Pippy Longstocking, Meg Murry, Hermione Granger, Katniss Everdeen, Princess Elizabeth, Anne Shirley, Nancy Drew, Rosie Revere…
Today I write my Good Read’s column in honour of International Women’s Day. During my brainstorming for this, I asked my friends and family on Facebook to provide me with suggestions of strong feminist book characters aimed at children and youth. The response was tremendous. My circle was very excited to share all of their ideas and as a side benefit I now have many ideas of books to read!
I have two daughters. I want them to grow up in a world where they feel empowered to follow their dreams with no limitations based on their gender. From the moment kids are born and often even before, we are assigning roles and characteristics to them. For better or for worse the idea of sweet, gentle and kind girls vs strong, smart and tough boys is deeply ingrained in our society. As a parent I worry about enforcing stereotypes and creating an environment that might limit potential. Children should be allowed to be themselves, to explore what makes them happy and passionate. Just like girls should being allowed to pursue activities traditionally considered masculine; boys should be allowed to be nurturing and artistic and emotional without facing criticism. While we have come a long way in breaking down gender inequities and barriers, we are far from living in a world without problems. International women’s day is an opportunity to honour the accomplishments of women and to help encourage the next generation of girls and women to follow their dreams. As is so often the case with complex and multilayered issues facing the globe, discussing gender stereotypes with children can be challenging. Approaching feminism and gender equity with kids doesn’t have to be one hard conversation. It is a lifetime of learning together. I will highlight a few books today that have inspired me (and my friends) which can provide opportunities for teachable moments with our kids.
Robert Munsch is a hero of Children’s literature around the world. I love so many of his stories. They provide us with lots of beautiful, diverse and silly tales that kids love to read and hear over and over. I will always put The Paper Bag Princess (available at the Lennoxville Library) at the top of my list of Munsch books. Princess Elizabeth is the heroine of this tale; in which her castle is attacked by a dragon and her proposed husband Prince Ronald, is carried off. She must then rescue the prince and bucking with princess tradition she has no choice but to wear the paper bag she finds after all her clothes are burned to a crisp. After tracking the dragon to his home she tricks him into exhaustion and easily releases her prince from his captivity. It is at this point that the story has a twist, where we learn the Prince Ronald is not all he is cracked up to be, and they don’t live happily ever after (at least not together). This story is funny and great to read out loud. According the Robert Munsch official website, when he was working at an Ontario daycare in the early 1990s he told lots of dragon stories. His wife, who also worked there, asked why all his dragon stories had a prince saving a princess. To make his wife and the other adults happy he changed the ending. Readers everywhere are grateful for that suggestion.
A second picture book available at the Lennoxville Library , with some excellent lessons for a budding feminist, is Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. This book brings me joy for a lot of reasons. It has beautiful, colourful illustrations by David Roberts. The text is rhyming and extremely pleasurable to read aloud. The book tells the tale of a young girl who dreams of becoming an engineer. She collect bits of trash to secretly construct elaborate and whimsical inventions to accomplish everyday tasks. She works in secret because she has a fear of failure and having her work laughed at. With the inspiration of her Great-Great Aunt Rose, she is forced to face her fears and learn the lesson that creating something that flops is the first step towards creating something that flies! This is a lovely story which emphasizes skills we often associate with boys and men. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are traditionally lacking in female participation, but there is a greater and greater push to have more women working in these fields.
International women’s day is an annual reminder of what I hope to accomplish everyday; to teach my children that all human beings have value, and that gender should not be a barrier to accomplishing our goals and dreams. I am so glad my children can find inspiration from the wonderful female protagonists in so many excellent books.
As a final suggestion, I strongly recommend Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls- 100 tales of extraordinary women. This is an excellently curated book which began as a kick-starter project online. Its beautifully illustrated pages share the brief and inspiring true stories of 100 contemporary and historical women.