Mia hopes someone will consider this post a “Christmas miracle.”
For those of you so inclined to Yuletide cheer, we here at Canonball realize that you are now woefully short on time to find gifts for the feminists and future feminists in your life. With that in mind – and with the help of one of our favorite contributors, Annie Rebekah Gardner – I’ve cobbled together a list of books that are both excellent gifts and fairly easy to find in stores. Today, I’m tackling books for kids and younger teenagers and mostly recalling just how much I used to love sassy historical (fiction) characters. (Oh, and if you happen to be looking for gifts for a 13-year-old girl with a fondness for the Jonas Brothers, we’ve already written that guide!) And so, without further ado:
For little girls who have incorrect notions of what princess-hood entails.
Jane and the Dragon by Martin Baynton: A quick online search tells me that this book is “NOW ON TV” – I don’t know anything about that, but I can tell you that this story about a princess who wants to be a knight is exactly what we need to be putting in the hands of little girls (and boys!) before they internalize restrictive gender roles. I mean, this story is just too great: no one takes Jane seriously when she says she wants to be a knight – except the jester, natch. And he gives her a suit of armor, and she practices in private, and good thing she does, because the prince is captured by a dragon, and Jane must rescue him. Then Jane and the dragon literally have a talk about how expectations limit them to roles they don’t want to play. Oh, and, at the end, when Jane has her pick of partners to dance with at the ball, she chooses the jester. Like I said, too good! Also check out The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch, the story of a spoiled princess who loses all of her material belongings to a dragon, who she must slay to rescue her prince. Upon doing so, the prince informs her that she smells and that he won’t take her back until she looks like a “real princess.” Naturally, our princess realizes that the prince just isn’t worth it. Both, ages 4 to 8.
For little boys who just need to know it’s okay.
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow: A synopsis from Annie: “Boy wants doll. Boy doesn’t get doll and gets called a sissy. Grandma puts foot down. Boy gets doll.” Amazon says this book is appropriate for preschoolers, though I daresay there are many adults who should read it too.
For little girls who get a lot of bruises.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans: Another recommendation from Annie: “Madeline is a spunky redhead who lives with eleven other little girls and a weary nun, Miss Clavel, and is always brave and often a little too brave for her own good (she ends up in the hospital a lot, shall we say). ” And indeed she does; over the course of several books, Madeline has appendicitis and falls off a bridge, which I suppose could be read as a cautionary tale, but she is no worse for the wear. Annie also recommends Ramona the Pest by Beverly Clearly, which I’m surprised to have forgotten. As the Wikipedia article notes, “Ramona is adamant that she is not a pest. She is a very imaginative girl and this usually gets her into trouble.” Amen, sister. Both ages 4 to 8, though Ramona might skew to the older end of that scale.
For girls (and boys! – how I wish boys would read books with female protagonists!) who like spying, sleuthing and imagining.
A Little Princess or The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: (It’s perhaps telling that both Annie and I came up with the following three books independently. Classics, indeed!) Annie notes of Burnett’s works, “Rich little girls whose circumstances change and who make the most of it and light up grumpy old men’s lives in the process! The horrible headmistress of A Little Princess will forever remain the archetype for the cruel orphanage lady who we always ran away from when we were, ahem, playing orphans.” All little girls do play orphan, don’t they? They do: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg was certainly one of my favorites, as it concerned a brother-sister pair who ran away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A childhood dream, surely! And finally, Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: the title’s pretty self-explanatory, as is Annie’s musing, “How many times did I read this book and then make mom and dad buy me like a million notebooks and then attempt to spy on everyone around me? SO MANY.” Still true, I daresay. All ages 9 to 12.
For if you plan on borrowing these books for yourself.
A Wrinkle in Time, and the rest of the Time Quartet, by Madeleine L’Engle: Annie recalls, “One time I wrote a letter to Madeleine L’Engle and she wrote me back! A personal reply! I can honestly say that there is nothing wrong with these books, or with Madeleine L’Engle as a writer. Nothing. If the person in your life has already devoured the series, might I suggest L’Engle’s An Acceptable Time as a substitute? It’s about Meg’s (heroine and protagonist of the Time Quartet) daughter Polly. Bonus: it gets overlap from some of L’Engle’s other books’ characters. I just really, really love when writers do that. I also want to put in some words for her Vicky Austin series, starting with Meet the Austins, mostly because Vicky is so fixated on being average and then does a bunch of cool shit anyway.” Oh and the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. Not only will it teach the young feminist in your life where exactly Prince Edward Island is, but it will teach her that being feisty usually works out. Both ages 9 to 12.
Oh and kids love historical fiction. Trust me.
American Girl books: We all had our favorite American Girls (and, oh those dolls). Mine were Revolutionary War-era Felicity Merriman – “spunky” and “sprightly – and Wold War II-era Molly McIntire – a “schemer” and a “dreamer.” Also, she had glasses. Historical fiction is a very sneaky way to trick kids into learning and also to being sympathetic to the hardships of kids who worked in factories. Annie also recommends Turn Homeward by Patricia Beatty about a Civil War-era girl who works in a factory and Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman; Annie summarizes, “This is about a 14-year-old European noblewoman in the medieval era and is written in diary form. Dude, this chick is so sassy, and rejects every ugly, smelly suitor her dad proffers on her.” Diary-form books were literally my favorite things between the ages of 9 and 12, and I thusly still have a bookshelf in my parents’ house devoted to the Dear America series. I can’t be sure which ones are still being printed (Will a children’s librarian please speak up?!) but I recall reading about girls – from all socio-economic, ethnic and immigrant backgrounds – living during all the major American wars, the Mayflower voyage, the opening of the American West, the Industrial Revolution and the end of slavery. Oh and Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink was pretty great too – the story of “a clock-fixing tomboy running wild in the woods of Wisconsin” in the 1860s.
So, speak up readers! What are some easy-to-find books with strong female characters (or overt feminist messages – a blogger can dare to dream!) you’d recommend as gifts for kids and younger teens?