primarily objects for children, props in a play world separated from adults” (Cross 44).

Model Airplanes

I’ve been in love with airplanes from the moment I was born. The hospital in which I was born lies on the approach path for my city’s international airport. A straight line from the center of the runway’s north end to the hospital would cover about 2 miles. My mum says that after I was born I cried incessantly, and the only thing that would soothe me was the screech of aircraft as they passed overhead. My first word was “avión”, Spanish for airplane. With this in mind, it came as no surprise to my family when toy airplanes became the toys I cherished the most.

The Approach to Toncontin Airport. The hospital where I was born is about 2 miles behind where this picture was taken. Photo credit to William Decker.

I liked every kind and brand of model plane, but had a particular fondness (granted, obsession) for models of Honduras’s national carrier, SAHSA. Planes in a Honduran airline’s colors are not exactly in high demand, so there wasn’t anyone making the planes other than the airline itself. They had models custom made for them by a model maker in Miami, then used them as displays in their local offices and in travel agencies. My grandfather was a stakeholder in the airline, so armed with that and the help of my charming smile I saw to it that a considerable amount of these models found their way into my possession. Back then (early 90’s) the models should have been about 75 bucks a pop, but considering SAHSA went bankrupt in 1994 they are virtually priceless now.

Model SAHSA Boeing 727 courtesy of ModelBuffs.com

Gary Cross mentions in the first paragraph of page 37 in “Modern Children, Modern Toys” (course packet page 55) that

“Toys were both vehicles to introduce the ‘real world’ and fantasy objects shut off from that world in the child’s ‘secret garden’.”

This perfectly sums up my experiences with my model planes. My playtime consisted of this: I would set up two “airports” on opposite tables across a room. I envisioned the floor as an ocean, and both the tables represented islands. I would then proceed to micromanage each “airport” using my imagination and my recollection of airport infrastructure. Each plane would “land” at an airport, then would be given time to unload its passengers on “stairs” (Honduras didn’t have jet ways at the time); the cargo would be taken to the imaginary terminal (usually a box of cereal lying flat), the jet would be refueled, new passengers loaded, then it would take off once again with the other “island” as its destination. As Cross mentioned above, I was in my own world of sorts, however I tried to make that world as similar to the real world as possible. During my playtime I did more than just mimic the real world though; I began to understand it. I realized why airplanes used radios to communicate with a control tower one day when I attempted to land one of my jets while another was just lining up with the runway for takeoff. Something that was easy for me to fix there, but would likely end in a horrifying accident in the real world.  Through having a line of models waiting to unload their passengers as a result of me not balancing out the arrivals and departures, I realized why airlines’ timescales were so dependent on the efficiency of many moving parts.  Keeping track of how many routes a particular plane had flown that day taught me to add. Balancing the routes flown so that all my “fleet” participated equally taught me to multiply, divide, and subtract. To quote Cross, I was learning “how to be productive through purposive play” (course packet, page 55). The creation of my own little world in which I could move all the pieces without any repercussions ultimately allowed me the freedom to understand and thus prepare for the world ahead on my terms. At least the airline world…

Christmas is all about family’s happiness

While I was reading “Modern Childhood, Modern Toys” by the Gary Cross, Cross argues that Christmas gifts are used as a tool to show parents’ wealth. Cross’ argument bothered me because what I experienced, I had different perspective about Christmas in America.  I felt that American’s Christmas culture is more focus on the children. When I came to America for the first time, I lived with families who have very Americanized life style and values.  My host mom ‘Debbie’, started to make Christmas wish-list for her children as days of Christmas was getting closer and closer. We shopped together for children’s gift. When Debbie tried to find perfect gift for her daughter, Debbie didn’t buy the gift to show her wealth. And also she didn’t care about what her neighbors thought about her family. She was excited to pick up her daughter’s gift rather than thinking that what their neighbor might say about them. On Christmas morning, her daughter un wrapped her gift and on her face she had the biggest smile and my host parents were happy that she liked it. This was my experience about Christmas in America and many commercial films cover this scene of family on Christmas morning.

In the Wal-Mart commercial film for Christmas 2010, children are using various ways to wake up their parents. They jump on the bed, shake their parents and they even try to make dad drink water to wake him up. In CF (commercial film), Story delivers message about how children are happy and trilled about Christmas gift and also how parents are happy to see their child excited about gift.

At this point, I disagree Perri Watts’ opinion on February 3, 2012 “Christmas: Is It Really About the Children?”  Perri said “Today, Christmas gifts are not necessarily about making the child happy, or giving them the toy they’ve been waiting for all year; it’s about keeping up with the Jones’ and making sure everyone in the neighborhood knows that you are wealthy and financially stable enough to give your family everything they want and more.”  Even though the price of gift might vary depends on family’s wealth and financial stability, happiness  of unwrapping Christmas gift in the morning for children is just same as parents picking gift for their kid. And Christmas is all about family’s happiness.

and children love~~~ their gift

 

Vicarious Consumption? Try Vicarious Happiness

When Gary Cross proposes that Christmas has sequestered from a time of celebrating the “nuclear family” (59) to a display of “vicarious consumption” through gift giving, I have to disagree. This view is vastly too cynical of the American people. A people that donated $290.89 billion to charities in 2010 (nps.gov), has companies such as Macy’s with their “Make a Wish, Believe” campaign, and that are emotionally moved by commercials that epitomize the  ”giving” Christmas spirit (tear jerker warning.) The underlying motivation around Christmas is not to display how well off one is financially. The underlying motivation is too make those around you, and especially children, happier. Witnessing the jubilance in children around Christmas is guaranteed to make your life more blissful. This eagerness to make one’s children joyful may seem to accumulate in the form of “vicarious consumption” but that is because in some instances to make younger children happier it requires buying the most up to date gadget or toy. Therefore, the end result of the gift is a display of proof, that yes, you can provide your child with happiness but the primary motivation was not to “peacock” your wealth, it results as a byproduct. A good analogy would be when you drive your car. The intentions are good. You want to go to work and add to society. However, the result of fossil fuels going into the air still occurs. You cannot stop this end result and you accept it without conscious thought. The same is true with the byproduct, of  providing your children with merriment, being produced as “vicarious consumption”.

This argument is hard to see today sometimes because the advertisers try too engulf us into this competitive “buy everything before everyone else” mindset around Christmas. From Targets “Black Friday Holiday Sales” commercials, to Best Buy’s “Game On Santa” campaign, it seems as though the media wants us competing for all that is consumer goods. Say you are persuaded by these ads, is it even a bad thing? We have to remember, that Target and Best Buy are not just abstract companies. Companies are made of people. When the company sales go down, employees get laid off and then those employees cannot provide a Happy Christmas for their children. It is the companies job to drive sales in whichever way they feel is best for this purpose.

To conclude, I post one last link of a kid going nuts over receiving a new Nintendo 64. After watching this video, if you still believe “vicarious consumption” is the main motivator in Christmas purchases, send me a PM. I would love to engage in some insightful discussion.

(*Final Note-in the first paragraph I state that kids want the newer, up to date gadgets and toys. This is not a bad thing. This is a natural phenomenon in humans. Without it we do not have WordPress as a medium to even discuss such issues. The desire to want newer and better materials leads to innovation that in the end will help everyone for a “rising tide raises all boats”) Read more