Books are a part of what primes us and prepares us for society. Along with music, movies, advertisements and the internet, books are a part of the media that helps us understand the world.
I have been reading to Aodhan since the first few weeks he was earthside. The rhymes and rhythms of Hairy McClairy and Eric Carle are likely encoded on his DNA. Aodhan craves books and being read to more than he craves food. Every hour it is another book. Another magazine. Another graphic picture book. He is voracious in his love for literature. I place a great weight on the power of literature to transmit and embed in us a set of stories and myths about what it is to be human (thank you Northrop Frye and Joseph Campbell). Therefore, I insist that his reading is mostly in line with our worldview. Through books, I want him to see people as people and not as a fixed sex or gender, I want him to see a feminist-worldview, I want him to be aware of the rich and luxurious difference that is around us. I want him to see, very clearly, the discord in the world, the failures of humanity, the mistreatment of marginalized and victimized peoples.
I know. It all sounds heavy for a kid who isn’t even four. I hear the arguments to not saddle too early our kids with the harness of the patriarchy. It isn’t like I am giving him copies of Cunt or Bell Hooks, “Feminism is for Everybody.” I give those titles to my friends.
Instead, I make sure that whenever possible, I add to his collection of feminist-friendly books. And when he does reach for a more conservative title, such as Franklin, I make a dialogue around the reason why Franklin’s mom stays home, and how, “hey, isn’t it cool that Bear’s mama is the town doctor?” I also simply do not allow books that ONLY champion the traditional masculine mode of being ‘a boy’ or the equally unsatisfying tropes of ‘princess’ girls needing a rescue or two. I have been known to rip pages from his Richard Scarry books that loved-on the military, and like some other mamas, I change the pronouns when it seems appropriate.
I feel that Aodhan’s love for his all-time favourite book character “Katy” in Katy and The Big Snow, aptly epitomizes where I hope my vetting and messing with his literary experience has gotten us. He loves her because she is strong and capable. He loves her because she helps her entire community when none of the male characters can. And, shit. He loves her because she is a giant, red snow-dozer.
Here is a list of titles I heartily endorse for anyone looking for some kid feminist-friendly reading. But, if you want something much more exhaustive, check out the Amelia Bloomer Project, which catalogues all woman-centric texts for women: Birth-18.
Katy and The Big Snow
Virginia Lee Burton
The snow plow that saves the day is a ‘woman’-character, and uses her mad plowing skills to save an entire city.
The Paper Bag Princess
A whole world of awesome is happening here. If you want to help a daughter embrace a princess obsession in a healthy way, this might be a good option. The princess manages to subvert a world of patriarchy and outsmart a dragon! Not the most vegan-friendly of books, but we work our way around it because this is so worth it. This mama has been known to wear a garbage bag or two to help work in some dramatizing of this sweet text.
A Chair for My Mother
Oh my gosh! I adore this book so very much. This award winning book touches on so many things. Generations. Single Mothers. Poverty. Working Families. Support Systems. Economy. Financial Independence. Culture. It’s stunningly beautiful and tender.
I just love Pippi. She is independent and quirky and adventurous. This quote says it all: ‘But I’m the world’s strongest girl – keep that in mind!’
Marching With Aunt Susan
Claire Rudulph Murphy
Who doesn’t love a little non-fiction? This book is a creative non-fiction read that opens up conversation about the suffrage movement and Susan B. Anthony. Love this and the conversation that it is capable of starting. This is also fab, because it is a book that will keep on giving as a kid gets older (politics, voting, unions, the options are endless here).
The Elephant And Piggie Series
I am all over these books because gender is so. not. an. issue. Plus, I also love how these books have invaded the mainstream, existing in almost every library and classroom across North America. Gerald and Piggie are LOVED because they are JUST KIDS. Their gender and sex doesn’t matter a toot in these books and Mo Willims does a great job of making sure that both characters have moments of empowerment and ‘wearing’ the different tropes of our culture’s view of what is male and what is female.
Anne of Green Gables
This Canadian classic is unlikely to be called feminist-fiction, but the author managed to offer up many proto-feminist moments in her characterization of Anne, Mrs. Lynda and even Marilla. Although, I am certain that none of these characters, or even the author, would count themselves as feminists (and Ms. Lynde quite the opposite), I do feel that this book is full of great stuff to talk about – even with the youngest kiddo.
Heather Has Two Moms
I love this book for many reasons. The illustrations are ace and the message is fab. I like offering up various images of what families can look like. Being a woman does not mean having babies. Nor does it mean having a husband. Nor does it mean being heterosexual. There are a stack of books that have joined Heather Has Two Moms(thankfully), but I love celebrating this one because it was pretty radical and on its own way back in 1990.
Girls Are Not Chicks: Colouring Book
Ok! Seriously the best thing EVER. My fav quotation is: ‘This time, she [Rapunzel] has some power tools, a roll of duct tape, a Tina Turner album, and a bus pass.’
Books are important pieces in raising our kids. But, almost more important than the act of learning to read, parents need to focus on the messages that are subtly, or not so subtly, offered up to our kids as we snuggle under the covers and crack open another Magic Tree House (gooooo Annie!!) And because I love media so much, here is a video clip from Teacher Tube of A Chair For My Mother. Enjoy!