On her blog, pigtailpals, Melissa Wardy points out that Belkin’s suggestions are dominated by princesses; better strong than weak ones, but what about the radical idea of books about girls with no princesses in them at all? Wardy says, “can we PLEASE not LIMIT femininity to princesses, even the kind that scrape their knees?” Check out Wardy’s book recs here.
I agree with Wardy and have a similar argument about the so-called brave princesses in modern movies. These girls make elaborate shows of independence, refusing to marry the guy they’re supposed to, but marriage is still the basis of entire plotlines– rebellion within the safest possible framework. Yawn! Boys in movies get to go off and have adventures. Why can’t girls do that too? This is a fantasy world, after all. If girls are this limited in dreamland, what does that say about their options in reality?
But here’s the challenge: as I rate books and media, there are many great books, but I often have issues with them, even the best ones! Maybe this is because behavior, once rewarded, is hard to kick. When I wrote critically in school, found and analyzed the ‘flaw,’ I got an A. Or maybe, being cranky and critical is my own personality flaw. Or maybe the problem is just that books are personal. When you start reading one, you enter into a relationship with it. There are few ‘perfect’ books and media for everyone (except maybe Hayao Miyazaki)
For example, I absolutely love C. S. Lewis and the whole Narnia series. I love it so much, I named my first daughter Lucy after the protagonist in the books. But the Jesus stuff in Lewis can be distracting. Also, Susan, the older sister, stops believing in Narnia when she hits puberty, starting to only to care about boys. This transition does not happen to the males in the book.
I named my second daughter Alice after you know who. I love this book, but Lewis Carroll, as we all know, had his issues with girls. As far as I can tell, his pathology doesn’t seep into the book or does it?
I love Harriet the Spy, but Harriet treats her friends so badly that parts of the book were difficult to read to my kid. She’s never experienced that level of negative social interaction; Harriet called her friends names my daughter didn’t even know (and now does) and there are also a bunch of class issues in the book. Harriet is super rich, she has a cook who she treats badly and a nanny who she treats badly, though at least the nanny can stick up herself.
Right after Harriet, we read Danny the Champion of the World who is so poor in contrast to Harriet. He lives in a one room house with his dad. No mom in this book. The author, Roald Dahl is probably my favorite kids writer, his writing is so good, but he has very few girl characters in his books. When he does have them, like The Witches, a funny and brilliant book, the story can be outright misogynistic. Still, I’d rather read Roald Dahl than a badly written fairy series that’s all about girls.
The point is: books are personal and that lists, by nature, are limited. The most important thing is that our kids are reading and to have an open dialogue with them about whatever that book is. Remember, the goal is to teach her to think critically so she can get straight As and then grow up to complain about everything just like her mom.