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Why Kids Love Books About Butts, Poop, and Farts

“Do they have to learn something?” she asked. “Do adults expect to learn lessons from the books they enjoy? Do adults want to read fiction about well-behaved people?”

“Entertainment is the life lesson in reading to kids,” said Dr. Klass.

Many subversive children’s books challenge convention, labels and authority and celebrate individuality. “When Aidan Became a Brother,” by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, centers on a transgender boy. It has been removed from some library shelves for being “inappropriate.”

Meena Harris wrote the best-selling “Ambitious Girl,” illustrated by Marissa Valdez, after her aunt, Vice President Kamala Harris, was described as “too ambitious.” Ms. Harris said she wrote the book to turn the criticism into a compliment.

“The core message and idea behind ‘Ambitious Girl’ — that you tell people who you are, not the other way around — is one of defiance, subverting these deeply-ingrained ideas about what girls and women ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be, and then flipping the script,” Ms. Harris said in an email. “Reclaiming words that society hurls as insults, especially toward young women of color, is both powerful and empowering.”

In a new book “Not a Cat,” written by Winter Miller and illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff, the lead character is Gato, who certainly looks like a gray and white house cat. But Gato feels the word “cat” doesn’t fully describe him. He swims like a duck, enjoys flowers like a bee, eats grass like a cow and rides the subway and wears sunglasses like a person. It’s a fun, furry lesson in rejecting labels and exploring one’s own identity.

“I do think my book is subversive, and delightedly so,” said Ms. Miller, who is also a playwright and previously worked for The Times. “My hope is that parents look at Gato and his adorable subversion of expectations and realize this is just as true for people. We all want permission to explore our boundaries of self and the celebration of what we find. As adults we should nurture children to grow up as they are, not as we or anyone else wishes them to be.”

But unfortunately for educators, supporting certain children’s books can be risky.

Toby Price, the assistant principal in Mississippi who was fired after reading “I Need a New Butt” to a class of second graders over Zoom, will be attending the second day of an appeal hearing on Monday, but he’s not optimistic that the decision will be reversed. The book is about a little boy who notices a crack in his butt and thinks he needs a new one because it’s broken. Mr. Price was told that reading the book violated the school district’s code of ethics, showed poor judgment and was unprofessional.

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