When you’ve got three kids and one husband home sick, there’s not much you can do, except mindless tasks like folding laundry and cleaning out drawers. It was when I was organizing the children’s bookshelves that I came across Corrie and the Yankee by Mimi Cooper Levy.
I have this book because it was written by a teacher of my mother’s back in 1959. I hadn’t looked at it a long time and completely forgot about the back cover. Here’s what it reads. My mother is Jill.
Mimi Cooper Levy lives in New York City and has taught almost every grade in the public schools from first through junior high. For the last few years she has been a teacher at the famous Little Red Schoolhouse.
While she was teaching a fifth-grade class Jill, one of her pupils, complained that in books of adventure it was almost always a boy who did anything of importance. Miss Levy promised Jill that she would write a story about a girl doing “lots of brave and stirring things.”
It was some time before the promise could be realized, because Miss Levy was then deeply absorbed in research to find material for young readers on Negro history. However, during this research she came across stories about slave families like Corrie’s, and Corrie and the Yankee began to take shape in her mind.
Mimi Levy says, “As soon as I was able, I set to work to write it down–for Jill, and John too, and all the children who used to enjoy listening to my stories. I hope other children will like Corrie too.
It’s remarkable to me that so many years ago– when editors described a female writer as “Miss” and used “Negro” for African-Americans– my mother was complaining about the same thing I’m blogging about right now, that my own fifth grade daughter is experiencing today. How many girls have sat in classrooms over how many years and wondered why female heroes go missing? How many spoke up to their teachers? How many teachers wrote about it? How many girls grew up to write their own stories?
It drives me crazy when I hear people say that girls are totally willing to see movies and read stories about boys, while boys supposedly aren’t interested in seeing movies or reading stories about girls. The truth is that all kids are trained, from birth, that stories about boys are important and for everyone, while stories about girls are trivial and only for girls.
The year is 2014. All kids need to experience narratives where girls do “lots of brave and stirring things.” Can we all help them to that? Parents, please seek out books and movies, apps and games that feature female characters with power and agency. Miss Representation has taught the world, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” but if you can’t even imagine it, that’s the worst of all.