How Do You Find Feminist Children's Books?

A young girl has her nose stuck in a book

Sometimes it feels like the deck is stacked against finding feminist-friendly children's literature. A couple weeks ago—in this fine, modern year of 2013, mind you—I walked into a big chain bookstore. At the customer service desk, I asked about picture books featuring women scientists, women science teachers, and/or girl or women science nerds. The man at the desk shuffled me off with apparent relief to "our children's literature expert." But the children's literature expert was unable to think of anything that fit the bill. To make matters worse, she paraphrased my request as "science books for little girls"—as though only girls could possibly read about women. Sigh.

While this was happening, I remembered my mother's annoyance a few years ago when she went to another big chain bookstore to buy a collection of stories for a two-year-old. When she asked for help, the bookstore employee's first question was, as always, "Boy or girl?"
 
And when I asked at our large, urban, otherwise-wonderful public library for help finding nonsexist chapter books, the otherwise-wonderful children's librarian said simply, "I don't think I can help you with that part. I've never really paid attention to that sort of thing."
 
What's a feminist parent, aunt, grandpa, friend, or otherwise child-nurturing humanoid to do?
 
Here are six strategies:

  • · First, it's a good idea to articulate your specific aims and requirements. It's easy to say you want "feminist-friendly" or "nonsexist" children's books, but what exactly does that mean to you? What's important? What's nonnegotiable? Asking librarians and booksellers (or searching online) for more specific characteristics sometimes yields better results. Even if that doesn't pan out, the process of thinking about this stuff can help you make judgments. It can also make room for awesome conversations with the children in your life.
  • · 'Shop' for a librarian and/or for a library if you live where this is possible. My family is lucky to live in a city with a truly vibrant library system and lots of branch libraries. Although we haven't had much luck getting book recommendations at the main branch's huge children's room, the librarians at the system's tiniest branch have gotten to know my family well and offer great ideas. After all, librarianship draws a lot of progressive folks who are into social justice as well as books.
  • · Ask, and ask again. First, if you keep asking, you will eventually run into the right bookseller or librarian. Second, you may help librarians and booksellers get ready to serve future feminists. If people ask, they'll eventually get the idea and do some research.
  • · Keep an eye out for progressive independent booksellers. Some small bookstores have tiny but well-curated children's sections. Their employees may be more aware of concerns about sexism and of great non-mainstream books to explore.
  • · Read lots of short reviews. I use the book-centered social networking site Goodreads a lot and find the community reviews there really helpful. The site's recommendations and lists are worth checking out, too. On Amazon, the very negative reviews are often the most illuminating (if only of their authors' quirks). It's also great to create a community of likeminded readers for yourself at Goodreads or in other online spaces.
  • · Make the most of not-so-feminist-friendly children's literature. Nonsexist children's literature is important, but so is talking about gender stereotypes, sexism, and social change. When we read books that reinforce gender-based stereotypes, we have the opportunity to help our children question those messages. 

And here are six resources to get you started:

  • · Created by a bunch of feminist librarians, the Amelia Bloomer Project offers annual lists of excellent feminist literature (divided into fiction and nonfiction within three age categories: picture books, middle readers, and young adult). The project also has a blog. It's all a component of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. Unfortunately, because of the age of the prize/organization, the lists only extend back to 2002.
  • · A 2008 post at Feministe asked for—and got lots of—recommendations for feminist-friendly children's literature. Tons of neat stuff to check out.
  • · Here are two more lists, one of books featuring girls behaving nontraditionally and one of books featuring boys behaving nontraditionally (ditto). They're old but potentially helpful.
  • · Bitch has some ideas about feminist-friendly children's literature, too!
  • · Perhaps unsurprisingly, I review lots of children's and young adult fiction from a feminist perspective at my blog, First the Egg. Try these posts for specific book ideas.
  • · For young people who've moved past beginning chapter books and into the land of young adult literature, check out Bitch's "100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader."

p.s. And picture-heavy stories about women scientists? I did wind up finding a lot! There are also a couple great books about women scientists for slightly older kids: Dignifying Science and the Smithsonian's webcomic series Women in Science


Do you know other great lists or individual books? Please share them in the comments! 

Photo credit: Andy Carter on Flickr.

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Comments

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Here are a couple I read as a kid

Black Like Me -John Howard Griffin
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry -Mildred Taylor
I hope this helps!

A is for Activist

For younger kids, check out "A is for Activist." It is an ABC book with beautiful illustrations -- every letter tells a story of social justice. My favorites are "F is for feminism" and "T is for trans"

http://www.aisforactivist.com/

I have found feminist and

I have found feminist and other independent bookstores to be invaluable. I have been going to the same feminist bookstore (Charis Books & More) for over 20 years and having a feminist space and a place where people know me has been invaluable--first as a young feminist and now as a feminist mom.

I recently discovered "A

I recently discovered "A Mighty Girl" (www.amightygirl.com) which bills itself as: "The world's largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls." It's basically a gigantic list of girl empowering media.

A Mighty Girl is AWESOME!

A Mighty Girl is AWESOME! Huge range of options, and you can search by interest as well as age. And they have wonderful selections of both fiction and nonfiction in every category. Please add them to your list of resources in the article above?

Thanks for adding this

Thanks for adding this resource!

A Mighty Girl is AWESOME!

A Mighty Girl is AWESOME! Huge range of options, and you can search by interest as well as age. And they have wonderful selections of both fiction and nonfiction in every category. Please add them to your list of resources in the article above?

An editor at Ms. magazine

An editor at Ms. magazine compiled a collection of short stories and poetry titled 'Stories for Free Children':
http://www.amazon.com/Stories-Free-Children-Mcgraw-Hill-Paperbacks/dp/00...

I enjoyed 'Shelf Discovery,' Lizzie Skurnick's quasi-encyclopedia of juvenile fiction featuring strong female protagonists. Reading it inspired me to start my own "juvenile fiction" book club with friends--a great way to revisit favorite childhood books and to learn about new ones.

Tangentially, I just read this article; it proposes a sort of rubric for writing about female scientists and includes links to several excellent profiles:
http://www.doublexscience.org/the-finkbeiner-test/

Strongly recommend Pippi

Strongly recommend Pippi Longstocking for Elementary School readers. "Judy Moody and the not bummer summer" for Middle School. I'd say any high schooler should be able to read "real" Feminist books... A little F'd up and Full Frontal Feminism, and 11th/12th should be able to take stuff like Sister Citizen.

just watch out

for that pippi longstocking racism. you know, with the South Sea buccaneering adventures and the monkeys, etc. astrid lindgren apologized and all, but the racism is . . . still in the books.

I've been thinking about this

I've been thinking about this post - specifically the anecdote about the librarian saying they can't help you find feminist children's books. I think that in situations like this, because of many people's misconceptions or wrongheaded ideas abt what feminism is/isn't, it might help to revise your approach. If you ask most children's librarians for books with "strong girl heroines" for any given age group, they will have a list a mile long. If you further specify that you don't want anything drenched in pink, for instance, or anything that has the characters obsessing about expensive clothes, etc etc, they will get your drift. And you will probably get an eyeroll of commiseration as well as a lot of helpful suggestions. I think this person probably just doesn't think abt feminism in their everyday life, and certainly not in the context of kidlit (or at least, they don't call it by that name) and they were taken aback.

I totally agree that asking

I totally agree that asking for something specific (rather than opening with "feminist" or "nonsexist") is the way to go. I think it can be harder, though, to find good help and suggestions when you're NOT looking for the strain of feminist-friendly children's literature that clusters around "strong girl heroines ... not drenched in pink." I have sons, not daughters, so the gender roles being pushed on my children are different (and less commonly questioned) ones. For various reasons, sometimes figuring out how to articulate what you're looking to find and/or avoid--and whom to ask--is a little trickier.

Just for the record, I didn't walk up to some random children's librarian and ask for feminist chapter books. That would be extraordinarily unlikely to work. If it did, the librarian should have rose petals showered upon him or her, though.

" I have sons, not daughters,

" I have sons, not daughters, so the gender roles being pushed on my children are different (and less commonly questioned) ones."

Ah! *smacks self on head* I was only thinking about this in terms of girls. D'oh! Wow, I can see how that would actually be a lot harder. Like, there are oodles of book lists for "strong girls" but where are the gender-stereotype-defying booklists for boys and their parents? I hope some librarian makes one someday, and has the aforementioned rose petals showered down upon them :)

For girls and boys, challenging gender stereotypes

10,000 Dresses
My Princess Boy
Girls Are Not Chicks

I wrote this post

I wrote this post about Feminist book offerings for the preschool/early years set!

http://ourfeministplayschool.ca/feminist-preschool-primer-feminist-frien...

Where to find feminist picture books

The first place to look is the fabulous Letterbox Library (www.letterboxlibrary.com). Started 30 years ago as an anti-sexist bookseller, Letterbox Library are THE place to find inclusive, diverse, equal and representative children's books.In a time when gendered marketing is worse than ever, Letterbox Library are a refreshing change.

I also worked for Child's Play (www.childs-play.com) for a number of years who publish books for children from 0-7. Child's Play actively ensure that gender stereotypes aren't promoted, and in many cases are actively challenged, across all their books.

Last, and not least. Inclusive Minds is a new initiative founded my myself and Alexandra Strick. It is a collective of those who are passionate about promoting diversity, inclusion and equality across mainstream picture books.

Sorry this sounds a bit like a sales pitch, but there are people who are activly trying to change things in the children's books world, so please do give us and them your support.

Thanks, Beth, for sharing

Thanks, Beth, for sharing these resources. It's frustrating that I've never heard of them, given that I've studied and taught children's literature, am active in the feminist/progressive parenting world online, and have sought out resources for feminist-friendly children's literature on three separate occasions (during my first pregnancy, working on a book section on gender in children's lit, and doing research for this post). I imagine someone who's a little less motivated or a little less whipped up about research would have an even harder time coming across lots of great projects, lists, and online stores that do in fact exist. I'm guessing you're partly outside my circle because you're in the UK and seem to aim/center most of your work there, but still ...

Good luck with your work! And thanks again for the links.

Hi One of the reasons we've

Hi

One of the reasons we've set up Inclusive Minds is to try to gather everyone who is interested in this area in one place. Yes, Letterbox Library are UK based, but import a lot of their books from the US. Child's Play also have Child's Play Inc, in the US, and their website can be accessed via the same link. From the UK site you can download their diversity and equality leaflet, but this will be available with US titles and prices shortly.

Inclusive Minds is UK based, but we'd love our reach to be global. I also realise that I made a typo and I should have said we promote inclusion in all children's books, not just picture books.

Best wishes

Beth

A Feminist Children's Book I recently published

Hi, I love that this topic is being addressed here!
I recently self-published a children's story book honoring menarche called Jaqi's Moon Box.
It presents ideas for honoring menarche and menstruation, a feminist perspective of human origins in relation to menstruation, and a completely self-referential tool of empowerment for women and young girls.

It can be purchased on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Jaqis-Moon-Box-Adventures-ebook/dp/B00C2XFKQC/ref=...

If it's in your harmony, I hope you enjoy:)
<3

Hi everyone, I'm a children's

Hi everyone, I'm a children's librarian in Little Rock. One of my professors sent me a link to this article because she knows how am I trying to find books, movies, toys, etc that I find appropriate for my daughter. That same day I came across www.amightygirl.com and I just had to share it with you here. I urge you to visit their page and take just a moment to browse their website. They have done an amazing job collecting hundreds of books, TV shows, toys, clothes, etc that fit into a "mighty girl" lifestyle.

My best luck has come through

My best luck has come through bloggers/authors. If you find one intelligent, feminist friendly author, see if they have a blog, and bookmark it. Writers READ, and authors who pay attention to issues of isms within their own work are usually seeking out things to read that do the same, as are their fans writing in the comments sections. I've found this has led me to a LOT of really excellent YA fiction and adult specfic; not sure what the children's book blogging community is like.

As far as individual book recs, Robert Munsch's stuff is excellent in its treatment of girls and women, and usually deals with those issues in a really subtle way, which I adore. See, as great as it is to have a story about how "Girls Can Be Awesome Too," the fact that this is somehow remarkable and weird enough to be worth having a whole book about actually undermines the message a bit. Nobody HAS to write books about how "Boys Can Be Awesome," because it's accepted as a gimme.

The Paper Bag Princess is about as blatant as Munsch gets, and it never once makes any special point of how Elizabeth is a girl saving a boy. And sometimes he's really SNEAKY. Like, say, with Murmel Murmel Murmel. Robin finds a baby at the bottom of a hole in her sandbox, informs the baby that she's just a little kid herself and she can't take care of a baby, and spends the book looking for a grown-up who CAN be a parent for the infant. She finds a lot of grown-ups who don't like babies and don't want babies and wouldn't be any good at taking care of babies, but eventually finds a male trucker who wants to be a daddy more than anything in the world. The trucker promptly ditches his truck so he can take the baby home, informing Robin that he doesn't need a truck, what he needs is a baby, and Robin can keep the truck.

This is a story about adoption.

And about a girl who knows she's not ready to be a mommy. And a man who wants to be a father and leaves work to go home and take care of a child happily and without a second thought. And a girl who gets her own goddamn eighteen wheeler. Without ever once saying "Men can be nurturing too" or "girls don't have to be mommies" or ANYTHING like that. All while being absofreaking hysterical and perfectly suited to reading aloud, as all Munsch's books are.

Something interesting

My mother recently retired as a law professor, and one of the courses she taught was Sex-Based Discrimination. One thing she did in that class was bring in one of her childhood books in which a school has a parade where kids dress up as what they want to be when they grow up. She points out that in this book, boys want to be firemen, doctors, policemen, etc., while girls want to be nurses, teachers, etc.

Pink Fire Trucks Picture Book

I am a first grade teacher and bilingual children's author. I came across this site because I'm looking for picture books that empower little girls. My second picture book: Pink Fire Truck will be out this summer. However, I have been reading the manuscript to my first graders and it is astounding how at such a young age little kids already have stereotypes of what careers are for men and women. The premise of the book is that a little girl boldly announces she is going to be a fire girl during career day. Unfortunately, she is met with challenges and oppositions. The book has been a great platform in the classroom as we have been discussing gender roles, careers, etc. I have also brought in other stories to show my students that women and girls are just as capable as men and boys. Any great books that I could bring in to class would be greatly appreciated.

Great book for little girls

I recentley read the ebook "Not Another Boring Princess" which I downloaded from amazon.

It has a great message for litlle girls ages 2 - 6, going against the archetypal princesses.

Highly recommended.

You should check out TowardTheStars

They have an really great list of resources including books lists that focus on strong female role models, positive body image, self rescuing princess, bullying and so on

www.towardthestars.com

Also check out the facebook page

I really love the book they shared yesterday, such a great example of great media for girls (and boys)

http://towardthestars.com/Product-Building_Our_House-3128.html

non-sexist Children's book

I just ran across your website doing some market research for a Children's book I illustrated a few years back.
It's called "The Story of Mrs Santa Claus." It's a Christmas book that gives girls a roll model who does more than bake cookies :-)

They are also for sale at barnesandnoble.com and signed copies are available at my website:
http://www.artistforhirenow.com/childrens-books.html

I'd be happy to send a hard or digital copy if you'd like to review it.
Thanks!

EVERY STORY COUNTS

I am the co-founder of IN THIS TOGETHER MEDIA, where we believe Every Story Counts. We publish middle grade and young adult fiction with characters who are more representative in terms of race, gender and experience. So, subtract the princesses and sex objects and add some brown/black characters who are more interested in math, soccer and friendship than makeup and dudes.

Check us out at www.inthistogethermedia.com