I always swore I would be the kind of parent who would let my children read anything. Captain Underpants, silly graphic novels, whatever they get their hands on.
That was until I found this gem in my daughter's stack of library books. Meet Ballet Kitty, who throws a mighty tantrum because without her ballet slippers she does not feel pretty. It doesn't matter that at the end of the book she learns that she doesn't need her ballet slippers to have fun, the one page is there and sends the message that happiness and feeling pretty are tied together.
Parenting a little girl feels like a minefield some days. Just a simple trip to the library can bring unwanted messages about what it means to be a girl to my daughter. I wouldn't say that I am trying to raise my daughter with gender neutral parenting, but I don't want to be spending my three year old daughter's impressionable years giving her the idea that pink, tulle, and princess crowns are her only place in the world. She takes in every book she reads like it's a new bible, asking many questions about each page and then going to bed with it at night, as though cuddling with it will bring her closer to understanding the meaning of life. When she goes to bed cuddling a Winnie the Pooh novel I hope innocents of the characters soak into her soul. When she goes to bed cuddling a paperback of the tween Dora I want to sneak ala Grinch style and snatch it from under her pillow.
Have you seen the new tween Dora? I've caught my daughter practicing her tween Dora laugh that Dora seems to save for Diego. Ugh. My three year old does not need to practice flirting now.
But she's a girl who goes to daycare with other girls and has been introduced to princesses, tutus, Elsa, and ballet. She likes these things and I don't want to stand in her way of enjoying them, as long as they don't come with horrible messages like "The only way to be happy is to wear pink and be pretty."
There are some fabulous books out there with strong girl characters that I love reading with my daughter.
Ladybug Girl: My current favorite, by far is the Ladybug Girl series. Lulu, dressed as Ladybug Girl, can do anything. The books are full of Lulu exploring by herself, being bored and discovering imaginative ways to entertain herself, and then overcoming things that are hard because she's... Ladybug Girl! My daughter loves these. She loves them so much that we made her own Ladybug Girl costume out of tissue paper, ribbon, and pipe cleaners. She can wear a tutu AND be brave. In fact, when wearing her Ladybug Girl costume, my daughter is more likely to speak up to strangers and take risks.
Fancy Nancy: Every time I read a Fancy Nancy book I'm pleasantly surprised. Fancy Nancy may love fancy things, but she's also polite, thoughtful of her friends, and loves to explore and try new things. She's creative and has personality. Somehow even with all those dressy clothes she doesn't seem particularly girly. Perhaps I love her so much because I feel a kindred spirit with her poor mother, who does not look like a woman who you'd expect to raise a Fancy Nancy girl. She looks like a woman resigned to her daughter's love of fanciness. She's not going to stand in the way of her daughter's obsession, but she didn't teach her daughter to be like this. She understands what it's like to have a little girl with a big personality.
And then, of course, there is The Paper Bag Princess: All. Time. Favorite. I even have the board book version and have been reading it to my daughter since she was a baby. The best. You can be a princess- you can be brave, and clever, and independent. You can be a princess without looking like one.
What are your recommendations for strong girl characters?