Phyllis Hacken Johnson’s The Boy Toy (1988)

The Boy Toy (1988), written by Phyllis Hacken Johnson and illustrated by Lena Shiffman, is a Lollipop Power Press publication that challenges gender stereotypes on multiple fronts.

The protagonist is a boy named Chad who loves a doll named Dan that his grandmother made him. When Chad starts school, he meets Sam, a boy who tends to police gender norms. Chad wants to impress Sam and doesn’t want him to find out about his doll, which prompts Chad to give Dan to his sister.

A sudden illness brings Chad to the hospital where he must stay overnight for several days.  While at the hospital he gets his doll back from his sister but he is apprehensive about being made fun of.

When he gets out of the hospital Sam visits him at home and brings a teddy bear. Chad tells Sam about his doll and although Sam notes that he’s never met a boy with a doll he also admits he thinks it is kind of cool!

Although the story focuses on Chad and his doll, gender stereotypes are strained throughout the text. For instance, Chad’s father appears in a nurturing role throughout. Even more, the doctor who operates on Chad is a woman, which is particularly important because while playing at school Sam had commented that women can’t be doctors.

Lollipop Power Press described its mission as publishing “non-sexist, non-racist books to counteract stereotypes which children may encounter from other sources.” The press did a wonderful job with this and I think many authors writing LGBTQ inclusive books today would find taking a look at these texts generative.

I read a lot of books that take on gender stereotypes, while simultaneously, and likely inadvertently, reproducing them. Lollipop Power Press publications succeed in their commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

This review is part of my “Snapshots of LGBTQ Kid Lit” project. I’m working on a book, The New Queer Children’s Literature: Exploring the Principles and Politics of LGBTQ* Children’s Picture Books, which is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. Part of my research is identifying and interpreting English-language children’s picture books with LGBTQ* content published in the US and Canada between 1979 and 2019. Follow my blog to follow my journey!

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