All three recs this week are feminist takes on fairytales. Reel Girl is debuting a new rating letter, T for Traditional. Read about it here.
My five year old is absolutely obsessed with The Red Wolf. The illustrations in this book are extraordinary and what is especially cool about them is– see that red wolf– she’s a girl!
No bow! No curly eyelashes! How often do you see a female, magical furry creature like this not in drag in kidworld? And look how happy she is leaping over the forest. It’s impossible to read this book and not smile.
The Red Wolf is a version of the Rapunzel story that rubbed me the wrong way at first. I don’t like to see girls locked up in towers. The princess in this story does free herself, though I worry her liberation is temporary. But I decided that maybe her struggle– the child trying to break free of the overprotective parent who tries to keep her kid safe by teaching her to be fearful of the world– is a universal struggle. Didn’t the father of the Buddha try to isolate his kid from all pain and death? And it was Buddha’s first encounter with an old man that led to his enlightenment, right? With this in mind, and knowing I’m hyper-sensitive to these things, Reel Girl rates The Red Wolf ***GGG/T*** I seriously adore this book.
Next feminist fairytale is Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave.
What is special about this story is it features the rare female friendship and also– are you ready? A positive mother-daughter relationship. OK, the mom is dead, but still. Vasilisa, the protagonist, has a magical doll who helps her. But this story is also clearly a traditional fairytale as well with sentences like: “Whereas the other girls were cruel and ugly, Vasilisa was kindness itself and beautiful beyond measure.” Ugh. I think this equation of beauty-kindness and ugliness-cruelty probably started out right: if you love someone, they appear beautiful. But somehow, the correlation got switched so an “ugly” person implies a “wicked” person. When I come across this correlation in stories, I ask my kids about it and we talk about what it means. The story doesn’t dwell on the beauty issue and Vasilisa is resourceful. Reel Girl rates Vasilisa the Brave ***GGG/T***
Now for my favorite feminist fairytale yet: The Rough-Face Girl. This story also features the rare female friendship. Marriage is the central conflict but its handled in such a beautiful and original way. This is a love story in the best way. Reel Girl rates The Rough Face Girl ***GGG/T***