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Review of the Day: Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle by Pija Lindenbaum

MiniMia Review of the Day: Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle by Pija LindenbaumMini Mia and Her Darling Uncle
By Pija Lindenbaum
Translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard
R & S Books (distributed by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
$16.00
Ages 4 and up
On shelves today

There are so few good quality picture books with gay characters in them that, quite frankly, it’s a bit shocking.  When people come into my library looking for “non-traditional families” it’s pretty much And Tango Makes Three or nuthin’.  Any book where the entire point of the narrative is a didactic look at how everybody’s okay is going to suffer.  You just can’t make a good story that’s interesting to kids that way.  Far better would be to go the route of Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle.  Now there is a book that knows what it’s doing.  Written and illustrated by the always interesting Pija Lindenbaum, the tale about the simple jealousy of a child makes for as good a story about acceptance as anyone could hope for.

When her parents are vacationing in Miami, that means that Ella a.k.a. Mini Mia gets to hang out with her favorite Uncle Tommy.  Tommy’s just so much fun to hang out with.  He’ll sometimes dye Mini Mia’s hair a different color every day or take her to the opera or let her people-watch with him.  So imagine Mia’s shock when she strolls into Tommy’s kitchen one day only to find someone else there.  Someone by the name of Fergus.  Mia takes an instant dislike to this stranger and to her chagrin he goes with her and Tommy everywhere.  He’s obviously a dweeb and who cares that he’s really good at diving?  Yet when Tommy comes down with a cold, Mia finds herself stuck with the unwanted tagalong.  Fortunately for the both of them Fergus discovers that while they may not have much in common, there is always the all inclusive game of soccer to put everything right.
Pija Lindenbaum was actually already on my “non-traditional family” radar with her previous book Else-Marie and the Seven Little DaddiesElse-Marie was a much weirder story overall, of course.  It concerned a girl and a family that consisted of her mother and seven pint-sized men, who all happened to be Else-Marie’s father.  Mini Mia, in comparison, is downright sober in comparison.  There is the brief weirdness of Tommy’s three brothers, all of whom happen to look very square and exactly alike.  Also there’s a moment when Mini Mia is changing in a women’s locker room where a very large and very naked derrier is exiting the page just to the left of the frame, but on the whole that’s all I could find that looked odd.   Of course, Else-Marie isn’t particularly well-known which accounts for why it hasn’t been censored left, right, and center.  Mini Mia, in contrast, is definitely going to attract some heat.  Well bring it on, I say!   Technically this is still a remarkably tame book.  Tommy and Fergus don’t do much more than talk.  They don’t live together or smooch or even mention that they’re gay.  The only indication you have of their relationship (other than the fact that Fergus is always around and talking to Tommy) is the final image in the book.  There you can see the men with arms entwined with a super satisfied Mia sitting contentedly between them.

I like that this kind of story is normally seen when the plot centers around a single parent dating.  Mia’s jealousy is clear as clear can be.  She may not be able to identify why she finds Fergus’s presence so annoying, but what does seem clear is that Tommy’s attention is definitely being misdirected elsewhere.  You also could argue that her naughty behavior (which never gets too bad) is more attention-seeking than anything else.  I’ve always enjoyed Lindenbaum’s drawing style too.  If you didn’t know that this book was originally published in Sweden I’d doubt that it would occur to you.  Once you know, of course, then it’s the only thing you can see.  Buying bags of chips in a movie theater?  Odd.  The shape of the well-designed tulip chairs in the coffee shop?  Definitely chic.  The fact that the aforementioned movie theater appears to have a unisex bathroom?  Yeah, it’s very Swedish but all the more amusing when you get into it.

Soon enough I’ll be bugging my library to add Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle, to my library shelves as soon as humanly possible.  Picture books where the fact that someone is gay is incidental to the action are few and far between.  For its subtlety, grace, and ribald sense of humor I’m propping up Lindenbaum’s latest as perhaps my favorite foreign language picture book of the year.  Now let’s see what we can do about some halfway decent picture books with lesbians in them . . .

Other Blog Reviews: Worth the Trip and Pinot and Prose

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Andrew Ogus says:

    Absolutely right! I’m so tired of pedantic books with pious little lessons about how being different is “fabulous,”, whether written by out celebrities or not. Incidental gayness is good! I’m going to look for this one.

  2. Francis Strand says:

    Pija Lindenbaum is great! Here in Sweden, her Bridget series is quite popular… and I was so excited to find her book about mommy-burnout – When Owen’s Mom Breathed Fire – which was perfect for my nephew Owen. My only comlaint is that the translations could be even better than they are, I think. In Swedish, the language has a bit more zing to it.

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