Gender-swapping is a massive trend right now, and it sometimes seems like 2015 was the year that started it all — but Alan Taylor, a senior editor at The Atlantic, just pointed out a gender-swapped children’s book all the way back from the 1980s. Richard Scarry’s The Best Word Book Ever was originally published in 1963, and while it was charming, it’s fair to say it was more than a little old-fashioned. (Like, “women belong in the kitchen” old-fashioned.) But if you were to pick up a copy today, you’d notice some rather significant changes.
Richard Scarry wasn’t a bad dude; he was just raised in a very different world. So when he first wrote his best-selling picture book, he revealed some less-than-progressive views on race and gender. During the '70s, this didn’t go down too well with parents, who were reluctant to teach their children that the lady cats always had to wear dresses and look pretty, while the male cats were allowed to take jobs as pilots or fire-fighters. So as early as 1980, Richard Scarry started updating his illustrations to become more inclusive. That’s right, gender-swapping was a thing before millennials were a thing.
Scarry kept making more changes to The Best Word Book Ever right up until he died, tackling the restrictive gender roles and racial stereotypes he had originally portrayed. And when Alan Taylor compared his own beloved 1963 edition to the 1991 edition he bought for his kids, he started to notice how positive these changes were. The most interesting changes can be found in Taylor’s Flickr album.
Not everyone is on the same page about gender-swapping today. Some people love the idea of a female James Bond, or putting women in Ocean’s 11 — whereas some see it as problematic to suggest women can only take starring roles if men have already led the way. This debate is certainly relevant when aimed at an adult audience who already have knowledge of the original — but of course, when we’re talking about books for children forming their first understanding of the world, it’s a totally different conversation. And making sure that children aren’t exposed to race or gender stereotypes during their most formative years seems pretty crucial to me.
So it’s great that Richard Scarry gender-swapped The Best Word Book Ever , and made further changes to make it more inclusive (such as including Hanukkah right alongside Christmas). And it’s something I’d like to see a lot more of. Thomasina the Tank Engine perhaps? Fireman Samantha? I could do this all day...
Image: Liz Minch/Bustle