Feminist Fiction for Five Year Olds?

by Claire Hamilton

Anne of Green Gables, Jo in Little Women and Pippi Longstocking – three fictional females who inspired me when I was growing up. In fact, these literary ladies featured on a long list of hearty heroines on my pre-teen bookshelves. Maybe my parents were pro-active in picking positive role models for my sister and I to aspire to, or maybe I grew up in less gender-specific early years reading times, but I was interested to read an article by British writer Viv Groskop where she tries to find ‘Feminist Books for Five Year Olds,’ after realizing that her teenies are trapped in a world where John saves the planet and Jane cleans up after him. In her article, she reads several books with her two kids (boy and girl) and examines their responses based on gender. She mentions that at the overtly feminist end of the spectrum there are coloring books with a powerful message on the shelves available – but I wonder how many mothers would give these to their sons. Plus she says some of the jokes are way too advanced for under tens.

It does seem that there are plenty of damsels who are far from being in distress too. Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole gets praise. Here’s an heir who doesn’t want to marry the handsome prince. In fact, there is a whole new genre of kick-ass Princess fiction out there – Princesses Are Not Quitters, The Princess Knight and The Paper Bag Princess to name but three… Take that Sleeping Beauty! 

I remember in the 1980s having a series of books called ‘Women at Work,’ all about the different types of jobs I could aspire to. Who knows how much this early exposure to female role models affected me, but it must have seeped in somehow. I wonder how different things are in 2009 though, now children are color coded blue and pink so much more rigorously than in my day. Are we still lacking decent storybook heroines? Would it be better if Hermione was the protagonist of the Harry Potter series? Would the series have been as successful if she was?

Photo courtesy The Guardian

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