We know this story's called Corduroy, but we'd legitimately love to read a book called Lisa. This awesome little girl is a role model for children everywhere, and the illustrations subtly boost her character's importance—more on that later. Here's what we know about her from the text.
When we first meet Lisa, she has identified Corduroy as the bear of her dreams:
"Oh, Mommy!" she said. "Look! There's the very bear I've always wanted." (3)
Her mother declines to buy him, and Lisa does not whine about it. The italics may seem dramatic, but anyone who's been around young kids knows what a rarity that is.
Since the story focuses on Corduroy, the reader doesn't see what happens after Lisa and her mother leave the store, but Lisa recaps it for Corduroy the following morning:
"Last night I counted what I've saved in my piggy bank, and my mother said I could bring you home."
(Insert cheers from parents everywhere here.)
How did Lisa earn this cash? Does she have a weekly allowance she's been saving wisely instead of spending on frivolous trinkets? Does she scrounge under the couch cushions collecting whatever change she can find? Does she own a small business mending doll clothes? The story doesn't specify, but Lisa's financial savvy is super-impressive.
Our favorite quality of Lisa's, though, is her unconditional love for Corduroy. Lisa's mother points out that "he doesn't look new" and is missing a button, but Lisa isn't concerned with perfection. Even when she decides to sew a new button on his overalls, she tells him,
"I like you the way you are...but you'll be more comfortable with your shoulder strap fastened." (27)
So Lisa 1) doesn't throw tantrums, 2) knows the importance of saving money, and 3) accepts Corduroy's flaws. These qualities make her a wonderful example for the young children who hear the story, and the illustrations take it to another level: Lisa is Black.
It may seem odd to point that out, but remember that Corduroy was first published in 1968. That year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Congress debated discriminatory housing practices, and former Alabama governor George Wallace won five states in the general presidential election after campaigning on a return to school segregation.
The fact that a major publishing house released a children's book with a young Black heroine in 1968 is notable, but possibly even more striking is that the text doesn't mention Lisa's race at all. She's just a girl who goes shopping with her mother in a snazzy pink peacoat and falls in love with a teddy bear nobody else wants. It's a universal story, and readers of all races immediately connected with Corduroy and Lisa.
We weren't around in 1968 to know how this book affected individual perceptions of race, but for some readers, Corduroy was the first book with a heroine who looked like them. For others, it was an example of shared humanity in a world focused on differences.