Trista Hendren, author of The Girl God and Mother Earth, has written a deeply necessary book: Tell Me Why, a book for boys that explains why the divine feminine is important for boys and men. In Ms. Hendren’s previous books for children, a little girl, Helani Claire, is the questioning child. Here, the child at the center of the story is a boy, Joey. Just as Helani Claire is clearly a beloved daughter, so Joey is clearly a beloved son—as the story unfolds, it is a mother’s love for her boy that helps him understand why the world is as it is, and why we need the restorative power of women, both earthly and divine, to heal.
The three elements of the book work together to emphasize the importance of the divine feminine for boys:
- The story: On a day when Joey’s mother is feeling sad about the state of the world, she sits with him and affirms her love for him, his importance in her life and in the world, her hopes for his happiness and health. Joey asks his mother to tell him why things are as they are, and his mother tells him the story of the subversion of the divine feminine, and the institution of patriarchy. She doesn’t use these words, of course. Instead, she uses parable, drawing on the familiar story of forbidden fruit, but placing the tale within the context of male power and female submission. As the tale unfolds, it is clear that boys and girls—who were once great friends and companions—must be so again, not only for the good of girls, but for boys as well. When girls are forced to live powerless lives, boys suffer too—in loneliness, in constant competition with one another, and in guilt and sadness. This is a vital lesson for boys, and as the tale ends, it is clear that the path forward is one of forgiveness, healing, compassion, and partnership.
- The illustrations: Elisabeth Slettnes captures the drama of this tale in her gorgeous artwork. There are pictures that represent isolation and sadness, all blue angles and unsettling proportions. There are pictures that burst with the glory of life, of pleasure, of partnership, the colors of the painting reflecting the harmony of equality. The pictures track the tale itself, showing us both the woe of separation and the joy of reunion.
- The quotations: The story is augmented by beautiful quotations from great writers and spiritual thinkers, including Alice Walker, Rumi, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Oscar Wilde. The quotations surround the tale with love, with inspiration, with hope—the counterbalance to all that is wrong with the world. These words work in conjunction with the artwork and Ms. Hendren’s story to create the impression that, despite the sadness of the tale, all is not lost—the path forward is lined with the words of spiritual understanding and love.
Tell Me Why is a wonderful book for a boy to read with his mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, babysitter, friend. The conversation between mother and son at the beginning of the book, and the quotes and artwork throughout, provide a wonderful context for explaining to boys that the story of “why things are the way they are” isn’t about blaming boys or men, but about recognizing history and healing it, for the good of all.