By Lindsay Amer
Made by Raffi is a picture book for the early-elementary schooler in your life about a boy who likes to knit and sew: it’s as simple as that. Craig Pomranz’s story is sweet and uplifting, Margaret Chamberlain’s illustrations are bright and playful, and Raffi’s supposedly “girly” interests are, refreshingly, no big deal. His newfound interests are just another part of who he is, and nothing more. Made by Raffi is a perfect breath of fresh air for storytime, best read with a rainbow scarf wrapped snugly around your neck.
The joy of this book is how Raffi can just be Raffi! He can just be himself and enjoy knitting a scarf or making a royal cape for the school play. His teacher Ms. Fernandez shows him how to knit during recess one day, and he immediately falls in love with the yarn and clinking needles. He knits his dad a long rainbow scarf for his birthday and pays no mind to a few jeers on the bus ride to school. When he asks his mom if he’s “weird,” or “strange,” or “girly,” she tells Raffi he’s “very… Raffi.” Raffi is Raffi and there’s nothing “weird” or “strange” about that.
At first, Raffi feels just a little bit different from his classmates, but he learns that his differences are nothing to be ashamed of. He realizes that being different isn’t a bad thing at all—it’s something to celebrate! This lesson is beautifully subtle and heartfelt; acknowledging that people might assume knitting is “girly” but moving swiftly past that small hurdle so that the reader can see Raffi’s talents celebrated, not just by his parents but by his whole class! Raffi runs home to expertly sew together a princely cape for the school play and when he brings it in the next day, he’s the talk of the class. Now everyone wants something “made by Raffi!”
We need more books like Made by Raffi. We need more books that normalize difference. Boys can knit sweaters and wear pink, and girls can climbs trees and scrape their knees. Kids shouldn’t have to abide by arbitrary gender roles. Kids should be able to do whatever they like, with whatever they like, wearing whatever they like. We should encourage kids to discover new things and explore their true passions, no matter their gender. Who decided that knitting was “girly” and why should it matter? What harm does Raffi do by taking up knitting? None at all. We need more books that challenge these gender stereotypes. We need more books that celebrate kids like Raffi who just want to knit their dad a rainbow scarf for his birthday.
Lindsay is a New York-based artist making queer content for kids! You can check out her newest project, Queer Kid Stuff, an LGBTQ+ educational webseries for the kiddos on YouTube. She is also a founder and Co-Artistic Director for Bluelaces Theater Company, creating multi-sensory work for individuals with developmental differences. She holds a BS in Theatre (with a minor in Gender Studies) from Northwestern University and an MA in Theater and Performance from Queen Mary University of London. When she’s not completely overwhelmed by adulthood, she’s probably plotting ways to overthrow the patriarchy while playing her ukulele. Follow her on Twitter @thelamerest