Reel Girl’s book recs of the week

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***

6 thoughts on “Reel Girl’s book recs of the week

  1. Dragon stories are a fruitful place to look for feminist girls…

    DragonSong and DragonSinger by Anne McCaffrey

    Part of the classic Dragon Riders of Pern series, the heroine is Menolly, a talented 15 year old singer and musician, whose father refuses to allow her to join the harper’s guild. Other men in the story are less dense fortunately, and Menolly eventually triumphs. There is some “mean girl” stuff when Menolly finally reaches Harper Hall in the second book, but she also establishes a warm friendship with another female student. Female dragons and “fire lizards” also play significant roles.

    Dragon Slippers by Jessica George
    Gr 5-8-Orphaned Creel is taken in by poor relatives, including her aunt who hatches a plan to get the girl captured by a dragon so that a knight will rescue her and marry her, thus lifting the rest of the family out of poverty. However, the dragon wants no part of this arrangement, and in order to avoid the trouble of fighting a knight, agrees to let Creel select one item from his hoard (he collects shoes) and encourages her in her ambitions to become a seamstress in the royal city. Unbeknownst to Creel, the simple blue slippers she selects have a history that dates back centuries and the power to control dragons. When the slippers fall into the wrong hands, Creel may be the only one able to turn the tide of the war that threatens her country. A chance meeting with a prince becomes a warm friendship, and Creel calls on her dragon cohorts to help him restore peace in the land. Fans of Gail Carson Levine will likely enjoy the adventure and humor as well as the strong female heroine, and readers of Patricia C. Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest Chronicles” (Harcourt) will find another good book about a friendly relationship between girl and dragon.

    Dealing With Dragons by Patrica Wrede
    Gr. 6-12. There is a witty playfulness about Wrede’s tale of a princess who refuses to be proper; she’d rather take lessons in fencing, juggling, Latin, philosophy, or economics than in dancing, embroidery, drawing, and etiquette, all of which she finds very dull. Princess Cimorene is the youngest of seven daughters, and her royal parents find her quite trying, so they arrange a match between Cimorene and dull-witted Prince Therandil. “I’d rather be eaten by a dragon,” she mutters. And risking just that, she volunteers to be a dragon’s captive princess. “`This is ridiculous!’ said a large, bright green dragon . . . `A princess, volunteering? Out of the question!'” But Cimorene is taken on by the powerful dragon Kazul and given duties that include cooking, sorting treasure, and cataloging the Latin scrolls in Kazul’s library. When assorted pesky knights want to rescue her, she drives them off, being careful that they not interact with her dragon because blood might be shed. But when some unscrupulous wizards show up in dragon territory, matters take a more serious turn, and Cimorene finds herself involved in solving the mystery of the murder of the King of the Dragons and in defeating a dragon who has sold out to the wizards. A decidedly diverting novel with plenty of action and many slightly skewed fairy-tale conventions that add to the laugh-out-loud reading pleasure and give the story a wide appeal. The good news is that this is book one in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

    and two more wonderful series where brothers and sisters share in the action..

    The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan: The Red Pyramid, The Throne of Fire, and Serpent’s Shadow

    A great series featuring a brother-sister pair who take turns narrating the story and are heroes of equal stature. Includes several powerful female role models and mentors, notably the warrior cat goddess Bast. Here’s my review of the first book:

    The Red Pyramid grabbed me from the opening sentence: “We only have a few hours, so listen carefully…”. Carter and Sadie Kane, offspring of 2 brilliant Egyptologists, have just discovered that their family tree is a bit more, er…complicated than they realized. Sadie, raised in England by their (mysteriously) dead mother’s parents, and Carter, raised by their globetrotting Dad, have little in common, but when a late night trip to the British museum unleashes gods, demons and possibly the end of the world, they quickly learn to work together. Carter and Sadie are bright, funny teens; their constant bickering barely concealing their deep affection for each other.(Nice touch: this is one of the few really great kids’ books to feature a bi-racial family). Although the secondary characters start to run together, (remind me, which goddess was the flaming blood drinker?) these two realistic, likable kids hold the center. Throw in a cat with far more than 9 lives, a basketball obsessed baboon, and a Dream Date with Death, and you’ve got one heck of a story.

    The Melendy Family by Elizabeth Enright: The Saturdays, The 4 Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two

    One of my favorites from around 5th grade, the marvelously homey adventures of 4 siblings in upstate New York during the 1940s. Mona is the eldest, and the driving creative force behind the 4: she’s the one who organizes family meetings, writes plays, and plans and directs war bond fundraisers. Yet she is very feminine; blond and beuatiful with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare. In one of my favorite scenes, her younger brother Rush attacks her with a snowball: “Rush was strong, but Mona was bigger. She got him down finally and was sitting firmly on his chest combing her disheveled hair when she saw Oliver returning…”

    Their sister Randy is also a terrific character, fond of dancing and drawing but with a tendency towards klutziness which leads to her falling out of rowboats, setting the house on fire, twisting an ankle while skating in the woods, and crashing her bike spectacularly into the back of a bus. After this last accident she gleefully inventories her wounds: 9 bruises, skinned knees, “but the crowning glory, the best wound, the one she valued above all others, was the deep cut on her forehead. Maybe it will leave a scar, she thought hopefully”.

    Randy and Mona are wonderful girls: they enjoy feminine stuff like perfume and baking, but they also enjoy the outdoors, stand up to their brothers (with great affection), aren’t afraid to get physical or dirty, and never let concern for their looks get in the way of having a great time. Best of all, these were written in the 1940s and early 50s, proving that there have been “real girls” among us all along.

  2. Cinder Edna, Rumpelstilksin’s Daughter, and Princess SmartyPants are all fun picture books for girls, that humorously reverse stereotypes.

  3. Thank you for sharing these recommendations!

    I would love to know what you think of the book “Gwinna” by Barbaa Helen Berger. My mother bought the book for me when I was young, like 9 or 10, and now that I’m in my mid-20s it is still one of my all-time favourite books. I’d sum up the book for you, but I don’t think I could do it justice, so I will link you to it here:

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