Skip to content

feminist children’s books

Join the feminist picture book revolution with this free tool

Yo ladies and gents! Are you ready for your DIY summer project? All you need is 5 minutes and a commitment to gender equity!

So stop stirring your artisinal, small batch, organic playdough, and go load some locally-sourced, recycled paper into your printer. Cause we need you for the revolution.

Read on.

“Protagonism is Propaganda that protects and perpetuates privilege.”

Jill Soloway, my living, breathing spirit animal said this.

It, in addition to every other thing she says in this manifesto, has given voice, clarity and purpose to feminist frustrations that got turned up to a steady boil since I pushed out my first baby.

I switch pronouns in most every picture book, I have long, difficult discussions with AW about the sexist way we divvy up domestic chores, I tell the boys why certain stories they read make me angry, because they are using sexist or racist or classist or homophobic stereotypes. “Maybe we should call the male character the ‘the farmer’s husband’ since women and men can both be farmers and husbands and wives. Let’s think of some we know…”

I challenge their assumption that the person riding the motorcycle is male. I consider that all of this is working when Jo and I have an exchange about a silver Toyota passing us on the freeway.

Me: He’s driving waaay too fast!

Jo: Or she!!!

And so it has been that raising my children has made me ever more aware of patriarchy, of sexism, of the million ways that He and Him and His is the universal default for every person or creature seen in the world or shown in a story.

And so it has been that I’ve had the idea to make this for almost exactly 7 years, and finally spent the 10 minutes it took this afternoon.

Behold! This magical feminist pronoun switcher tool can empower any person anywhere to join the protagonist revolution.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 4.54.13 PM

 

Since a shocking majority of published picture books feature male characters, you can just close your eyes at your kids’ bookshelf and grab one. Then, simply print, cut, paste and voila! You just created your first piece of feminist protagonist propaganda! It can be tipped into the tiny, pliable minds of children everywhere.

Not only will you be saved from having to remember to change pronouns on every page, your child will soon set the perfect stage for a conversation about unfairness and and feminism when she asks you why you changed the words in so many of her picture books.

Welcome to the revolution.

Truly feminist picture book recommendations and paternity leave is over

Woo hoo! Had to share this lovely post responding to my recent post championing Elisabeth’s call for picture books with varied female characters and a gender balanced cast. Whew. Were you able to connect all those dots? Hope so. I don’t have much time to preen my writing because A. is back to work today. Sigh.

I’ve been weepy as a willow for the last 24 hours. Having his presence at home for 7 weeks (yes, SEVEN) has been nothing short of miraculous. He provides an extra set of arms for bouncing babies or wrangling older boys. He installs sliding glass doors where once there were windows.

dining1 dining2

Pretty amazing, huh?

And he also makes tea in the morning with the perfect amount of sugar and milk.

I miss him.

I also feel like a big fat wuss for feeling this way, since he was around for SEVEN weeks. Thank you, A’s boss, for setting up your company policy to allow your employees to have access to the Family and Medical Leave Act even though you’re not legally required to, since you employ way less than 50 people. And thank you, State of California, for having the California Paid Family Leave program which made it possible for us to afford SEVEN weeks without A’s salary.

I don’t know a single person whose partner has been able to take this much time off after the birth of a baby. Not one. And may I please say that that is ridiculous. And sad. And just plain stupid.

I’ll keep my rant short, but it seems to me that one of the most basic things a country can do to support its people is to support its newest members and those bringing them into the world. And expecting new moms and dads to just ally-oop back to work lickety split puts tons of stress on new families. And directly influences mental and physical health of parents, health outcomes for newborns, and emotional lives of siblings to name a few. I don’t have the time or energy to go looking for all of the studies and articles that I’m sure have been written about this (if you have any at your fingertips, please share!!) but I’m sure that babies and parents are healthier and happier when parents are able to stay home and settle in for more than 5 minutes.

Here I am all weepy as hell and I got seven (SEVEN!) weeks of support from my partner, not to mention tons of food and childcare from friends. I know I could have handled it if A. wound up with the typical, all-American 1 or 2 weeks off, but I’m oh so grateful that I didn’t have to. And I know that there are tons of folks out there that don’t have a choice. And that makes me angry. Political rant-y angry.

Baby C is waking up, and there’s grocery shopping to do and J to pick up at one. I’m off to my solo parenting immersion.

Hope all is well with you, dear readers.

Going beyond "strong female characters" in children's books

One of you dreamy readers, specifically Elisabeth M., left a comment that really got me thinking last month. She was responding to this post where I put a call out to children’s book readers near and far to help me find some stories with good, strong female characters in them.

Here’s what she had to say:

I don’t just want books with “strong female characters.” I want books with “varied female characters.”  And, I want female SECONDARY characters. In other words, I don’t want one strong propaganda-piece for female empowerment leading a show that’s populated by and all-male supporting cast, over and over and over. The thing is, as long as we’re stuck with “strong female characters,” we’re still putting females in a box—a propaganda box—and we’re still making the story about “femaleness” to some extent. People say boys don’t want to read books about female characters; I think the answer to that is to make the stories big, to include (in addition) a healthy number of female-led stories whose scope goes beyond patriarchy, stories that deal with issues other than gender identity. How about neutral female characters? How about “regular people” female characters? Until we have balance in the stories – by which I mean, an undeniable female presence that isn’t calling attention to itself—we’re going to be raising girls and boys to look at “female” as “other.”

So here’s my mission (and I have NO idea how to find this) – books that have a variety of female types—not just “strong,” and not just “stereotypical,” but varied—and which include a neutral cast of 50/50 male/female secondary characters. (Why do all the friendly insects on the pages need to be male?)

Well yowza. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Elisabeth M., for this killer distinction. I’ve been sorting through my list to see if any books fit the bill: having a balanced number of females in them without being about “femaleness.” The best I can come up with right now are the Katie Morag books. They’re written for the 5-9 set, but J has been really into them as the fairly verbal 3 year old that he is.

Katie Morag is supported by a nice balanced cast of characters, including feisty Granny Island who is often on her tractor, Granny Mainland, the ferryman, Katie’s brother Liam and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. McColl.

katie1

The books really aren’t about “femaleness” at all, but rather life on the Isle of Struay, a hearty little island off the coast of Scotland.

katie2

There are also the Mrs. Armitage books which I already reviewed here.

I don’t have a great recommendation for 1-4 year olds. But I did love Sally and the Limpet. It isn’t about “femaleness” per se, though I think most of the other characters are male.

sallylimpet

So now, I have to pass Elisabeth’s question on—do you know of any children’s picture books with a variety of female types and a balanced male/female cast of characters? Do tell.

Leading ladies in children's picture books: Mrs. Armitage

Way back when, I posed this lament and request for good children’s picture books with girl and women main characters. Thanks to all of your amazing comments, I’ve had a hold-list a mile long at our library. We’ve been reading like fiends in these parts and have found some real stand-outs. Three books that stick in my mind and that we have gone back to the library for again and again are the Mrs. Armitage books by Quentin Blake.

It all started with Mrs. Armitage on Wheels.

Don’t you love her already?

It’s basically a children’s book version of ‘pimp my ride,’ only the ride is a bike and the detail crew is Mrs. Armitage and her faithful dog Breakspear. And if you feel like Blake’s illustrations remind you of something, you’re right! Quentin Blake drew all of the pictures for Roald Dahl’s books. Blake is also a wonderful storyteller–these are books that you will genuinely enjoy reading out loud.

Then there’s Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave.

Similar storyline–only this time, it’s a surfboard.

And Mrs. Armitage: Queen of the Road.

In this one, she un-pimps her ride and then winds up playing billiards and drinking cans of banana fizz with her Uncle Cosmo and his friends at the Crazy Duck Cafe.

Go forth. Read. Enjoy. And relax knowing that you’re reading a story to your kiddo that shows off a rad leading lady.