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.