This week marked the start of Black History Month which led me down a reflective path. I began to think about the lack of Black History in the classrooms and the lack of Black faces in television, literature, and toys during my childhood. As I struggled to remember the first time I ever saw a Black girl in a children’s book, I remembered adorable Corduroy. The thought of Corduroy and Lisa made me smile. I loved teddy bears and Lisa was the first Black girl in a book who sort of looked like me who loved stuffed animals as much as I loved them.
Don Freeman wrote and illustrated this book. I have never researched his life beyond the book’s cover, but now in my adulthood I think that maybe I should delve deeper into his life story. This book was first published in 1968 only four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His depiction of a happily integrated department store in or around 1968 seemed normal to me as a little girl in the early 70’s, but now I believe that he wrote about a world that many dreamed of experiencing. I found a website, donfreeman.info, that introduced Don Freeman the musician, author, artist, performer, and friend. He endeared friends of the darker hue and the stories on this site suggested that they like him were artists who welcomed a diverse friend circle.
I read the book today to refresh my memory about the story line. Lisa spotted Corduroy at the end of a shopping trip with her mom. There was no money left to fund the teddy bear purchase. Lisa didn’t throw a tantrum. Instead of a tantrum or begging, Lisa evaluated her primary source of income – her piggy bank. She knew that sweet Corduroy wanted to go home with her as much as she wanted to take him home so she returned the next day with just enough money. Lisa didn’t know that Corduroy spent the night before searching the store for a button that was missing from his green overalls. His exploration did not result in the recovery of the button and he believed the missing button would preclude him from being selected. This book demonstrated a cool lesson on imperfection being the perfect connector of human spirits. Don Freeman also taught a lesson about the commonality and pureness of a child’s spirit regardless of the color of the child’s skin.
I loved the innocence of this story. I loved the civility of the characters in a recently integrated department store. I loved that Don Freeman wrote a timeless, priceless tale of friendship. This book highlighted the potential of humankind to embrace things and people with visible differences even if the social or political climate advocate for exclusion and separation. My parents worked hard to find books, toys, and experiences that enabled me to see girls and women who looked like me doing cool things in an effort to engrain in my mind that I cool do some cool things too. At that time, it was easier to find books, toys, and media with people who didn’t look like me so I appreciate their intentional acts to educate, empower, and enlighten me about myself and the world around me.