The Spectre of Gender Inequality in Children’s Books

Someone posted a video online, and it made me steam.

A mother and daughter protest the lack of female leads in children’s literature by removing books to underscore various statistics, until few are left.

And my head exploded.

Anyone can cherry-pick books to fit any given criteria. AND it devalues wonderful books for no reason but gender (anyone scarred by not reading Harriet Potter? Or Curious Georgette?). The facts felt skewed, I HAD to investigate this.

The video, and most relevant articles, stem from a single study by Janice McCabe in the sociology journal Journal of Gender and Society (2011) which studied 5600 US children’s titles from the 20th century and found that males are twice as likely as females in titles, and 1.5 times more common as central characters. Among animal characters, only 7.5% of titles had female lead characters. They also found that in periods of high feminism (60’s, 70’s) this gap lessened, as opposed to low periods of feminism (40’s, 50’s).  Of 69 Caldecott award winners since 2000, just four have female animals. 25% of sampled titles had NO female characters. In children’s media, less than 20% showed women with a job, vs. 80% of men. Even when characters were neutral – an unnamed bear, a building, a car – parents tended to call the character-object male. In many books that do include females, they are a token character – who really cares about Kanga in Winnie the Pooh? Who cares about Wendy, when it’s the Island of Lost Boys? (Disney is hardest on girls, even when they’re the lead).

We Like Kindergarten - a Little Golden BookSo what does that mean? Are books working against girls? Do we perpetuate female stereotypes and patriarchal archetypes starting with early board books? Do we as parents set our children up for failure by gender-typing from an infant’s earliest days?

Yes and no. The first thing to remember is that video WAS AN ADVERTISEMENT. It’s intentionally made to sell a book called Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. It’s SUPPOSED to make you angry so you will buy their product, or from similar publishers of inclusive stories like Zubaan Virago, and A Mighty Girl, which highlights books for girls. But the actual facts are a lot more complicated:

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky1) The original study was small. It didn’t look at Newbery winners, or Pura Belpre winners, or Coretta Scott King winners. They picked 5,000 books from a century of literature – when 22,000 children’s books were published in the US in 2009 alone! Every report on the subject admits greater research needs to be done.

2) Language. English has just two pronoun genders to refer to living things – Little Blue Truck by Alice SchertleHe and She. If you do not know the sex of the duck, the bear, the cat,  you automatically assign one (and somehow dogs are always male and cats are  female). Inanimate objects (despite what you named your car) are referred to as It. But It doesn’t work when the It is a character (ie, The Little Engine That Could, or Little Blue Truck). We don’t speak that way (though we try with an incorrect singular Their). Other languages have gender-neutral pronouns; English doesn’t, and He has been our default pronoun for centuries.

3) Reading abilities World wide, the reading ability scores of girls surpass those of boys. Doesn’t matter if it’s Africa, the US, China, or Finland, the star of world literacy. Adjust for gender, and Finnish girls lead the world in reading, not Finnish boys. It’s harder to get boys to read, and harder to keep them reading. Around the world, boys slowly stop reading for pleasure by 11-13 (in general). When you switch to older (12-18) readers, female protagonists shoot up to 65%. Even in intermediate readers (9-12), boys drop to 48% of lead characters. Now we’ve opened up a separate can of worms as to whether books are being geared toward boys to attempt to keep them reading, or assuming boys won’t read and letting girls win.

Absolutely One Thing (featuring Charlie and Lola) by Lauren Child4)  Publishers. In the end, it’s the publishers who release titles and illustrations. As Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola) states: “…If you write a book that has a lead character that is a girl, publishers want you to slightly ‘girlify’ it, to make it ‘look more like a girl’s’ book.”

5) Quality vs. quantity. “… Are the central female characters empowered or do they reproduce stereotypes? Is there conflicting subtext – are the females punished or rewarded for their actions?” Joan of Arc may be a famous teen who did amazing things, but she was burned alive for it.  Not inspirational to all.

In a quick check of CPL’s shelves, I randomly pulled 112 picture booksThe First Step : How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman (no title peeking). Of 52 with people, 21 had male leads, 23 had female leads, and 8 had both. Of animal/objects, 22 were ‘male’, 9 were ‘female’, and 19 were neutral – somewhat more balanced. In the end, yes, books may be skewed toward male characters – for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t make them bad books. You can find just as much to be admired in Hermione Granger or Luna Lovegood or Molly Weasley as Harry Potter. Books on strong girls are out there, in increasing numbers, and the more women are politically empowered, the more books there are. Don’t buy into one misleading advertisement, but look around. Ask your library if they have a certain book. Ask a publisher if they’re planning on anything in a specific category.   Still want books with lead girls? Check out these timeless classics for children,  teens, and more:

Pippi LongstockingJunie B. Jones is a Beauty Shop Guy by Barbara Park

Madeline

Junie B. Jones

Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games 

Divergent

Maisy

Little House on the Prairie series

OliviaEloise by Kay Thompson

Eloise

Matilda

Coraline

The Golden Compass by Philip PullmanIvy and Bean

The Golden Compass

Matched

Mandy

Ella Enchnted by Gail Carson LevineElla Enchanted

Cinder

Beka Cooper series

Blueberries for Sal

 

 

Board in the Library – Exploring the rise of tabletop gaming in 2018

When a friend asked me if I wanted to go to a board game cafe (The Board Room in Middletown CT) , I pictured three mind numbing hours of pictionary, or even worse, monopoly. I have a short attention span as it is, and pretending to be a tiny banker buying properties acrossboardgamesforadults-2x1-7452 the board and keeping track of piles of colorful money never really engaged me. In reality, I spent the next three hours curing diseases in Pandemic, creating train tracks that spread the globe in Ticket to Ride, and trading spices in Century: Spice Roads. I was floored that board games had evolved so much since I had played as a kid, the art was more engaging, the stories richer, and the play more involved. In the months following this revelation I’ve added over thirty board games to my list, and I’ve expanded my idea of what a board game can be.

Now how does this tie in to the library you ask? Well, board games have actually gained a large following in the library world, and both librarians and patrons are starting to take notice. Board games are one of the many tips-on-how-to-make-a-board-gameresources in a library that encourage community and collaboration. At a time when parents and educators are concerned about the rise in digital media and isolation, board games get people of different backgrounds engaging with each other across a table, solving problems, improving a number of practical skills, and having a good time. When you look at it that way, it’s no surprise that board games are a critical part of a libraries community, and a lifelong pursuit of learning.

If you’re new to board games, or like me, rediscovering your love of gaming, fear not. Here is a quick list of board games perfect for beginners.

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Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn.

 

  • Ticket To Ride suggests 2-5 players ages 8 and up with 45 minutes of play time.

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TsuroCreate your own journey with Tsuro: The Game of the Path! Place a tile and slide your stone along the path created, but take care. Other players’ paths can lead you in the wrong direction—or off the board entirely! Paths will cross and connect, and the choices you make affect all the journeys across the board. Find your way wisely and be the last player left on the board to win!

  • Tsuro suggests ages: 8+ , with 2-8 players, and up to 20 minutes of play time.

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Sushi Go! – Pass the sushi! In this fast-playing card game, the goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes as they whiz by. Score points for making the most maki rolls or for collecting a full set of sashimi. Dip your favorite nigiri in wasabi to triple its value. But be sure to leave room for dessert or else you’ll eat into your score! Gather the most points and consider yourself the sushi master!

  • Sushi Go! suggests ages 8+, with 2-5 players, and up to 15 minutes of play time.

Just like the rest of the library, board games are designed to challenge your current pattern of thinking and keep your brain young. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that playing board games was associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Board games are also great for those with anxiety as a way to step out and make new friends within a structured setting, allowing friendships to build over a collaborative goal. But, just like any other program in the library, it needs participants to thrive and grow.

Lucky for you, there’s a new board game club opening at the Cheshire Public Library this February! This club will be hosted on the first Thursday of the month, and each month will feature a new board game. Come and enjoy our freshly re-modeled third floor, have a hot chocolate and re connect with old friends, or make some new ones!

 

 

 

Books About 9/11 for Kids and Teens

Every time the 11th of September rolls around, I can’t help remembering where I was when I heard about the devastating attacks of that day.  It feels strange today to realize that there’s now a whole generation of Americans  who only know about the events of that day through movies and books. Though it is an important part of our recent history as a nation, it is ultimately for parents to decide how much discussion about the subject they need to have as a family. Sometimes a book can be an entry point into a difficult conversation.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey Fireboat by Maira Kalmanby Maira Kalman. A fireboat, launched in 1931, is retired after many years of fighting fires along the Hudson River, but is saved from being scrapped and then called into service again on September 11, 2001. (Ages 4-8)

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell America is under attack by Don Brownby Don Brown. A straightforward account of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Watercolor illustrations show the destruction of the plane crashes as well as the emotions of the people involved. (Ages 8 – 12)

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001I survived the attcks of september 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis  by Lauren Tarshis. Part of the popular “I Survived” series, the familiar format may make the subject matter easier for middle grade readers. Noah is looking forward to spending his 11th birthday with his brave New York City firefighter dad when the outing is interrupted by the September 11 attacks, to which his father must respond at the risk of his life. (Ages 8-12)

Nine, Ten : a September 11 StoryNine, Ten: a September 11 story by Nora Raleigh Bakin by Nora Raleigh Baskin. This chapter book relates how the lives of four middle school-age kids living in different parts of the country intersect and are affected by the events of September 11, 2001. (Ages 10 – 13)

The memory of things by Gae PolisnerThe Memory of Things by Gae Polisner. Racing to safety after witnessing the first Twin Tower collapse on September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle, having been separated from his family, impulsively brings home a traumatized girl who has forgotten who she is. (Ages 12 and up)

All We Have LeftAll We Have Left by Wendy Mills by Wendy Mills. In interweaving stories of sixteen-year-olds, modern-day Jesse tries to cope with the ramifications of her brother’s death on 9/11, while in 2001, Alia, a Muslim, gets trapped in one of the Twin Towers and meets a boy who changes everything for her as flames rage around them. (Ages 12 and up)

Some other nonfiction titles for young readers on this subject are: September 11 We Will Never Forget  by Peter Benoit, September 11 Then and Now by Peter Benoit, Ground Zero Dogs  by Meish Goldish, A Nation Challenged : a visual history of 9/11 and its aftermath, text and photos by the New York Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reading List for Pride Month

Pride Month (also known as LGBT Pride Month) is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In June of 1969, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn staged an uprising to protest the police harassment and persecution to which LGBT Americans were commonly subjected. This began of a movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against LGBT Americans.

The American Library Association has also named June GLBT Book Month, celebrating the authors and writings that reflect the lives and experiences of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. Whether you are a part of the LGBT community or not, finding your self in one of these books or going outside your comfort zone, these books about the LGBT experience can help to foster a greater understanding of the diverse world we live in.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932Lovers at the Chameleon Club by Francine Prose  by  Francine Prose. At the Chameleon Club in Paris, Lou Villars, a star athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among its patrons, and as time passes, she experiences a transformation that warps her earnest desire for love and approval into something dangerous.

When Katie met Cassidy When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perriby Camille Perri. A romantic comedy about gender and sexuality follows the experiences of a traditionally minded Midwesterner who, in the aftermath of an ended engagement, finds herself in a transformative relationship with a self-assured New York businesswoman.

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides by Jeffrey Eugenides. In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls’ school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking strawberry blond classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them – along with Callie’s failure to develop – leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all.

The Danish Girl  The Danish Girl by David Ebershoffby David Ebershoff. Set in 1920s Copenhagen, this tender tale of love and marriage in the midst of fundamental crisis introduces a man who discovers he’s a woman and the woman who will do anything for him.

The Lauras by Sara Taylor. A thirteen-year-old girl on the run with her mother from her father revisits her mother’s former foster care homes to repay old debts and keep promises, learning astonishing truths along the way, in a novel that strikes at the heart of a mother-child bond and the exploration of gender identity.

If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Amanda Hardy only wants to fit in at her new school, but she is keeping a big secret, so when she falls for Grant, guarded Amanda finds herself yearning to share with him everything about herself, including her previous life as Andrew.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson  by John Green & David Levithan. When two teens, one gay and one straight, meet and discover that they share the same name, their lives become intertwined as one begins dating the other’s best friend, who produces a play revealing his relationship with them both.

Prudence by David Treuer. A haunting and unforgettable novel about love, loss, race, and desire in World War II–era America, about the secrets we choose to keep, the ones we can’t help but tell, and who—and how—we’re allowed to love.

Becoming Nicole : the Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt. The true story of a transgender girl, her identical twin brother, and an ordinary American family’s extraordinary journey to understand, nurture, and celebrate the uniqueness in us all.

Believe Me : a Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard, with Laura Zigman. Writing with the same candor and insight evident in his comedy, Eddie Izzard reflects on a childhood marked by the loss of his mother, boarding school, and alternative sexuality, as well as a life in comedy, film, politics, running and philanthropy.

 

Book Recommendations Based on Your Favorite Marvel Superheroes

The Marvel Universe has never been more popular, with more movie and television adaptations being produced every year. But in between movies and TV seasons, what’s a superhero superfan to do? These YA books can help to fill the void your hero has left behind:

If you’re an Iron Man fan, try The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee. A tale set in a luxury tower 100 years in the future follows the experiences of an addicted perfectionist, a betrayed teen, a financially strapped girl, a socialite with an illegal A.I., and a genetically perfect girl. In this world, the higher you go, the farther there is to fall.

If The Incredible Hulk is your guy,  Monster by Michael Grant is also pretty incredible. When  meteorite strikes introduce an alien virus that gives humans unique superpowers, it triggers an epic battle between teen hero defenders and out-of-control supermonsters.

Need more like Thor? Try the Magnus Chase series by Rick Riordan. After the death of his mother, Magnus finds out that he is the son of a Norse god and must track down a lost ancient sword to stop a war being waged by mythical monsters.

If you love Guardians of the Galaxy, give Invictus by Ryan Graudin a try. Born outside of time as the son of a time-traveler from the 24th century and a first-century gladiator, Farway takes a position commanding a ship that smuggles valuables from different eras before meeting a mysterious girl with knowledge that places his existence in question.

If you can’t wait for the next Black Panther movie,  try Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi in the meantime. Zâelie, her brother Tzain, and princess Amari fight to restore magic to the land and activate a new generation of magi, but they are pursued by the crown prince, who believes the return of magic will mean the end of the monarchy.