The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

The Heroine Challenge November 5, 2009

“Pink, pink, pink,” my daughter tells me. “I want EVERYTHING pink: The sky, the ocean, the grass, food…”




Disney-Princesses1Bows, dresses, tights, skirts, “clip-clop” shoes.

Barbie dolls, Tinker Bell, Disney.

In an age where the marketers frequently host sleepovers with preteens to gauge their product interests, where frozen peas display Dora the Explorer and the 3T section of clothes at Kmart have bedazzled jeans and crop tops I wouldn’t let my teenager wear let alone my preschooler, it’s no surprise that the book industry has been stuffed to overflowing with a surfeit of Tacky Crap Books for girls that hype all the elements of being “feminine” that I’ve listed above – pink, glitter, lace, wings, crowns, ballet shoes adorn big-eyed ding-dongs whose sole goal in life is to acquire pink, useless clothing, grow impossibly long hair, and get married to a prince. And maybe, if they have any energy left, they get a pony. (Not to ride it, of course; just to brush its hair.)

And I’m not just criticizing the way the heroines are presented – most of these books don’t even try to deliver a good story. No interesting language or word play, no challenging ideas, often these movie-based “books” are just summaries the director’s secretary typed up for some random interoffice memo that the publisher attached to some copied images from the movie. Yet, they utterly fascinate my daughter – before I ditched them, she would hold them as if they were sacred totems – maybe the extra-large eyes on Ariel the mermaid hypnotized her?

Dora-the-explorer-large(A digression: Dora the Explorer’s big eyes are frankly frightening, as are those on Bratz dolls. I’m afraid some marketer somewhere dug up some psycholanalytical information about the addictive quality of big eyes and found some manipulative gold in this design… and notice that there’s a new “tween” Dora – who has grown her hair… disturbing… my daughter already tells me that girls have tweendoralong hair and dresses…as if having short hair and pants would change her sex?)

So a concerned and thoughtful parent faces the challenge of culling through the stacks and finding books the daughter will appreciate with heroines who have more in their heads than accessorizing and who look somewhat normal and whose expression of girlhood doesn’t revolve around enhancing her attractiveness to dull-witted royal dudes.

Thankfully, savvy authors with flair and sense do exist.

Some of my top favorite girl heroines  include:

  • Madeline
  • Fancy Nancy
  • Olivia
  • Angelina Ballerina
  • Annie (and Snowball)
  • Ella the Elephant
  • Stella (and Sam)
  • Lola (and Charlie)
  • DW (from the Arthur series)

Who are your favorites?