Newberys Read This Year: 15
Newberys Left for Goal: 0
Newberys Left for Total: 14
Book: Spork by Kyo Maclear
Ordinarily, I regard a spork as a rather useless utensil. They are plastic, usually provided by a fast-food restaurant, and something I automatically throw away, choosing to use my own spoon or fork as needed. After reading this book, however, I just may treat the spork with a little more respect.
In this story, our character Spork has a spoon for a mother and a fork for a father. His parents think him perfect as he is, but others do not really accept him. The forks think he’s too much like a spoon, and the spoons that he is too much like a fork. When he tries to be more fork-like, he actually alienates the spoons, and vise-versa when he tries to be more spoon-like. Poor guy just cannot win, and he never gets invited to the table because he’s just too different and no one really knows what to do with him. When a baby arrives on the scene, a baby who cannot really use either a fork or spoon, Spork is just what he needs. The baby brings Spork to the table, making the mixed utensil feel useful and happy.
Usually, I am somewhat skeptical of “message” picture books. Either the message is too heavy-handed, or the “story” used to impart the message is too forced (or uninteresting), or the author tries too hard to make the reader go “awwwwww…” None of those scenarios were present here. In fact, I wished this book had been around over 25 years ago when I started my teaching career.
In 1989, I was a first-year teacher in a predominantly black school. That year I had Brianna, a lovely second grader with a black father and a white mother. The following year I had Amber, also with a white mother and black father. To my untrained white-girl eye, I did not recognize Brianna as biracial until I met her parents. Amber, however, was different. Her skin was golden, her hair was dark but “white” in appearance. In the following years I had Edward (Brianna’s brother), Brian, and later his sister Lindsay, all of whom I instantly recognized as being of multiple races. There are likely others, but these are the kids that stand out in my memory. I don’t remember any of them being treated differently by the other kids, but I could have just been unaware of it.
Eventually, I had Rosa, a sweet, light-skinned black girl who shocked me one day by wearing a shirt that said “100% Black Child.” My first thought when I saw that shirt was about the biracial kid I had in my class (I think it was the year I had Edward) and how hurtful it must be for him. I respect Rosa’s right to wear the shirt and I respect her being proud of her heritage (although, to be honest, she was so light-skinned it’s likely that the shirt was actually not true in her case), but it saddens me that her pride in herself likely came at the cost of another child’s self-esteem. Edward would never have been mistaken for white, and here was someone else indirectly telling him he wasn’t really black either. I suppose it was the first time I truly realized that multiracial kids probably feel that they don’t belong anywhere.
How I would have welcomed Spork on that day! In a sweet and non-preachy way, Miss Maclear, herself Asian and white, teaches us that we all have value, that we all want to belong and be accepted, and that being all of one thing is no better than being some of one and some of another. Fortunately, being multiracial is far more prevalent now than 25+ years ago and acceptance is likely greater today than it was then. But there is still a ways to go, and I have no doubt that Spork will help many children feel good about themselves. But for Brianna, Edward, Amber, Brian, Lindsay, all the multiracial kids that followed, and for Rosa, I dedicate my appreciation of this book to you.