Sunday, October 04, 2009

Here's to Girl Power!

In almost all fairy tales and Disney narratives, be it Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, there is a lead female character whose sole purpose in life is to look enchanting. She manages to land up in a soup one way or the other and waits patiently for a chap to turn up and save her. Typically, said chap possesses qualities like good looks, loads of grey cells, immense strength and courage not heard of before. He rescues the helpless maiden and they live happily ever after.

One could argue that it is just fiction but I believe that some level it does impact a little girl's image of herself. There is, fortunately, a whole lot of stuff out there which is fun and gives out more desirable messages, or at least does not give undesirable messages.

Here is an attempt to briefly sketch a few which have been hits in these parts. The reviews are based mostly on the opinions of my two girls. My little one is just starting to read some of these with me. The older one has long outgrown them but some are her still her favourites and you could catch her giggling over them even now.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman is truly amazing. Its about a little black girl who loves stories, both to listen to and to act out. She regularly replays her favourite stories in her head and pretends she is a pirate or a doctor or a warrior hidden inside the wooden horse at the gates of Troy. The characters she specially likes to enact are Dick Whittington and Alladin, both of which are boys but that is the last of her concerns.
One day their teacher tells the class that they will be staging a play based on Peter Pan and asks who would like to play the main part. Grace puts her hand up but is told by her classmates that Peter Pan is neither a girl nor black. A disappointed Grace is cheered up by her granny and her mom and told that she could do anything she wanted to as long as she puts her mind to it. Her granny even takes her to a ballet performance based on Romeo and Juliet, in which the lead female character is played by a black woman. Grace takes heart and does so well in the auditions that all her classmates vote for her to be Peter Pan. In the final performance she does a great job and gets cheered big time.
A lovely story. Never fails to make my four-year old smile and she loves to join in the line '..if Grace puts her mind to it, she can do ANYTHING she wants!'
Hoffman wrote more stories based on Grace - Grace and Family, Princess Grace, Starring Grace, Encore Grace! and Bravo, Grace! All these will be enjoyed once smitten by Amazing Grace!

And who hasn't heard of Pippi Longstocking?! Nine years old and apparently as strong as ten policemen, Pippi lives in Villa Villekulla all by herself because her mother is 'an angel' and father missing in the seas. Astrid Lindgren penned three books about this feisty girl's adventures - Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Goes Abroad and Pippi in the South Seas. The copy we have has been illustrated by Lauren Child of Charlie and Lola fame. Capital stuff, will be thoroughly relished both by the reader and the listener!
Tulika has brought out a Hindi version of the first book called Pippi Lambemoze, which was enjoyed as well by my older girl.

Talking of the wonderful Lauren Child, she has crafted a pile of books featuring an eight-year old girl called Clarice Bean. The books are full of text and illustrations in Child's trademark quirky style. They are funny and at the same time address issues faced by kids that age - at school and at home. Clarice Bean, That's Me! is the first of seven.

Judy Moody and Sophie are two more characters which will appeal to the 4-8 age group, and to whom every little girl will relate to in one way or the other.
Judy Moody is a lively third-grader who has well, moods. Megan McDonald's eight book series narrates how Judy turns her 'worst things ever' into her best. Funny and addictive.
The Sophie Stories are a creation of Dick King-Smith and contains six books spread over four years. Sophie loves animals and is 'very determined' about things, especially the fact that she will become a lady farmer when she grows up. She has twin older brothers, annoying yet loving. Beware though - for a while after the books have been read, your little girl might, like mine, insist she is 'very determined' about things!

The Rainbow Fairies is a series that I think must have surprised even the publishers with its success. It features two little girls Kirsty and Rachel, who rescue fairies who are perennially getting into trouble with other magical but mean creatures. The first set of books include Ruby the Red Fairy, Saffron the Yellow Fairy, Amber the Orange Fairy, Fern the Green Fairy and so on. Next come the Weather Fairies, followed by the Jewel Fairies, Sporty Fairies, Party Fairies, of each. The guys have obviously hit upon a magical formula! My older daughter loved them at age 5 and even dictated an e-mail to Daisy Meadows (the pen-name for a bunch of authors) suggesting that they perhaps could come up with 'Festival Fairies' and feature 'Diya the Diwali Fairy' in it!
What I particularly like about these books is the fact that it is the girls who use their brains and rescue the fairies, rather than random magic stuff solving things, not to mention a prince on a white horse!

Edited to add: Check this one too.


Sunita Venkatachalam said...

Welcome Chox! With two little girls at home, this post was as you know, very useful. I've been thinking of getting my older one started on these chapter books but didn't know which series to start off with. These are great pointers, I hope I find them here in India.

wordjunkie said...

Hi. delurking here on this lovely post.

yay! great finding you here chox! I'm always on the lookout for spunky girl characters in Indian writing for kids, with very little luck. The few I have found are all in fiction for the 8+ age group.

Choxbox said...

Poppy: Thanks!
To start off, you could try Amelia Jane perhaps. They work well as first chapter books because on one hand each chapter is independent of the other, while on the other the characters are all common. So you could take breaks after a couple of chapters or read as long as your listener patience holds!
And the books I mentioned in the post - have seen all of them in Landmark/Bangalore libraries.

WJ: Thanks!
Can think of this book called 'Victory Song' by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni which has a brave girl as the main character, but yes its certainly for an older child.

Sheela said...

Thanks for mentioning Pippi Longstocking, Chox, among other wonderful options. I am waiting to introduce it to my 4-yr old...however, I am sure she will love the Rainbow Fairies now...

Poppy, Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales by Ludwig Bemelmans was a hit with Ana - it is a collection of stories, so we read two or three at a time... not quite the chapter book with progressive storyline, but, works well for the resident 4-yr old :)

Lavs said...

Lovely post..sadly my mom did not have saffron tree(that time) to point out books when i was a kid...

One point, until i read this post, i did not think of snowwhite and sleeping beauty stories with undesirable messages!!!Thanks for waking me up.

Mary Hoffman said...

Thank you for your kind words about Amazing Grace and the other books. Great to know she is still hitting the spot with little girls!

Mary Hoffman

Praba Ram said...

OMG - that's Mary Hoffman who just stopped by to leave a comment!!!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

We are humbled and honored here at Saffrontree!!
Huge fans of Amazing Grace.. My daughter loves all your books! Who wouldnt? :-)

Praba Ram said...

Awesome selections, Chox! Love the theme and the nicely compiled list.

For my 7 yr old, when she was five, in kindergarten, we tried the magic fairy series...she didnt quite get into them. Of course, she was not into any series at that time except a few Beezus and Ramona here and there.
Last one and a half years, she read a whole bunch of school and neighborhood themed chapter books - arthur, ivy and bean, junie b etc... along with handpicked picture books (which is where Amazing Grace fits nicely - my cup of tea anyday!!) I think noone should ever grow out of picture books! :-)

that was a long one...well, you got me all started, Chox!

Meera Sriram said...

Choxbox, great review! Very helpful too. My kinder just finished her first chapter book last week and since then I've been looking for good books. And I'm glad that you highlighed the girl-power factor; I share your thinking about fairy-tales and also bug my daughter that from color to career nothing is gender-specific:)! Once again, very useful pointers. Thanks!

Choxbox said...

Sheela: Thanks!

Lavs: isn't it scary how many of these messages are subtle? I edit such stuff as much as I can from regular stuff. And the fairy tales - we simply never got into them. They were read by my older daughter after she started to read. Little one is clueless about Snow White and her sisters this far. No harm done.

Book Maven: THANK YOU for your comment! We LOVE your books!
In fact one time there was an exhibition relating to Amazing Grace in our neighborhood library in London, featuring the pictures on which Caroline Binch based her illustrations, as well as the original drawings.
Hats off to you both!

Praba: Thanks!

Meera: Thanks! And which book did she read? Maybe we should make a general list, whadda you say?

Chitra said...

Great post, chox.

I am very interested in the 'The Rainbow Fairies' series. Available in The Landmark and the like?

Chitra said...

oh and I have not liked fairy tales at all for girls - in fact have gone out of the way to not encourage daughter to read too many of them!

Choxbox said...

chitra: Thanks! Yes they are available in Landmark and most big bookshops.

Anonymous said...

I am sending this link to some moms who have daughters... I know they will love these books.

Linda said...

Along the same lines: "Books show feisty, spirited girls" from the Charleston children's books columnist -- to my delight, she features my own picture book:

Choxbox said...

IHM: Sure!

Linda: Thanks for the link. Maggie's Monkeys sounds wonderful, would love to get my hands on a copy!

Linda said...

Thanks. I wish I could afford to send out review copies on my own. But try your local library -- it was a Junior Library Guild selection, so it's available lots of places.

Keep up the great commentary!

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