Neither by Airlie Anderson

Neither by Airlie Anderson
Purchased with grant funding for my library
Neither is a marvelously illustrated explosion of rainbow-piñata-jellybean-colors, bursting with cute and curious creatures. Neither is also a  sweetly subtle, entirely accessible, non-message-y story of acceptance and inclusion that readers will love and understand immediately. I discovered Anderson's book, which was published in February of 2018, while perusing Barnes & Noble's selection of LGBTQIA+ books for young readers during Pride Month. Neither is a great way to start a conversation about gender identity, gender norms and the gender spectrum. And, as I learned when I read it out loud to an audience of kids, ages 5 - 12, I realized (as one student blurted out "racist" a few pages into reading the book) that Neither is also a conversation starter for discussions about race, racism and xenophobia. If Neither had been published when I was a kid in the 70s, it would have been read as a book about being yourself (I'm back after falling down an internet rabbit hole reminiscing about Free to Be You and Me, and if you don't know what this is you MUST click on it) and loving everybody. So, if you don't know anything about Neither, please read it and be open to myriad ways that it addresses what, I think, if a primal facet of human nature that we all have to quiet in ourselves, the fear of and rejection of the other.
Neither begins, on the title page, with a sign pointing toward the Land of This and That. In the Land of This and That, there are only two kinds - blue bunnies and yellow birds. It is this and that, these and those, one or the other until... Keen eyes will notice, on the "until" page where the bunnies and birds are happily lined up, one blue bunny and one yellow bird with slight variations that are seemingly going unnoticed.

When a green bird with bunny ears and a fluffy tail hatches, everyone wants to know, "What kind are you?" The hatchling happily tells them, "I'm both!" But, in the Land of This or That, both is not an option and they tell the hatchling, "You must be neither!" Neither is not rabbity enough to play rabbit games, nor is Neither birdy enough to play bird games. Soon, the birds and the rabbits are telling Neither to find Somewhere Else, angrily shouting "neither" into the sky as Neither sadly flies off.
Landing, Neither meets a lavender colored creature that looks like a cross between a cat and a butterfly who tells Neither, "This isn't Somewhere Else, but you will fit in here." Neither is still worried, noticing that there are red, orange, yellow and blue creatures, but no green creatures. To this, they inhabitants of the Land of All exclaim, "Exactly!" And, when the two other "neithers" from the Land of This and That arrive asking for acceptance, Anderson's book becomes the magically joyful explosion of rainbow-piñata-jellybean-colors I mentioned at the start of this review.
Neither is a book that should be on every child's shelf. Neither should be given at every baby shower. Neither should be in every classroom and on the shelf of every library. 

Comments

I felt like this book could have gone farther than it did. It never really calls out the other birds and rabbits for their discrimination, and it seems almost like wish-fulfillment that there's this magical Land of All. Also, it seems like the inhabitants of the Land of All value their uniqueness quite a bit, such that it made me wonder what they would really do if all the identical rabbits or birds from the Land of This and That wanted to be included.

I didn't find the book very subtle, either. It wasn't over-the-top preachy, but it was pretty obvious in its message of inclusion. I wrote a longer review on my blog at http://www.drttmk.com/books/neither.
Tanya said…
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on NEITHER. Working with kids in kindergarten through fifth grade, I appreciated the simplicity of the story and message, as younger listeners could grasp it immediately. As Nelson Mandela said, "No one is born hating." Exclusion is a learned trait and teaching the value of inclusion and compassion from an early age and with simple concepts, like in NEITHER, can begin to address this. I definitely think it would be interesting to see what the creatures from the Land of All would do if the identical rabbits and birds wanted to be included, but I think it's a lot to ask to have that plot line included in a 32 page picture book in addition to the themes Anderson is already working with.

I read your review on your blog (and a few others) and appreciate your perspectives on picture books worth reading. As someone who has read picture books out loud as part of my profession (and to my own three kids) for over 25 years, I agree that a lot of what get's published isn't worth reading. However, I think you bring a lot of adult perspective and concepts to your criticisms, sometimes losing sight of what children are getting out of and need from of a given picture book. It's challenging, but I think important to keep the intended audience in mind when reading and reviewing, balancing that with your own personal adult tastes.
I appreciate your response. It's actually part of the point of my blog that I bring the adult perspective and concepts, since a lot of the time adults are the ones reading to the children. And since I'm not a child, I can't know what goes through their heads. I feel like a lot of times, children understand more than we give them credit for, and often things get dumbed down when they don't need to be. Not to say that Neither did that, just that a lot of the worst books do. I thought Neither was pretty solidly middle-of-the-road.