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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Mr. Men Little Miss Books Stand the (Silly, Splendid, Topsy-Turvy) Test of Time

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“I remember them as sweet little funny books, and they certainly reflect the lives of the child who’s reading it or the parent reading it to them, but it really is so gendered,” said Lisa Von Drasek, the curator of the Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature at the University of Minnesota. “The gendered girlie stuff for Little Miss and the gendered masculine stuff for Mr. Men all could be Mx. You could have girlie Mx and masculine Mx. What better way to celebrate than reflect present day and include all children?”

In a possible nod to such concerns, Little Miss Inventor, an engineer, was introduced in 2018. Earlier this year, an online contest was held to name new characters, and Mr. Calm and Little Miss Brave won. Their books were published in September.

“Little Miss Brave and Mr. Calm are not necessarily stereotypes,” said Casey Nugent, an associate publishing manager at Penguin Random House, the series’ U.S. publisher. “It’s saying girls can be brave and strong, and boys can relax and be meditative. There’s a growing tradition in these books to buck standards as time goes on.”

In October, Endeavor Content, the production arm of the entertainment and sports conglomerate Endeavor, struck a deal with Sanrio to create a Mr. Men Little Miss television series.

“The events of the last two years have really highlighted for us how young children, now more than ever, need a way to better understand themselves and their feelings,” said Tamara Rothenberg, a senior vice president at Endeavor. “We see Mr. Men Little Miss as an absolutely incredible way to facilitate that understanding and conversation though a fun and playful brand.”

Adam Hargreaves keeps the original “Mr. Tickle” boxed in a drawer in his studio. It’s written with Magic Marker on cardboard, the same size as the books today, and bound with gaffer tape. Of all the characters in the series, he said, his father is best embodied by Mr. Silly.

“If you have a character like Mr. Grumpy or Little Miss Naughty, there’s a comeuppance at the end. There’s sort of a small moral or lesson learned from the book, but I don’t think that’s the principal driving idea behind them,” he said. “It’s about entertaining and amusing children.”

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