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Video: ‘Free to Be … You and Me’ turns 35

TODAY books
updated 10/21/2008 9:47:28 AM ET 2008-10-21T13:47:28

Thirty-five years ago, Marlo Thomas and her talented team of co-creators made history with the release of a children's book that became a best-seller, inspiring children, parents and teachers everywhere to feel the joy of being their own unique selves. The team is back with an updated edition of “Free to Be ... You and Me,”with poems and songs that continue to celebrate human diversity. An excerpt.

Foreword
by Marlo Thomas

Well, hello! How marvelous to see you (again).

If you are a grown-up who first read this book 34 years ago — and are now opening to this page, possibly with your own child snuggled on your lap — welcome back! You look fabulous.

And if you are a child cracking open “Free to Be ... You and Me” for the very first time, I’ll tell you what I told those original readers: I want you make a wreck of this book. Bend back the corners on the pages you like best. Write your name on the inside cover or any other place you like. Maybe even put a few stickers on the back. A year from now I want to know that you’ve touched this book — lived it, loved it, cared for it and shared it — the way I hope it touches you.

“Free to Be ... You and Me” first began with my niece, Dionne, when she was only five years old. Dionne had asked me to read her a bedtime story, and going though her bookshelf I was shocked to discover that most of her storybooks were written to do just that: put her — and her mind — to sleep!

What also surprised me about Dionne’s storybooks was that all of the characters in them were so ... perfect. They talked alike and acted alike, and practically all of them married a prince or found a glass slipper and, of course, lived happily ever after. As if.

But what I was most shocked to see was that all of the books talked about what girls and boys should be, instead of what they could be. That’s never a good thing. “Should” is a small and scary word. “Could” is as big and beautiful as the sky.

So my friends and I got together to create a different kind of book — “a party of a book,” we called it — for all of the Dionnes in the world, and all the Donnys, too. We wanted a book that would show every child how special they are. And we wanted to let them know that each of their Happily Ever Afters could and would be different.

And exciting.

And their own.

As you’ll soon discover (or rediscover), each of the stories and songs and poems in this book is a little adventure — and the adventure is yours. You can stop and start them whenever you want, or replay them a million times. Sort of like the DVD in your house — only it doesn’t plug in. And the best thing is, even when you’re not holding the book, you can still play it in your head.

You’ll also notice that, even though the characters in this book have names that are different from yours, they’re really all about you. That’s right — each story, each sentence, each word in “Free to Be ... You and Me” was written to remind you that you’re the hero of your own life adventure, and that you can write your story any way that you dream it can be.

I often hear from grown ups who were children when they first read “Free to Be,” and, to my delight, they tell me that they now share this book with their own kids (including Dionne, who now has two little “Free to Be” boys of her own!). Which brings me to the one thing we have changed in this new edition: the look of the book. Don’t get me wrong — we liked the illustrations plenty in the original version, but back then we didn’t have things like laptops and Photoshop and 3-D animation — and the only thing you could do with a “mouse” was run away from it and scream.

So my friends and I thought it was time to make the book look a little more like the world you live in today. We contacted some of the best artists in the world — maybe even a few who have illustrated some of your favorite books — and asked them to retell the stories and poems in their own special way, using their favorite colored pencils and paintbrushes and drawing programs. And, just like you, they all had their very own ideas of what a story is all about.

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We’re thrilled with the images they came up with, and we know you will be, too.

OK, so enough talking. Let’s go inside the book — and we’ll do it the same way we did it the first time around. Ready? All right …

Take a giant step.

May I?

Yes, you may.

Yes, we certainly hope you will.

When We Grow Up
Music by Stephen Lawrence
Lyric by Shelley Miller

When we grow up will I be pretty?
Will you be big and strong?
Will I wear dresses that show off my knees?
Will you wear trousers twice as long?
Well, I don’t care if I’m pretty at all
And I don’t care if you never get tall
I like what I look like and you’re nice small
We don’t have to change at all.
When we grow up will I be a lady?
Will you be on the moon?
Well, it might be all right to dance by its light
But I’m gonna get up there soon.
Well, I don’t care if I’m pretty at all
And I don’t care if you never get tall
I like what I look like and you’re nice small
We don’t have to change at all.
When I grow up I’m going to be happy
And do what I like to do,
Like making noise and making faces
And making friends like you.
And when we grow up do you think we’ll see
That I’m still like you
And you’re still like me?
I might be pretty
You might grow tall
But we don’t have to change at all.

"My Dog Is a Plumber"
By Dan Greenburg

My dog is a plumber, he must be a boy.
Although I must tell you his favorite toy
Is a little play stove with pans and with pots
Which he really must like, ‘cause he plays with it lots.
So perhaps he’s a girl, which kind of makes sense,
Since he can’t throw a ball and he can’t climb a fence.
But neither can Dad, and I know he’s a man,
And Mom is a woman, and she drives a van.
Maybe the problem is in trying to tell
Just what someone is by what he does well.

"Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron"
By Dan Greenburg

Don’t dress your cat in an apron
Just ’cause he’s learning to bake.
Don’t put your horse in a nightgown
Just ’cause he can’t stay awake.
Don’t dress your snake in a muu-muu
Just ’cause he’s off on a cruise.
Don’t dress your whale in galoshes
If she really prefers overshoes.
A person should wear what he wants to
And not just what other folks say.
A person should do what she likes to —
A person’s a person that way.

Excerpted from “Free to Be ... You and Me” by Marlo Thomas and friends. Copyright (c) 2008 by Free to Be Foundation, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Perseus Books.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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