In the past, I’ve had conversations with parents who had certain books they did not want their children to read. By this time, technology was well-ingrained into our everyday society and “too much screen time” was a common phrase used when talking about raising kids. So, it was confusing to me why in the world, parents would deny their children any type of reading at all, regardless of what the character says or does. Isn’t the fact that your child is reading enough? Well, it turns out, I was wrong.
As my daughter has grown up and her choice in books moved from picture books to chapter books, I see how influential a book can be in the life of a young person. My daughter is a girly-girl supreme and of course her choice in books usually involves a lot of pink, princesses, and ponies. As an open-minded mom, I let her choose whichever books struck her fancy and we would read them together at night.
However, as we read her choice of princess books, something started to irk me. First of all, the main characters are always soooooo perfect. They never make any mistakes or treat anyone unkindly. However, they are always surrounded by lots of other misfits who make plenty of mistakes for everyone. How is my daughter supposed to measure up to this? She might assume that the way the main character always does everything to perfection is the expectation for her in real life.
In addition, I realized that these princess and fairy books often spend entire paragraphs and sometimes entire pages just describing the clothing that each character is wearing. Really?! Not only is this bad writing, I do not want my daughter to think that what someone wears is so important that it merits an entire page description, while also adding nothing to the plot of the story.
So, going against what I always thought, I’ve started to steer my daughter towards books that focus on more well-rounded female main characters. Here they are in all their flawed glory!!
1. Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda might have a tinge of the “too perfect” streak going for her, but what I love about Matilda is that she is her own person. Despite being brought up in a family that cares nothing about books or education, she sticks to her guns and develops a deep love for reading. She also stands up to several bullies that she encounters (including her father). Matilda will teach your daughter that intelligence is a much more desirable trait than popularity.
2. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Very few books in my life have made me bawl my eyes out, and oddly enough, Harriet the Spy is one of them! I fell in love with Harriet’s independent spirit and ability to have a deep interest in something that could be enjoyed on her own. Harriet needs to write like a fish needs water. Without writing, she feels like a piece of her is missing. Harriet isn’t always kind and she says some mean things about her friends, but this is what makes Harriet real. Real people sometimes say and do hurtful things to those we care about and we have to deal with the consequences of that. On top of it, the relationship that Harriet has with Ol’ Golly, her caretaker and mentor, is developed in such an amazing way, you will be hard-pressed to find anything more endearing.
3. Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall
Technically the Ivy and Bean books contain two main female characters. They are best friends, but both are unique and interesting young ladies. I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback from parents about Ivy and Bean. Particularly that they cause lots of trouble and rarely get punished for it. It’s true, they can do some naughty things, especially Bean. However, they are adventurous, imaginative, and smart. Ivy and Bean will teach your kids (my son loves them too!) that you don’t need the latest gadget or video game to have fun. Having fun can be inventing your own day camp and teaching little kids how to go on a bear hunt.
4. Heidi Heckelbeck by Wanda Coven
Heidi Heckelbeck is geared towards a younger crowd and is a perfect first chapter book for your daughter to read on her own. Heidi Heckelbeck is a magical witch who sometimes uses her magic inappropriately like to get back at the bossy girl in class. Heidi is a good all-around young lady who has real-life problems your daughter will relate to. She also spends more time worrying about the upcoming science-fair project than what she will be wearing to the event.
As the world of toys and books are becoming more geared to an ultra-feminine representation of girls, I worry about the lasting negative impact this will have on our daughters. Now, do I forbid my daughter from reading any princess and fairy books at all? No. However, I try to include several doses of other female characters in the mix so she learns that there is no single definition of what it means to be a girl, and what is most important is to be yourself.