With Hillary Clinton’s nomination for the U.S. presidency and Obama’s recent essay on feminism today, I’ve been in a girl power kind of mood. I am an elementary and middle-school educator, and I see first-hand how deeply entrenched gender stereotypes are in our society, and it is something I actively try to fight. It would be very easy for me to always hand traditional princess and fairy books to girls, but I make an effort to avoid them as default recommendations. As adults, I think it’s incredibly important to constantly be aware of the double standards and assumptions we have when it comes to gender, and what better way to educate yourself than through books?
Below you’ll find two lists of recommendations. One is grown-up titles that address feminist issues and the other is books with uber strong female characters to recommend to the young people in your life (though you might enjoy them too!).
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West
In series of essays, Lindy West unapologetically shares her experiences as a woman in today’s society. Full of snarky humor (and a smattering of scatalogical jokes), she tackles subjects such as body acceptance, rape culture, and women’s health. Shrill is simultaneously hilariously entertaining as well as serious and thought-provoking. If you’re an audiobook fan, I would definitely recommend listening to it. Lindy narrates and makes the experience feel more personal and human.
Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, by Peggy Orenstein
Girls and Sex takes an unflinching look at all the aspects of what sex looks like for young women in 2016…and it ain’t particularly good. In the book, Orenstein explores girls’ motives for dressing provocatively; the meaning of virginity; pleasure lacking a place in girls’ sexual experiences; the impact of porn; and more. This book has been a bit divisive for readers (Orenstein definitely has an agenda), but overall, her message is one that stresses how important it is for girls to feel heard and empowered.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adapted from Adichie’s TEDx Talk with the same name, We Should of All Be Feminists is a powerful essay that calls on men and women alike to promote gender equality. I personally like that she makes clear that being a feminist does not have to equate to being angry man-haters or unshaven bra-burners. The definition doesn’t have to be so narrow. In fact she calls herself a “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes to Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not for Men.” Short, sweet and with a touch of a humor, Adichie’s essay shouldn’t be missed.
Magic Marks the Spot: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, by Caroline Carlson
Hillary Westfield desperately wants to be a pirate, but her father has other plans and sends her to finishing school. This setback doesn’t discourage Hillary, though. When she sees an advertisement in search of a pirate crew, she runs away from school and proves herself worthy of the job. She is then thrown into a wild and magical adventure searching for the Enchantress of the North who has stolen all the magic of the world – well, almost all…Hillary’s sidekick is a walking, talking gargoyle after all. (Ages 8 – 12)
Igraine the Brave, by Cornelia Funke
Igraine is the daughter of magicians and is determined to become a knight, and she’s never had a chance to prove herself until now. The evil nephew of the baroness next door plans to attack her family’s castle and steal their magic singing books. Normally, her parents would fend him off, but they’ve accidentally turned themselves into pigs! Igraine has to suit up and save the day. (Ages 8-12)
I actually created an Igraine the Brave book trailer for my students that you can enjoy as well:
Rosie Revere Engineer, by Andrea Beatty
Rosie loves inventing things and dreams of becoming an engineer, but is hesitant to share her creations because of a bad experience she had with an uncle who laughed an the invention she made for him (jerk!). But when her great- great- Aunt Rose visits and mentions that one of her lifelong desires has been to fly a plane, Rosie can’t help herself and starts to work on a flying contraption of her own. It doesn’t work quite how she wants it to, but Aunt Rose assures Rosie that the important thing is she tried and that failure is a stepping stone to success. Snaps for positive female role models! And if you like this one, Beatty has a new title coming out in September called Ada Twist, Scientist.(Ages 5 and up)
Grace for President, by Kelly DiPucchio
When Grace finds out there has never been a female president, she decides that she has to take action! Although she isn’t quite old enough to become the real president, she runs in her school’s mock election against one other nominee, Thomas Cobb. As the campaigning proceeds, she not only learns about the U.S. electoral system, but she also realizes that there are clear lines drawn between the girl and boy voters. Who will win? (Ages 5 and up)
Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy, by Noelle Stevenson
Lumberjanes is a graphic novel featuring five kick-butt girls at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-types. They do their share of traditional camp stuff – canoeing, hiking, etc. – but they also solve supernatural mysteries and fight three-eyed foxes and yetis (think Girl Scouts meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer). You’ll fall in love with each of these empowered and unique girls and will want to start talking like them too. Some of their best exclamations include “Where the Phyllis Wheatley were you?!” and “Friends to the max!” I plan on working those into conversation soon! (Ages 10 and up)