When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children's Classic and the Difference It Made

When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children's Classic and the Difference It Made

by Lori Rotskoff, Laura L. Lovett
     
 

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If you grew up in the era of mood rings and lava lamps, you probably remember Free to Be . . . You and Me—the groundbreaking children's record, book, and television special that debuted in 1972. Conceived by actress and producer Marlo Thomas and promoted by Ms. magazine, it captured the spirit of the growing women's movement and inspired girls

Overview

If you grew up in the era of mood rings and lava lamps, you probably remember Free to Be . . . You and Me—the groundbreaking children's record, book, and television special that debuted in 1972. Conceived by actress and producer Marlo Thomas and promoted by Ms. magazine, it captured the spirit of the growing women's movement and inspired girls and boys to challenge stereotypes, value cooperation, and respect diversity. In this lively collection marking the fortieth anniversary of Free to Be . . . You and Me, thirty-two contributors explore the creation and legacy of this popular children's classic.
Featuring a prologue by Marlo Thomas, When We Were Free to Be offers an unprecedented insiders' view by the original creators, as well as accounts by activists and educators who changed the landscape of childhood in schools, homes, toy stores, and libraries nationwide. Essays document the rise of non-sexist children's culture during the 1970s and address how Free to Be still speaks to families today.
Contributors are Alan Alda, Laura Briggs, Karl Bryant, Becky Friedman, Nancy Gruver, Carol Hall, Carole Hart, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Joe Kelly, Cheryl Kilodavis, Dionne Kirschner, Francine Klagsbrun, Stephen Lawrence, Laura L. Lovett, Courtney Martin, Karin A. Martin, Tayloe McDonald, Trey McIntyre, Peggy Orenstein, Leslie Paris, Miriam Peskowitz, Deesha Philyaw, Abigail Pogrebin, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Robin Pogrebin, Patrice Quinn, Lori Rotskoff, Deborah Siegel, Jeremy Adam Smith, Barbara Sprung, Gloria Steinem, and Marlo Thomas.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this stunning examination of the cultural impact of Marlo Thomas's classic record album and book, an imposing array of scholars, artists, and activists explain how one set of childhood ideals—highly critical of gender stereotypes and strongly supportive of individuality, tolerance and free play—gave way to today's world of helicopter parents and a commercial culture which inundates young girls with princess fantasies and boys with images of violent, muscled men. Riveting and timely."—Steven Mintz, Columbia University, author of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

"An unprecedented insiders' view by the original creators, as well as accounts by activists and educators who changed the landscape of childhood in schools, homes, toy stores, and libraries nationwide."
-Forces of Geek

"Recommended. All levels/libraries."
-Choice

"Readers familiar with the original record or book, both still available, and researchers interested in social, gender, and media studies will appreciate this work."
-Library Journal

"A moving reminder that the women's movement was and is ardently pro-child. These fascinating reminiscences and timely essays about what still needs doing to make our children truly 'free to be' will have you singing the songs again—or discovering the joy of learning them."—Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: the Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s

"Finally, a book that takes seriously the kids' record that altered the way a generation saw the world and itself. When We Were Free to Be will likely take you back in time, but the story it tells is of a remarkable moment, in which children were entrusted to shape the future. An exhilarating book about an exhilarating (and catchy!) piece of our popular culture."—Rebecca Traister, staff writer for Salon and author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women

"This collection of essays . . . celebrates, contextualizes, and evaluates the meaning and legacy of Free to Be . . . You and Me as memory and history. . . . [It] offer[s] nuanced assessments and critiques from adult children of the 1970s reflecting on the legacy of Free to Be's vision and promise in their own lives. . . . [When We Were Free to Be] recognizes this work for what it is and deserves to be—a vital historical source for understanding the history of American women, children, and American culture in the 1970s and a defining classic of my generation."
-Women's Studies

"Like the children's classic that inspired it, When We Were Free to Be is a groundbreaking cultural critique wrapped in an inspiring, funny, and creative package. It's filled with incisive reflections on the long-lasting impact of Free to Be and the legacy of feminism. Nothing like it exists."—Christina Baker Kline, author of novels and nonfiction books, including Bird in Hand

"Like any compilation, some entries are more compelling than others, but overall I really liked the extremely broad approach, ranging from behind-the-scenes accounts of the original production to critiques of how well the material has held up in terms of the changing social values. Anyone interested in nonsexist child rearing or the history of women's liberation should pick this up."
-Sarah Holt, Children's Book Buyer, Left Bank Books, St. Louis

"How wonderful it is to see the paths taken by the younger contributors to this book—the ones who were children when Free to Be was first released. Reading about their journeys delighted and inspired me."—Marlo Thomas, from the Prologue

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807837238
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
11/27/2012
Edition description:
1
Pages:
344
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
How wonderful it is to see the paths taken by the younger contributors to this book—the ones who were children when Free to Be was first released. Reading about their journeys delighted and inspired me.—Marlo Thomas, from the Prologue

Finally, a book that takes seriously the kids' record that altered the way a generation saw the world and itself. When We Were Free to Be will likely take you back in time, but the story it tells is of a remarkable moment, in which children were entrusted to shape the future. An exhilarating book about an exhilarating (and catchy!) piece of our popular culture.—Rebecca Traister, staff writer for Salon and author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women

It was hard to change the laws keeping women from equal opportunity. But it's harder still to overcome the internal, culturally learned barriers that lock women—and men—into self-limiting roles at work, at home, and in civic leadership. Free to Be showed my daughters they had the power to lead their own dreams. Now, in passionate and touching personal accounts, When We Were Free to Be shows how profoundly this one book has empowered an entire generation.—Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power

In this stunning examination of the cultural impact of Marlo Thomas's classic record album and book, an imposing array of scholars, artists, and activists explain how one set of childhood ideals—highly critical of gender stereotypes and strongly supportive of individuality, tolerance and free play—gave way to today's world of helicopter parents and a commercial culture which inundates young girls with princess fantasies and boys with images of violent, muscled men. Riveting and timely.—Steven Mintz, Columbia University, author of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

A revolutionary document breaks with the past, yes, but it also exposes the former taken-for-grantedness of the world it's displacing. Free to Be was a declaration of independence for children's dreams, unshackled by archaic stereotypes that had once seemed timeless truths. That it is seen by some today as obvious or naive is because it so utterly supplanted the previous mindset. This marvelous collection reminds us of that paradigm shift, still gently iconoclastic, while reminding us how far we have yet to go.—Michael Kimmel, author of The Gendered Society

Meet the Author

Lori Rotskoff teaches at the Barnard Center for Research on Women and is author of Love on the Rocks: Men, Women, and Alcohol in Post@-World War II America.

Laura L. Lovett is associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890@-1938.

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