Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Where did the girls go? Why is it difficult to find children's books for preschoolers with girls as the main character?

When I first started my storytime connection newsletter* a friend commented that I should make a strong effort to use a balance of girl and boy main characters in my book selection. I filed the suggestion in the back of my mind but didn't give it much thought. I figured I would naturally be ale to find a balance of books for both genders and did not want the book selection to suffer because I was forcing myself to use books only because they were about a girl. Plus, I wanted to focus on actually writing the newsletter first before I got into political correctness. As the months have gone by and I'm getting more into the swing of writing the weekly newsletter I have been surprised by the lack of books with girls as main characters. I stumbled upon a great list of 11 children's books that pass the Bechdel test, but they are all chapter books for older readers. Forget the Bechdel test, I'm just looking for books where the main character is a girl. I don't care who she's talking to.

My book list so far has been Little Blue Truck (Blue is a boy, as evidenced in the gender pronouns), Dancing Feet (gender neutral so that one gets a pass), and Rhyming Dust Bunnies (all four dust bunnies have boy names). Even when the character's gender does not matter at all the authors seem to revert to using boy names or pronouns. Next month will be Shiver Me Letters, and as far as I can tell all the characters are boys. I have Alice the Fairy by David Shannon and A Busy Day on my list for upcoming books, but after that I am a bit stuck. Piggy in the Elephant and Piggy series is a girl, but while I love those books I have a hard time finding quality art and sensory activities to go along with them. The same goes for Knuffle Bunny.

I adore the Ladybug Girl and Fancy Nancy series, but those are for older readers who can sit for longer periods of time. As is Blueberries for Sal. I'm not a fan of the Olivia series so I am staying away from that. The baby in Good Dog Carl is actually a girl, which you don't learn unless you read later books about Carl when the baby grew up. I have to admit I was surprised to see the baby was a girl. Why is that?

The problem solidified itself when I started typing up some of the stories my four year old likes to tell. They are silly, nonsense stories but she loved the idea of seeing her words in print. Out of nowhere one day she asked "I want to see my story again. Will it be a boy saying it?" 
What? A boy saying it? I had to ask multiple clarifying questions to try to understand what she meant. Why would her story be about a boy? It turns out that somehow in her four year old logic she assumed once a story is typed up it magically becomes about a boy, or at least told by a boy.

The more I try to think of quality children's books for younger readers that feature a girl as the  main character, the more difficultly I have. Why is it that in the world of make believe animals and talking objects all of our heroes are boys? It seems we have come farther in gender equality in the real world than we have in the imaginary stories we share with our children. Do we assume that two and three year old boys will have absolutely no patience listening to stories about girls, while two and three year old girls will be perfectly content to listen to a story about a girl?

I would love any recommendations you have on books for preschool students who have a girl as the main character. For my newsletter I am usually looking for books with a simple plot line and a good rhythm or repeated lines to encourage active engagement.


*This winter I started a weekly literacy newsletter for young children. I take one book a month and each week send out a new activity to connect with the book. There is usually an art activity, a sensory activity, and recommendations on how to use the book to promote social/emotional development. If you are interested in subscribing to the newsletter you can sign up with this link. 

7 comments:

Stacy Beller said...

Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes is a sweet book and Kitten is a girl.

turtlemama said...

While I was reading your post, I was simultaneously thinking, "This can not be true. There are lots of main characters who are girls in picture books for 2-4 year olds." Then I started a mental list, and I could only think of one, Madeline. ONE! And that might be more of a story than you are looking for. We have cleaned out a lot of the picture books since our youngest is now, gulp, seven. However, we have still held on to the favorites and my girls tend to have a long-lasting relationship with picture books, returning to them again and again through the years. So, I went to the shelves. I am still stunned--there are almost no picture books for littles with female leads as characters (and many have NO female characters at all). I don't know what it says about me that I've been reading these aloud for the last 18 years and haven't made that observation. Anyway, I did come up with a short but sweet list of some favorites of ours that do have female leads. Some may be out of print, but all would be worth getting your hands on if you can. 1. Lily of Blue Kangaroo (Clark)--not crazy about the sequels, but all of my girls adored the first book. 2. Kitten's First Full Moon by Henkes 3. Flora's Blanket and Flora's Surprise by Gliori 4. Red is Best by Stinson 5. Pumpkin Moonshine by Tudor 6. Nurse Clementine by James Of these, the only one published in the last few years is Nurse Clementine. The others are all ten or more years old. Interesting.

Luanne Lewis said...

Kevin Henkes comes to mind.. Sheila Rae's Peppermint stick is popular with my 4 year old. Also Lilly's Big Day and Shelia Rae the Brave -- they are longer though... WOW. I read the blog and didn't think it would be so hard to find a girl!

Sue VanHattum said...

I have a whole bibliography that started out as strong girl books, and then expanded. Some of my favorite picture books with strong girl main characters.

Hazel's Amazing Mother, by Rosemary Wells
Trouble with Trolls, by Jan Brett
Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman
Flossie and the Fox, by Patricia McKissak
The Old Woman Who Named Things, by Cynthia Rylant

Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer
Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes
Jessica, by Kevin Henkes
Silent Lotus, by Jeanne Lee
The Crane Girl, by Veronika Martenova Charles

The Big, Big Sea, by Martin Waddell
Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

suzanne said...

Try this site. There are at least a couple of titles.

http://www.brightkidsbooks.com/toddler-books-with-strong-female-characters/

Anonymous said...

Maisy-- Lucy Cousins??

organized chaos said...

Somehow I didn't see any of your comments until this morning when I had a chance to go through my spam folders. I'm sorry I missed them because these are great recommendations. It is very helpful and gives me a great go-to list for my newsletter and read alouds.

I will say that that with the exception of Maisy (and I'm not really a Maisy fan for read alouds or quality literacy activities) most of the suggestions are long. There are quite a bit for the preschool/kindergarten crew, but I still think the toddler crew is missing some good literature. My girls love Maisy books and the Lily and Ladybug Girl boardbooks, but I'm looking for something with a stronger storyline but simple text. Perhaps I am being too picky. I need to start going through your suggestions and figuring out which ones will work. Library time!