My mom bought a Highlights High Five subscription for Abraham a few years ago. He loves it, and I make sure to leave it in the mailbox for his retrieval each time a new issue arrives. Reading to Abraham is always great fun, but I am quite conscious of how difficult it is to find books that feature father/child interaction. The percentage is terribly small relative to books with moms in them. Once upon a time I Asked Metafilter for recommendations of books with heavily featured fathers, and received quite a few great titles that I’ve since added to our library.
In the two years Abraham has had his High Five subscription, I noticed a similar trend and finally decided to write a letter to the editor about it. It went much better than I expected. Our exchange is below, shared with her permission.
My 4 year old son and I look forward with great anticipation to receiving our monthly subscription to High Five. He immediately tears out all of the little ads just like I did with my Highlights subscription when I was his age. At first his favorite section was the hidden pictures (again, just like me), but now as he’s starting to read a bit, he enjoys Tex and Indi the most.
Your magazine helps provide a lot of fun, educational, quality time with my boy. As a single parent, I try to maximize those attributes when we play together. Thank you so much for the excellent work you and your staff do each month.
There’s only one aspect of the magazine’s content that bothers me: the distinct lack of involved dads in most issues. In the most current issue (October 2012) there are only two pages (12, 16) with a father present. In contrast, mothers and female figures are involved in much of the rest of this issue (pp. 2, 4, 7–8, 13, 20, 22–23, 26, 30) and most others. I make a distinction between “presence” and “involvement” here, because when fathers appear in your magazine, they’re often not actively engaged with caring and learning with the children. For example, in the current issue, the Papa squirrel on page 16 is just being watched by the child squirrel, they aren’t burying nuts together.
This is not an issue that affects your magazine alone; I have a heck of a time finding children’s books that feature father/child interaction as well.
I think if you begin to include more involved dads in your magazine you will provide an example to all children that dads can be involved in their kid’s lives. Additionally, you will be teaching little boys that they can and should be involved with their own children one day.
It might be nice to start with Tex and Indi’s dad. I assumed their mom was a single parent for quite a few issues until dad made a brief appearance.
I’d be happy to correspond with you further in this regard and the boy and I are already eagerly awaiting the November issue.
A few days later I received this response:
Thank you so much for writing. I’m pleased to hear that you and your son are enjoying High Five. And I’m sorry that since you’ve been subscribing, you’ve noticed a lack of fathers in our stories.
I can tell you that in November, Dad helps Tex and Indi make the Thanksgiving stuffing, and in the verse a mom and a dad and their son help make a pumpkin pie. Then, in December, in the English/Spanish story, a little girl goes out in the snow with her Dad. There’s no indication that there is a Mom in that story. We also publish stories about Bert and Beth who live with their grandfather. We do try to make sure that all kids see themselves reflected in the pages of our magazine, and that includes different types of families.
But I’m also very glad to have heard from you. Your letter prompted me to swap out a Mom and replace her with a Dad in a story that will appear in early spring. It’s always good to be reminded — so thanks for taking the time to write.
What a great response! I half-expected some sort of form letter, but instead I received thoughtfulness, understanding, and specific examples addressing my issue. And the icing on the cake is a little bit more “dad” in the magazine. It’s nice to know that Highlights still has the best interests of children at heart. This response even mitigates the nearly unforgivable fact that they never did publish my Ram Bo Jackson drawing that I sent in when I was 8.