Yesterday, a teacher at my daughter’s preschool told me that she saw two boys and a girl spinning the knobs of a play oven. Boy #1 says: “I’m a pilot! I’m flying a plane.’ Boy #2 says: “Me too!” The girl is quiet, so the teacher says to her: “What about you, are you a pilot?” The 3 year old girl replies: “I can’t be a pilot. I’m a pilot’s wife.”
So what do you think has happened in this little girl’s short life to make her believe it’s more likely that she would be a pilot’s wife than a pilot?
Could it be that in her world, those are the gender roles she sees? While books, movies, and TV shows for children are full of images of boys riding magical creatures into the sky– from “ET” to “How to Train Your Dragon” to Harry Potter — girls are stuck in the passenger seat if they get to soar at all. Here are three images repeated endlessly in the media.
I’m always on the look out for images in children’s media of girls flying, and they are few and far between. If I seek them out, I can find them, but these pictures rarely cross my children’s path, not in movies, or posters for those movies, or on most of the book covers they come across when we’re shopping at a local store. Here’s a picture from The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches that I photographed a while ago, because it’s so rare.
Today, on Facebook feed I saw that Toward the Stars is celebrating Female Flying Daredevils week, posting “We wave enthusiastically to all our girls and boys that aspire to travel above the clouds.”
We also have Angela’s Airplane which my 4 year old daughter loves.
You may not have seen these books around. They may not have been made into major motion pictures for kids or toys or LEGO sets, but, please click on the links. Stock your libraries. Read these books to your kids, and that includes your sons. All children need to see far more female daredevils.
Keep watching Toward the Stars all week for more recommendations of fearless females flying the skies.
Update: So right after I post this, I see on Facebook info about the documentary:”We Served Too: The Story of Women Air Force Pilots of World War II.” You’ve got to watch this trailer.
These women flew over 60 million miles within a 2 year period…However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASPs jobs, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by congress…For many years the WASPs kept their achievements quiet. Their service in World War II would only be known by a few. They are not mentioned in our history books, nor is their story taught in schools.Their accomplishments of being the first women to fly in the military would even be forgotten.
One pilot says, “Such a shame that when we disbanded, they took all of our records and they sealed them, and they were stamped either classified or secret and filed away in the government archives.”
Sealed records! I am so mad about this. Again, women’s stories are repressed and hidden, affecting a new generation of kids. I haven’t seen the film yet, so don’t know if it’s good for young kids. Wouldn’t it be great to make a children’s version? A book to go along with it? A computer game? App? A LEGO set? What do you think the chances are we’ll see any of that? They’re low, because in 2013, we still live in a world where women’s stories go missing.
My kids and I just finished Kat McGee and the Halloween Costume Caper, the story of a courageous girl who teams up with Jujitsu Princess and Candy Cane Witch to save Halloween from the evil Snaggletooth.
There are some very cool things about this book:
(1) Three girls share an adventure. It always drives me crazy when they say girls like stories about “friendship” but boys like stories about “adventure.” A ridiculous premise in the first place, but what are “buddy movies” for goodness sake? Adventure stories are, often, about friendship, yet in children’s media, we don’t get to see girls taking big risks together as much as we should. In Halloween Costume Caper, we witness a trifecta of heroines, “Team Kat” facing their fears and working together to save the world.
(2) All kinds of other cool, female characters show up. Not only do we see the three awesome girls just mentioned, we meet so many more. Gram is magical, powerful, and wise. Dolce is a “Maker of Magic and Mischief” who helps Kat on her quest. Costumes who makes cameos in the story include Merida, Goldilocks, Bride of Frankenweenie, Tinkerbell, Wonder Woman, Red Riding Hood, American Girl Dolls, and more. You can’t read this story an miss that there are so many things that girls can be.
(4) Kat McGee makes her own costumes. Not only is Kat brave, she is creative. Every year she wins the contest for the best costume. She takes pride in her work, and if your kids read this book, it’s a good bet you can talk them into making their own costume, just like Kat.
(5) Published by In This Together Media.Though I interviewed the new publishing company, In This Together Media, a few months ago, Halloween Costume Caper is the first book the company put out that I’ve read. ITTM is dedicated to producing “better quality books for and about girls– stories where the main character’s whole reason for being isn’t to be kissed, or the other extreme, to be some kind of superchick. We wanted to broaden the narrative possibilities, and that comes from more layered, nuanced characters.”
After reading Halloween Costume Caper, I’m excited to get more of ITTM books for my kids. You can learn more about ITTM and order books here.
With the fabulous book, Soma So Strange, not only did I read a cool story starring a fascinating girl, but I finally got past my ebook block. YAY. I’ve been trying to liberate myself for years, and Soma is only an ebook, so if I wanted to read it, I had no choice but to break free of paper.
Soma lives is a dull, small place, “on a map, it’s the size of a sixth of a pea” where “all the villagers obey ancient, old rules/ Like walking on tip toes and eating fish and gruel.” Soma loves sushi, “she can’t stand fish and gruel!” For this, and many other “strange” attributes, Soma is mocked. “She can’t help but make noise at her school. Asking how and why are quite natural for her. Tip toe around? Stompin’s what she prefers.”
Not only do the townspeople, the Meanies, treat Soma terribly, but her own mother “can’t stand her.” I love this aspect of Soma’s story, because, though lots of children’s narratives refer to mean kids, fewer refer to the feeling of being a stranger in your own family which can be more common than kidlit lets on.
Soma’s physical differences match her mental ones: “Her glasses are funny, she won’t brush her hair/ When she walks into town, you can’t help but stare/ Soma’s so messy, so odd-shaped, so strange, the Meanies say Soma is simply deranged.”
Soma goes on to meet a talking cat who gives her a magical potion allowing her to turn the Meanines into pies. How cool is that?
The lyrics in Soma are beautiful and well, strange. Reading this story, I felt like I’d found a feminist Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein. I love look of Soma, too, with her billowy dark hair, striped shirt, and big glasses. The black and white illustrations pop. Not to mention, reading an ebook is really fun. The pages turn beautifully. My kids loved the story and reading it on my ipad too. Here’s to hoping author, Carrie Rosten, writes many more.
Click here to buy Soma So Strange and use the code SomaFam to get a dollar off.
Read more about Soma So Strange and author Carrie Rosten here.
For the past couple of years, people have been recommending I see “Soul Surfer,” the real life story of champion girl surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who resurrected her career after her arm was bit off by a shark.
I delayed seeing the movie because I wasn’t sure at what age my kids would be ready to see a shark attack. I remember being traumatized by “Jaws,” and it’s hard enough to get them in the ocean. But I was in a store– I think it was Office Depot– and there was the DVD, and I bought it.
I told my oldest daughter Bethany’s story, she is 10, and planned to watch it with her. My husband, who is into surfing, sat down with us. My two younger daughters, usually not interested in what my 10 year old is watching, couldn’t resist seeing their parents captivated by something and joined the party.
I love the movie. It’s all about competition, winning, excelling, resilience, faith, and love. The montage at the end showing real life Bethany Hamilton will make you cry. It is so amazing. Here she is in real life.
But watching the montage won’t be the first time you cry during this movie. My babysitter texted me when my kids were seeing it for the third time: “I’m in tears!”
So what age do I recommend “Soul Surfer” for? My 4 year old daughter can’t get enough of the movie. Her favorite part is the shark attack– which is very quick. I actually think it’s scarier waiting for the attack then the actual attack. My 7 year old daughter kept glaring at me through the whole movie, furious that I “made” her watch it, but she never left the couch. She has watched it twice since but says she hates it. My 10 year old daughter likes it as well, but not as much as my 4 year old. I don’t really know what to say, except to tell you our experience. “Soul Surfer” is the first movie that my whole family has watched together, fro beginning to end, and all of us were into it. That was so much fun, by the way. I loved everyone sitting together, watching a movie. It is the best feeling.
Last Halloween when no less than 3 movies came out starring males– “Hotel Transylvania,” “ParaNorman,” and “Frankenweenie”– I made a list of monster movies starring females. This list is pathetically small! I have not seen “Hocus Pocus” or “Journey to the Center of the Earth” or “Series of Unfortunate Events” but Reel Girl fans recommended all 3. Let me know if you have any movies to add.
I love this series. Every book stars a brave and complex female protagonist. Every book also features a panoply of strong and fascinating female characters. Females are spies, fighters, queens, healers, on and on. There are also great male characters. The books also have heroic gay characters and disabled characters.
These books are disturbing. They deal with rape and incest, not directly, but implied and discussed in the book. If the reader doesn’t get the horror of those acts, she misses a lot of the story. Also, each book features a passionate love affair. My oldest kid is 10, and I would not let her read these because of the rape/ incest parts of the story. I don’t yet know what age would be appropriate because I’ve learned not to trust the recommendations I see around. In fact, that’s why I started Reel Girl. IMO, Cinderella gets a triple S for major gender stereotyping/ not appropriate for kids. I’m thinking 15 for Bitterblue because the sexual violence is central to the plot, but Graceling and Fire, age 12? But then again, rape and incest happen in the real world, so if this is going on or has happened in kids’ lives, reading about it would be a good thing. It’s such an individual choice. Let me know if you or your kids have any experience with these books.
Reel Girl rates Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue ***HHH****
My seven year old daughter and I are reading Wildwood. I was psyched by the description on the back of the book, which is all about a girl, Prue, rescuing her kidnapped brother. Unfortunately, early on, Prue partners up on her mission with a boy, Curtis. The story then alternates between Prue’s POV and Curtis’s, and, as my daughter pointed out, the Curtis parts are much better. While Prue is stuck in a town of boring politicians who speak about issues that Prue (and my daughter) don’t understand, Curtis gallops on a horse through the wilderness with a mysterious woman who lives with coyotes, the Governess.
If you read Reel Girl, you know that I track images in children’s media of females shown riding creatures, many of which are magical. While males are seen in this situation all the time, and the magical creature itself is often male, females, if they are get to do this at all, are relegated to a secondary position, aptly termed “riding bitch.”
Here is a beautiful illustration of the Governess and Curtis.
So far, she kind of reminds me of the latest incarnation of Women Who Run With Wolves.
We are only about one third through the book, so I am hoping that
(1) Prue’s role gets more exciting
(2) The Governess continues to play an important role
I’m reposting Reel Girl’s list of great movies starring girls because I just updated it. Please let me know if you have movies to add. I’m also posting my initial preamble to my recommendations, explaining why it took me so long to make the list and why Reel Girl’s list is hard to get on.
This is a list of girl centered movies with strong girls. That sentence may seem redundant but sadly, it’s not. Many girl centered movies feature a girl who is a princess in distress or a cheerleader trying to keep a boyfriend or Barbie worrying about how to dress for the prom.
Or, if Hollywood allows a strong girl to appear in a movie that is not about a typical, cookie cutter “feminine” dilemma, her screen time is limited; her role is supporting: she is there to help the boy on his quest.
To clarify: the following is a list of movies with strong female main characters where the narrative is based on her brave quest.
This is not a list of HHH (triple Heroine) movies. Some movies may be included on this list such as a Barbie adventure or Kim Possible that would not get a HHH because of the main character’s plastic looks or typical princessy dilemma, but the movie is listed here because, in spite of that stereotype, it is still centered on a brave female hero who has cool adventures.
A few movies are not included on this list even though they are centered on a girl and her brave quest because the movie is simply too awful, meaning boring. “Judy Moody,” unfortunately, fits that category.
Wow, this is why it has been so hard for Reel Girl to recommend, but here we go.
These movies are for kids, not young adults.
Remember, these are movies to show your sons as well as your daughters.
This is a list in progress. Please send in your suggestions.
Reel Girl’s list of great movies starring strong girls:
So many books I love with strong female protagonists like The Wizard of Oz, Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice and Wonderland, The Golden Compass, surround the girl with males, males, males. So many writers seem comfortable allowing a female be powerful as long as her gender is resresented by a minority of characters in the book. Not so with Wrinkle. Not only do we have Meg, but also Meg’s mother, a scientist. Wrinkle is, in fact, all about science. How cool is that?
Besides Meg’s mother, there is a trio of powerful and magical females: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. That’s not all. Near the end of the book we meet another amazing female, the incredible Aunt Beast. In Wrinkle in Time, readers see five powerful females mentor a female protagonist. Does anyone know of another narrative on earth where we see this? If so, please tell me, because from my experience, this scenario is like seeing a unicorn in the real world.
Here’s the passage where Aunt Beast names herself for Meg:
“What should I call you, please?” Meg asked.
“Well, now. First, try not to say any words for a moment. Think within your own mind. Think of all the things you call people, different kinds of people.”
While Meg thought, the beast murmured to her gently. “No, mother is a special,a one-name; and a father you have here. Not just friend, nor teacher, nor brother, nor sister. What is acquaintance? What a funny, hard word. Aunt. Maybe. Yes, perhaps that will do. And you think of such odd words about me. Thing, and monster! Monster, what a horrid sort of word. I really do not think I a am a monster. Beast. That will do. Aunt Beast.“
Part of what I love about this passage is that every writer goes through a similar process as she thinks of how to name a character. So often, a writer will assign this kind of powerful character the male gender, but the character could be any gender as this writing shows.
For much of Wrinkle, there is the typical one female (Meg) to two male (Charles Wallace and Calvin) trio. But given all the female characters in the book, Meg is still, not a Minority Feisty.
Narratives mimic real life and real life mimics narratives, it’s all the same thing really. If we are willing to recognize it, we all get to the point where we realize we must do it alone. Sometimes that thing is dramatic, when we give birth or it could be when we write a novel or when we confront someone we’ve been afraid to. But it can also be something like cleaning your house or making your bed. If you live your life heroically, realizing only you can do it, happens all the time, without resentment but with a sense of destiny. It is this revelation upon which endless narratives are based, but so often, in fiction, this human situation is assigned to males. I just wrote about an exception to this rule in Land of Stories. Here it is in Wrinkle the whole sequence: Someone else do it, I can’t; okay, I will. I must be me, here I go. Resistance, choice, action:
Meg could no longer stand it,and she cried out desparingly, “Then what are you going to do? Are you just going to throw Charles Wallace away?”
Mrs Which’s voice rolled formidably across the hall. “Ssilencce cchilldd.”
But Meg could not be silent. She pressed closely against Aunt Beast, but Aunt Beast did not put the protecting tentacles around her. “I can’t go!” Meg cried. “I can’t! You know I can’t.”
“Did annybbodyy ask yyou ttoo?” The grim voice made Meg’s skin prickle into gooseflesh.
She burst into tears. She started beating at Aunt Beast like a small child having a tantrum. Her tears rained down her face and spattered Aunt Beast’s fur. Aunt Beast stood quietly against the assault.
“All right, I’ll go!” Meg sobbed. “I know you want me to go!”
“We want nothing from you that you do without grace,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “or that you do without understanding.”
Meg’s tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. “But I do understand.” She felt tired and unexpectedly peaceful. Now the coldness that, under Aunt Beast’s ministrations, had left her body had also left her mind. She looked toward her father and her confused anger was gone and she felt only love and pride. She smiled at him, asking forgiveness, and then pressed up against Aunt Beast. This time Aunt Beast’s arms went around her.
Mrs. Which’s voice was grave. “Whatt ddoo yyou unnnddersstanndd?”
“That it has to be me. It can’t be anyone else. I don’t understand Charles, but he understands me. I’m the one who’s closets to him. Father’s been away for so long, since Charles Wallace was a baby. They don’t know each other. And Calvin’s only known Charles for such a little time. If it had been longer, then he would have been the one, but–oh, I see, I understand. It has to be me. There isn’t anyone else.”
In the passage where Meg fights IT, just as Harry Potter with Voledemort, she wins by using love over hate. This is the scene I was longing for in kidlit while reading all 7 of the Harry Potter series. Reading ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ felt, to me, like a starving person getting food.
Though Wrinkle is not without sexism. Here’s a scene from the planet Camazotz:
She walked along the quiet street. It was dark and the street was deserted. No children playing ball or skipping rope. No mother figures at the doors. No father figures returning from work.
There are other instances like that one, but there is so much positive here. Wrinkle is a writer’s book, too. I’ll leave you with one last passage that is one of the most beautiful metaphors for creativity, God, raising children, life, that I’ve ever read. Here’s Mrs Whatsit explaining a sonnet to Calvin.
“It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”
“There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”
“Yes,” Calvin nodded.
“And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?”
“But within this strict form, the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”
“Yes,” Calvin nodded again.
The trick here, for me anyway, is figuring out what the form is. Sometimes, we believe that the “rules” are the rule, that they are “natural.” For example, in so many narratives for kids, not to mention adults, like Ratatouille, have seen a Minority Feisty complain about sexism, instead of getting to see a female hero. That is “rule” that desperately needs to be broken. The resistance, choice, action is a rule I believe in.
Many of you have asked me to clarify what ages books are appropriate for. It’s hard for me to say that. We get different things about books at different times.
When I look at books or movies for my kids, the number one offensive thing is sexism. I would rather my kids hear swear words than see Cinderella any day. I’ve also written quite a lot of Reel Girl about violence. I don’t like gore, but much of violence in stories is metaphorical, it raises the stakes to depict visually what we, as humans, feel. Can you imagine dreams without violence? My daughter whipped through Wrinkle in Time. She just turned 7. I’m 44 and I’m blogging about it. I could tell my daughter really liked it, and she read a lot of it by herself. I’m not sure what she ‘got.’ I remember being confused by parts of this book as a kid. I do know that while reading this book, my daughter saw many females being brave and heroic, respected, admired, and loved my the males in their lives.
When I was with my six year old daughter at the book store, and she chose Land of Stories by “Glee” actor Chris Colfer, I was skeptical. Colfer is an actor. And twenty-three years old. And male. Not only that, from the back book cover, it was obvious Land of Stories is reimagined fairy tales. Been there, done that. Nonetheless, my daughter insisted, and as a rule, I generally buy my kids a book if they really want it, because from my experience, resistance only makes it more desirable.
My daughter plowed through the book, requested its sequel, and then finished over 500 pages in about a week. My daughter, now just turned 7, read most of the book herself, so I only got snips here and there, when I read it to her. From the scenes I read, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. The protagonists are twins, Alexandra and Conner. I get annoyed by how books with a female protagonist seem to need to balance her with a co-starring male. Can’t we just see the female protag? Or what about sisters? Or female buddies? Why is that pairing so rare?
But in most parts of Land of Stories that I read, Alex is a strong and brave character. Here are a couple passages that won me over as we neared the finish of the second book, The Enchantress Returns.
“You have to save the fairy-tale world, Alex!” Conner said. “You have to save the Otherworld and Mom, too!”
Alex’s grip around her brother’s feet tightened. “I can’t save anything without you,” she said.
“Yes, you can,” he said. “It was always meant to be you! You’re the one who got us here and you’re the one who is going to get us out! You heard the ghosts– you’re the heir of magic! You’ve got to defeat the Enchantress so this world can go on!”
“I can’t do it alone,” she said, terrified to lose him.
“Yes, you can,” Conner said. “I’m really sorry about this.”
Conner kicked Alex off of him, and the vines consumed him entirely. They dragged him and Trollbella down into the ground and disappeared.
“Conner!” Alex yelled after him, but it was no use. He was gone.
Alex looked across the camp just in time to see the vines pull Red, Froggy, Jack, and Goldilocks into the ground with one, final heave. As soon as Trollbella, Red, and the others clinging on to them had been taken, all the vines in the campsite disappeared into the ground. They had com efor the queens.
Alex got to her feet and looked around in shock. In a matter of minutes, all of her friends and her brother had been taken from her. She had no choice but to finish the quest alone– it was all up to her now.
Love it! Of course, as I reading this to my daughter, I was thinking: “Right on, Conner, get out of there. Alex needs to do this.”
Unlike Harry Potter’s magical world, this Fairy world has an almost equal number of females and males in power in the government, with a the Fairy Godmother at the head, and the evil enchantress as the villain. Here’s a passage that describes the governing group.
Hung across the wall from top to bottom were Queen Snow White and King Chandler, Queen Cinderella and King Chance, Queen Sleeping Beauty and King Chase, Queen Rapunzel. and members of the Fairy Council. And now, withe the inclusion of Red and Trollbella, the entire Happily Ever After Assembly was at the Enchantress’s mercy.
I appreciate all the subtle ways Colfer recognizes female power. The female characters are not princesses but queens and they are listed before their male partners. Red is Little Red Riding Hood and Trollbella is the leader of the Trolls. It’s great to read a story about what happens to these princesses after they marry and their adventures are supposedly over. Its also nice that Rapunzel remains unmarried. It is interesting that Colfer makes an effort to pair of the others and gives the kings big roles. It’s sort of like giving a female protags a male twin, and other passages I read, the deference of the Queens annoyed me.
Here’s the passage that made me a true fan. How does Alex find the strength to save Fairy-tale world all alone? She has a dream where goes into a cave and meets four little girls: Lucy of Narnia, Alice of Wonderland, Dorothy of Oz, and Wendy of Neverland. They five girls talk together about the various ways Alex could try to destroy the Enchantress.
She looked up at the girls and around the cave. “Now I understand the meaning of my dream,” she said. “Deep down, I knew I could never kill the Enchantress, so I was searching for another way. The cave represents my questioning and you represent the answer— because ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always thought of you when I had a problem.”
“Why is that?” said Alice.
“I suppose I’ve learned so much from you,” Alex said. “I always wanted to be as loving as Wendy, or as curious as Alex, or as brave as Lucy, or as adventurous as Dorothy– I always saw a little bit of myself when I read about each of you.”
I’m not a fan of Wendy, but I named my oldest daughter Lucy and my second Alice after those incredible characters. I really enjoyed the pages where they come together and mentor Alex, giving her sage advice from their own experience.
The writing in these books is not the greatest. There is a lot of word repetition in sentences like: “It happened so fast Alex wasn’t sure what happened.” Also, too many adverbs: “Her hair anxiously swayed above her.” But Colfer is twenty-three, for goodness sake. I’ll be following his writing career. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.
If you have read these two books, please let me know what you think. With the caveat that I have only read passages of them, Reel Girl rates Land of Stories ***HH***