Trouble in Bustletown

Dec 18, 2020

Looking for a book for my granddaughter, age four, I came across My Busy Day, part of the Wimmelbook series. It appeared very similar to the German books (which are large-format wimmelbuchs) called, in English, All Around Bustletown. I knew about those because my daughter-in-law in the Netherlands had bought my granddaughter a Dutch edition (De Vrolijke Vier Seizoenen—Happiness in Four Seasons) of one of the German books last year. No words, just pages and pages of intricate illustrated vignettes, pictures of people in a small town going about their (formerly normal) business: shopping, walking their dogs, going to the dentist and, depending on the time of year, sledding or picking apples or sunbathing or gardening. If you look closely, you realize the same people appear over and over in different settings, giving the sense of a connected community and evolving relationships. My granddaughter was mesmerized by it last Christmas—the last time (sigh) I was with her in person.

Here is where I have to confess to shopping on Amazon for this year’s Christmas gifts. (I could plead advancing years and retreating mobility, but accept the criticism.) Interested in what my fellow countrymen had to say about these books so like the Bustletown ones hugely popular in Europe, I scrolled down to read the reviews of My Busy Day. There was a mix of “toddler’s favorite,” “another great one” and “never gets old.”

But what I also encountered was controversy. Apparently a gay couple is among the neighbors living inside My Busy Day. One reviewer, quoted verbatim, was outraged. My son likes books with details, and when i saw propogation of the homosexuality in this books, i said no no. This book should be teaching healthy families. Hope people will read this, and think twice before buying. Included in the review was a photo taken from the book of what is clearly meant to be a framed wedding portrait of two men, in tuxes, holding hands, on the wall of a home.

There was another review titled “Beware!”:  I would caution anyone purchasing this book that it has a gay couple in it as one of the families to follow.

The next review begged to differ, noting the book has a very diverse and inclusive cast of characters depicting things families do every day. A negative review pointed out that there’s a family with two dads. Yup. There are also grandparents, people of color, people in wheelchairs.

Further complicating the matter, someone else posted another positive review with this exception, again with photographic proof:  I found one picture rather inappropriate for something published in 2020. In the park scene, there is a little boy wearing a feather and shooting a plastic arrow at an older woman for a point of humor. 

So here, it seemed to me, was America in 2020. One side was objecting to a depiction of homosexuality as promoting nontraditional values they find unacceptable and from which children should be protected. Another side was praising the vision of diversity and inclusion it presented to the young. And there was even someone who recognized the inappropriate act of the little boy (although the reviewer did not mention the feather wearing—missing the stereotypical reference to Native Americans and bows and arrows. I hope we’re well past the time kids play cowboys and Indians.) The shooting of a toy rubber-tipped arrow, something that even a few years ago many of us might have seen as playful, now appears aggressive, mean. One can, though, imagine an adult asking a child, why do you think he did that? What do you think about it? How do you think she feels? A teachable moment, as they say.

But what of the umbrage at the gay couple? No discussion, just negation. Children shouldn’t see such things. A warning to others to beware. The people in this camp will need to hide their children from the sight of Mayor Pete, especially if he becomes Secretary of Transportation. To close the book on their gay and lesbian family members and friends and neighbors and workmates.

I know such bigotry exists and is ubiquitous online, yet was still surprised to come across it in an Amazon review.  To know at least two people were so incensed that they needed to warn the world about it in this forum. To realize that they are raising their children that way. It was just a small reminder of the divide in our country that will take a long time to heal, as another generation grows up with their reading censored, educated in intolerance.