- Big Bob, Little Bob
- written by James Howe
- illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
- published by Candlewick Press (2016)
- Roar Score: 5/5
James Howe wrote my favorite series of books as a kid, which also happens to be the world’s best series about a vampire bunny and his fellow housepets: Bunnicula!
Seriously, the Bunnicula series was right up there with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books and Choose Your Own Adventure as my reliable go-to books. The books haven’t aged at all, and they’re just as entertaining and fun in 2016 as they were in 1986.
But James Howe is so much more than Bunnicula. He’s written close to 100 books, which is simply astonishing, and his books cover a spectrum of styles and genres: picture books, children’s nonfiction, beginning reader chapter books, kids novels, YA fiction, and screenplays.
And Big Bob, LIttle Bob – his newest picture book – might be one of his most personal. And the message contained in these 30 pages is also incredibly important for kids to hear, maybe more so now than ever before.
In a bit of self-promotion, I highly recommend listening to my conversation with James Howe. We go in depth about the importance of representation, his own struggles with coming out as gay, and why the themes of this book are particularly relevant.
Howe opens Big Bob, Little Bob with this dedication:
To my parents, who got who I was, and got me the dolls I asked for.
This dedication is the perfect foundation for the book, which is about two neighbors (named Bob) who couldn’t be more opposite. Big Bob is loud, likes to play rough, and enjoys stereotypical “boy” things like cars, trucks, and dirt. By contrast, Little Bob is quiet and introspective, plays with stuffed animals and dolls, and sometimes enjoys wearing dresses (“They feel nice.”) and jangly bracelets.
Despite all of their differences, they still find a way to be friends and respect each other. They learn to ignore gender norms and see each other as people – not stereotypes. They see past the behavior that society has told them is normal (“Didn’t anybody ever tell you that boys do not play with dolls?”) and find their way to acceptance.
Kids do this easily. Kids are completely comfortable questioning everything about the world around them and smashing cultural norms. Kids easily find common ground with other people and look past their perceived differences.
It’s adults who find this difficult.
There are plenty of books that tell kids “girls can do anything they want.” Books that say “boys can do anything they want,” when “anything” includes playing with dolls and wearing a dress? Not so much.
Likewise, there aren’t many picture books that teach kids to ignore gender norms and do whatever makes them happy. Big Bob, Little Bob is all three of these things. And it’s a brilliantly beautiful book that deserves to be on every little boy’s bookshelf.
(Disclosure: Candlewick provided me with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)