Raf & The Robots by Sarah J. Corner ~ Alternative Literature for Children

Louisa Leontiades Books, Reviews

I loved ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea‘. My dog eared copy had followed me round in 22 different houses, over the course of 33 years. And I looked forward to reading it to my daughter. When she was two, I fondly touched the face of the friendly tiger of my childhood as I told her that he ate ‘all the cakes, all the tins in the cupboard and drank ALL the water in the tap.’ Back in the days that ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea‘ was written, the houses in Britain had their own tanks of limited water. But something else also jarred with me.

The mother and child (aged around 7), were at home waiting for the all omnipotent Daddy to come home and rescue them from their predicament… the predicament of having no food in the house. The tiger had eaten it all. Luckily Daddy ‘knew what to do’. He took them all out for sausages and ice cream. Next day Mummy went shopping for a big tin of Tiger Food. All was well again.

Of course it’s relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But the impressions of our children come from the culture to which we expose them. One of them is the nuclear family which has become less and less relevant as time moves on. And in an effort to start changing the paradigm Sarah J. Corner has started a series of books under the banner Stories for Unique Families. That’s us.

‘Raf and the Robots’ is a simple tale about a little boy growing up in a polyamorous family. The subject of the book is not about polyamory, in fact the subject of the book is a subject dear to many polyamorists’ hearts – scheduling!

“I feel that children’s books are a really great avenue for normalizing what people would consider ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ when it comes to families,” said Corner in an interview on Lesbians on The Loose. “I really wanted to make the point that these families are normal families. And I felt that the best way of getting that message across was by not actually making a big deal about it.”

Telling kids about polyamory is difficult enough. We have very few tools and structures outside of our own communication strategies. Which is where Sarah’s book (and future books) come in. Sarah’s household has 4 children (soon to be 5!) of varying ages. From her unborn child up til teenage years (one of whom is now immortalised as Raf, in a family which curiously resembles her own). She’s a primary school teacher and knows the varying capacities of children struggling to understand the world they grow up in and the complexities that talking about concepts at odds with society’s norms bring. her next book she says, will include trans* characters and perhaps even in future talk about consent. A difficult enough concept for adults, let alone children who are forced to eat their vegetables much against their will…

In Sarah’s household, one child prefers blowing kisses to being kissed – a boundary which she has requested that the rest of her family respect as well. Older children have even more complex questions, from defining gender fluidity to confronting their friend’s accusation that ‘Daddy is cheating’. Open communication is a must and the conversations that occur are intriguing, and sometimes difficult. But Sarah says, their policy has resulted in few arguments and much more acceptance.

“Writing this book has certainly made it easier to communicate with the younger children.” she said.

“But as a primary school teacher, how has your non-traditional relationship been accepted by the wider community? I asked. In Britain at least, it would be a big ask.

“Well not many knew”, said Sarah “A few key people and some parents who were close friends.”

Not only therefore does this book serve as a tool to help prepare the ground for further questions and acceptance then, it is also Sarah’s way of ‘coming out’ as the promotion of her book and its accompanying illustrations do more to explain how Sarah’s household works on a day to day basis than many long winded interrogations by ‘interested parties’ who might prefer to get bogged down in who sleeps with whom, when and in what configuration.

It’s a great accomplishment to get a book published (as several authors on this site can testify!), but the sweetest reward came from Sarah’s own mother who sent her a bouquet of flowers to celebrate its publication. It’s a true a testament to how a child’s book can change perceptions of even grown ups… and hopefully our world.

You can buy a copy of Raf & The Robots at Stories for Unique families

Sarah J Corner