'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 17 April 2020

Guest Post: Nicole Rodwell gives us 10 Must-Read Books for Strong, Empowered Girls

Despite the fact it’s 2020, gender stereotypes and biases still pervade our children books.

You may have noticed these biases yourself, or maybe not. I know I have.

There have been numerous analyses of gender stereotypes in children’s books in recent years, with some startling findings:
  • Out of the top 100 Australian picture books published in 2017, it was more common for a book to have no lead character than a female lead character.
  • On TIME’s list of 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time, only 53 books contained female characters who spoke.
  • In a study of 200 picture books, not a single father was shown kissing or feeding a baby.
  • According to another study, only 19.5 per cent of female characters in children’s media are shown working.
When my daughter was born almost four years ago, I started searching for picture books to read to her. As a proud feminist, I naturally wanted to find the books that would empower her to think big and provide her with strong female role models.

I wanted to fill our shelves with stories that would inspire her to go after her dreams, to show her that yes, girls can do and be anything they want.

But what I discovered was shocking.

Book after book was mostly the same - a lead male character doing something adventurous and exciting. The female character, if there was one at all, was likely in the background, passive, or exhibiting stereotypical shyness.

Trips to my library became somewhat depressing unless I was prepared to painstakingly sort through shelf upon shelf of picture books in order to find one that wouldn’t make my daughter believe that girls were destined to live their lives in the background.

And those nostalgic books I loved growing up in the 1980s were just as bad - books like Edwina the Emu and Each Peach Pear Plum which have now been relegated to storage boxes, because I want my daughter growing up believing she can be more than a princess, a mother or a cleaner.

Despite feeling like the world was going backwards, I decided to take matters into my own hands and began actively seeking out empowering books. Surprisingly, I found a whole other dimension of authors who had discovered what I had, and thankfully, decided to do something about it.

I began making lists of the best books, researching authors, and I even began writing children’s stories of my own to try and restore some balance to the volume of books moulding our kids’ views of the world.

I started posting about my findings on social media, and have connected with parents and caregivers also keen to find appropriate, empowering material for their daughters and students.

I now have a growing list of books that empower girls, ranging from those suitable to read out loud to a newborn, to young adult fiction.

Here are some of my favourites from that list:

1. Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison
Ages 0 - 3 - The board book adaptation of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.

2. Molly Rogers, Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke + Kasia Matyjaszek 
Ages 2 - 7 - A gang of dastardly pirates meet their match when they kidnap a small, feisty girl named Molly.

3. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez + Felicita Sala Ages 4 - 8 - Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones.

4. So She Did: The Story Of May Wirth by Simi Genziuk + Renee Treml 
Ages 4 - 8 - At a time when girls weren't encouraged to be bold and daring, Australian circus rider May Wirth lived by her own rules.

5. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2 by Francesca Cavallo + Elena Favilli
Ages 5+ - 100 new bedtime stories, each inspired by the life and adventures of extraordinary women from Nefertiti to Beyoncé.

6. The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott + Anke Rega 
Ages 8+ - Anne's incredible story comes to life in this beautiful book, with timelines, facts and quotes.

7. The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell Ages 8-12 - A mother and daughter story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love, and fighting back.

8. A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space by Libby Jackson
Ages 8+ - From small steps to giant leaps, this book tells the stories of inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.

9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 
Ages 14+ - Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised, and her posh high school in the suburbs.

10. I Am Change by Suzy Zail
Ages 14+ - The tragic but empowering story of how a young girl finds her voice and the strength to fight for change.

I’m happy to say there are now so many authors out there empowering girls with their stories, and these books are just a few of many. If you’d like to discover more, head on over to my website for a list of the top 50 books for bold, courageous girls.

Nicole Rodwell is a writer and creator who is passionate about empowering kids through storytelling. She’s created three colouring and activity books, including the bestselling I’m A Girl! which is designed to inspire girls aged 5 - 11 through self-reflection and creativity. Nicole is now working on a number of picture book manuscripts, and regularly blogs all things kid-empowerment on her site NicoleRodwell.com