A new children’s book is out which is supposed to teach about celebrating everyone’s differences. It features a young prince who has Down syndrome. The Prince Who Was Just Himself , written by Silke Schnee and illustrated by Heike Sistig, is about a royal family who has a third child who is not like his two older brothers. They notice things that are different and special about him. Eventually he saves the town from an evil knight by showing his unique compassion.
As a mother of a five year old son who has Down syndrome, you’d think I’d applaud a book which celebrates differences and teaches people to value the differences in each of us. However, I found the book stereotypical and offensive.
The thing is people try to lump all people who have Down syndrome into one group with similar outdated characteristics such as – they are happy all the time, they are “slow”, they can’t be hurt by your ignorant remarks, they are uncoordinated.
In the book, when the towns people snickered that the little prince was “different” and “not like us,” the book says the little prince “only smiled at the them and was happy to be out in the sun” – as if people with Down syndrome can’t get their feelings hurt from the cruel remarks of others. As if they don’t long to belong in a community and have friendships and be accepted for who they are.
The book described the prince as “not being very good at running and jumping,” that he was “never in a hurry,” and he “hardly ever used words or sentences.” Yet, today, people with Down syndrome can learn, read, write and speak in sentences. They have interests, talents, hobbies, and jobs. They compete in special olympics and even on typical sports teams, they run, wrestle, cheer, dance and lift weights. And I know from experience, when my son is determined to do something or go somewhere, I can barely catch up!
The point is to create awareness and acceptance we don’t need to highlight and generalize stereotypical differences in people, we need to illustrate their humanity, their beauty and their individualism.
Published by Penguin books, the Prince Who Was Just Himself was well-intended but misses the mark.
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