Friday, May 3, 2013

Finding Books that "Look" Like You: Girls in Books

When students come to the library to select a book, I want them to not only feel welcome in the library, but to feel represented by the contents of their library. It is THEIR library and while I want them to explore new frontiers and make fresh discoveries, I also want each of them to see themselves and their own worlds in those books.  

Nine years ago, when I first started working at elementary school libraries in Ontario, I was amazed and shocked by the selections available to the JK-6 classes.  At the time I rotated between 11 schools which ran a wide gamut of economic and cultural populations.  Coming from a Catholic school education where books on adoption, divorce, multi-generational families and death were not to be seen (this was back in the 80's, I would hope the libraries there have been updated also), I was giddy over the fact that my libraries now had such topics. Looking at the stark difference between my students' appearance and the illustrations in the picture book collection, I knew an overhaul of the collection was in order.  The picture books seemed to only tell stories about blond, blue eyed nuclear families with a bouncy Irish Setter.  Almost all had a stay-at-home mom, and dad in a suit and happy, rosy cheeked children.  Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with the 1950's family archetype. I grew up with it and have fond memories of many of those titles.  I just don't want every book to look like that. And where were the books where girls wore the cape and saved the day?    During the next two years I devoured every children's book that had even a hint of diversity.  My co-workers laughed at me and my partner as we excitedly showed them each new batch of "diversity" books.  We we both new to the role and missed most of the nervous looks resulting from titles like Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron and Asha's Mums by Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse. They were much more at ease when students selected the less traditional  and less controversial, girl-power titles. I have listed some of the most popular ones below.  The word Princess appears in may of the title.  At first I thought that having Princess appear so often would be contrary to the intent of this list, but I think it actually works better this way.  When a student wants to fit in with his or her peers, who all seem to be in the princess phase, what better way to provide options than with books that expand the idea of what a princess is and looks like?

photo edited for free at www.pizap.comAmazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch
Marty Mcguire by Kate Messner
Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont
Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen

I am happy to encourage the enthusiasm my co-workers show for books with strong female characters, flaws and all.  Check out this website when you are looking for a just right book to inspire your  female students

Girls do not have to be relegated to the role of sidekick or damsel in distress; they can be the leaders, the heroes, the champions that save the day, find the cure, and go on the adventure. From the A Mighty Girl website.

A Mighty Girl was created after the the co founders started looking for "empowering and inspirational books" for young family members.  Users can search the book lists by topics such as Mighty Girls & Women, Fiction, History / Biography, Personal Development and Social Issues.  There are also filters for audience age, language and a multicultural option.  The multicultural fiction search is fantastic.  Have a look at the screen capture , which shows the many categories to select from.

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