Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Men Fox & Helen Oxenbury

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Men Fox & Helen Oxenbury

Oh, the delights of this book! Fox’s rhymes and Oxenbury’s illustrations are nothing short of a magical concoction.

In my initial readings of this book, the words that held the most allure to me were what the narrator tells her child, about him “being truly divine”. Not a day goes by without me impressing upon D what a “precious child” he is and how he is “such a blessing” to me. He also knows he is a “cutie patootie” and “the most beautiful child in the world to me”.

D’s infancy was filled with only a handful of playdates with a child four days younger than him, made possible by this other child’s warm, fun-loving mum who lived in our condo building in North York, exactly 25 floors above our unit. D and I noticed this book in her child’s beautifully decorated nursery. This fellow mum, originally from India and married to a Canadian Jew, promptly said, “I love this book. It speaks volumes about diversity.” It was only then that I realised the true import and message of this wonderful story.

Look at D, Australian by birth and now growing up in Canada, prompt to run out and play in the yard in the summers and now (mostly) patient enough to clad himself in layers of warmth in the winters. Look at all the children, who couldn’t care if another child had brown hair while theirs was black, to whom it doesn’t make a difference if their parents have skin the colour of earth and their neighbours are white as the moon.

This brings to mind a short film that was screened during my MBA orientation program. The film showed how infants and toddlers the world over are identical in their behaviours, and cultural and societal differences in their upbringing pull them apart from this common core as they grow up. Whether they come to appreciate and celebrate these differences or be wary of and shun anyone who is unlike them rests so much on us as parents. There’s also the more famous Brown eyes, Blue eyes experiment conducted by Jane Elliott that addresses the themes of racism and diversity.

Coming back to Fox and Oxenbury, this is also the book that made D amenable to wiping his running nose because a sweet little baby in the story offers a towel to another who “suffered from sneezes and chills”. Our recent bedtime readings of this story involves all three of us wiggling our fingers at “ten little fingers” and lifting our legs to wiggle our toes at “ten little toes”. D makes sure both KrA and I participate with unbridled enthusiasm in this act of displaying our digits. And when we reach the end, my little wonder turns his face to me so that I can give him “three little kisses on the tip of” his “nose”.