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Tag Archives: Princess Smartypants

Why study picture books?

Why do I study picture books? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to change the subject completely, and introduce my very favourite piece of pre-Raphaelite art.

This is The Awakening Conscience. It’s by William Holman Hunt and it was finished in 1853. At first glance it is a moment between husband and wife captured in time. But look closer. Why is the woman in her nightgown? Where is her wedding ring? See his hat and book on the table? The man is a visitor in this parlour: They are not husband and wife, they are lover and mistress. Read the rest of this entry

Feminism for Early Starters: Young Adult & Teen

So far on my quest for feminism in children’s literature finding overtly feminist titles has not been easy. That’s not to say it’s not out there, it is, but among the mountains of books published every year for young readers, titles that promote gender equality make up only a small proportion. Not so for the teen market: Feminism is strong in Young Adult fiction. For the first time, I’ve had a hard time narrowing my selection down to just three titles. So hard in fact that I forgot how to count.

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Feminism for Early Starters: Picturebooks

My plan to write a ‘little post’ about feminism in children’s books turned into  an unwieldy behemoth. For that reason, I’ve decided to split it into smaller sections, starting with…

Picturebooks

I’m not going to rattle on about the importance of picture books in the feminist movement. They are one way in which preliterate children and emergent readers come to understand the world around them, first by clues in the illustrations alone, then by combining visual and textual to create meaning.

Generally, picture books reinforce traditional gender roles and heteronormitivity. More recently, there has been a shift in production of books for pre-school and primary education designed to empower young girls and instil and ‘I can do anything’ attitude in them – see Carmela laVigna Coyle’s Do Princesses… series for a prime example, but overwhelmingly, picture books, with the possible exclusion of those that fall into the ‘post-modern’ category, do little to subvert. Depressingly, this is most apparent in learn-to-read scheme stories such as the Oxford Reading Tree, in which stereotyped family units and gender roles are the norm.  A study carried out in 2003 by Prof. Diane Reay and discussed in Kat Banard’s excellent book The Equality Illusion found that the education our children receive at in early years education is remarkably gendered, with teachers reinforcing typical gendered behaviours:

…girls received harsh criticism from teachers when they didn’t conform to stereotypical gender behaviours. Teachers described girls who misbehaved as ‘bad influences, ‘spiteful’, and ‘scheming little madams’, yet when boys behaved in similar ways, they were described as ‘just mucking about’.

The Equality Illusion  p. 54

So for feminist parents it is critical that books that subvert traditional gender roles are introduced in the home.

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