And then the princess and prince charming blah blah blah...
October 10, 2011 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I have a little niece, just over a year old. Recommend some storybooks with feminist themes, or just generally strong female characters!

One side of her family likes to get traditional "Disney princess" sort of toys and books for her. Her mom is not so into reinforcing traditional gender scripts, so I'd like to balance out the Disney Princesses with some fun, feminist-y storybooks! I'm thinking of getting a few with some range of age-appropriateness for Christmas this year.

(Sidenote: I've never had a baby to buy for, so I don't really have any idea what's appropriate for a 1 year old, as opposed to a 3 year old or 4 year old. I assume that, at this age, she doesn't really understand it anyways so maybe it doesn't matter)
posted by torisaur to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
The Paperbag Princess and Cinder Edna are both direct feminist answers to the Disney-style princess. I'm particularly fond of Cinder Edna because she rides the bus!

They're both a little old for her, but they're gems nonetheless.
posted by looli at 1:34 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

And when she's even older, the films of Hayao Miyazaki all have fantastic female protagonists. Stories about girls, imagine!
posted by looli at 1:36 PM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also a little old for her, but she can grow into it: The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. Depression-era tale of a small little brown bunny (who happens to be a single mother) who proves to the big rich white (male) bunnies that she is good enough to be one of the Easter Bunnies. Gorgeous illustrations, to boot. I adored this book when I was little.
posted by scody at 1:39 PM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Blueberry Girl

(And on preview: Oh Lord, My Neighbor Totoro by Miyazaki is TODDLER CRACK. With strong female characters.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:44 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Olivia books. The first sentence of the original reads, "This is Olivia. She is good at a lot of things." And the drawings are gorgeous and eyecatching--all monochrome with spots of bright red. My nieces loved them at two and three.
posted by tully_monster at 2:02 PM on October 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Oh, and another enthusiastic vote for Hayao Miyazaki. Ponyo (an antidote to the Disney "Little Mermaid" franchise) features a very strong-willed little goldfish-girl and seems most appropriate for the 5 and under set.
posted by tully_monster at 2:09 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Olivia for that age.

Slightly older: one of my favorite books as a kid was Minou. In retrospect, the feminist themes were paaaaainfully heavy-handed, but at the time I just thought it was a fun book about a cat in Paris. And the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.
posted by naoko at 2:10 PM on October 10, 2011

Not explicitly feminist, but is about female characters' friendship and finding your strength: Miss Lily's Fabulous Pink Feather Boa.

And yes, you're right - at a year old, she's far more likely to respond to the pictures at this point, but that changes fast.

Madeleine is also not explicitly feminist (but decidedly not a princess), and small children respond well to the rhymes.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:17 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have often given Barefoot Books Book of Princesses, and it's always been well-received. My daughter has it, and many of their other great books.

But the princess book she brings to me to read together again and again is this one. I picked it up at an estate sale when she was an infant, and we've read it a lot at all her ages - starting as bedtime stories and leading to rainy day cuddle stories. She's seven now, and just starting to read them on her own, and it sounds beautiful.

Books don't always have to be age-appropriate - just seeing adults reading, and sometimes hearing longer, more complicated stories is hugely important too. Hearing a good reader, with inflections and clear pronunciation is great for her development too.

You can also give better versions of the stories that Disney appropriates. We have this collection of gorgeously illustrated Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, and it's way more thrilling to read "But every step you take will be as painful as treading on a sharp knife" and to have discussions as a not particularly religious family, about immortal souls.

She also loves this copy of The Wild Swans, for its pictures and for the inconceivable travails; as well as the ones in The Girl, the Fish & the Crown. We also keep coming back to A Treasury of Mermaids. I think what I'm getting at is that finding great, well-written stories about characters that have been Disneyfied (Disney-fried?) can be the best Anti-Disney there is. Ariel and her hoarding problem doesn't compare to the depth and detail of the real story.

I've stacked our bookcases with books for our daughter to grow into, doing it since she was an infant. I've pulled them out and read to her, of course - but now the best thing is that she goes poking around, finds something familiar or interesting, and reads it to herself. Or, I leave one out, open to a good picture, where she can't miss it and next thing you know, she's plopped down to read for twenty minutes. I call them "Book Traps". You can start setting them now for your niece - it's a great thing to do!
posted by peagood at 3:17 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Olivia and Miyazaki--you could probably introduce those now, if the parents don't mind her watching television.

For when she's a little older, I vote for Princess Smartypants and The Paper Bag Princess. Not princess-related, but Pirate Girl was a big hit in our household, as well, though I see that some people were less impressed than I.

When she's a bit older still, look for Princess Knight and The Secret Lives of Princesses, both of which my daughter (now eight) still loves.
posted by MeghanC at 3:19 PM on October 10, 2011

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel: "she (Mary Anne) could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week." The intended theme was probably to promote an old-fashioned work ethic, but the book has other underlying messages that are extremely relevant today (feminism, loyalty, & recycling).

The Three Little Javelinas is a funnier (IMO) version of the traditional Three Little Pigs, but in this version, it's the sister who's the smart one.
posted by kbar1 at 4:05 PM on October 10, 2011

This is definitely for a few years down the road, but is a pretty cool book to get nonetheless - My Name Is Not Isabella. All about a girl named Isabella who every day pretends she is a different super smart woman in history (Rosa Parks... Sally Ride.. Marie Curie, etc...) and talks simply about their accomplishments... and then on the last day, Isabella pretends she's her mommy. Heartwarming for both mom and kiddo. I lucked out because there were two moms I knew who happened to have newborns named Isabella, and that book was a huge hit at the babyshowers.
posted by takoukla at 4:19 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm glad you asked this; my daughter's the same age. I read her mainly board books at this point, and frankly, anything even with a female main character would be an improvement. I can't suggest a specific title as I haven't checked this out yet, but I'm thinking any other Robert Munsch book with a female protagonist (besides the Paper Bag Princess) would be good for this age. The simpler, the more it will draw her attention and Munsch's repetition and funny noises should entertain her.
posted by kitcat at 6:07 PM on October 10, 2011

What an awesome question!

Players In Pigtails is about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and uses Katie Casey (the main character in Take Me Out To The Ballgame!) as the fictional main character. I *love* this book.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:02 PM on October 10, 2011

OH! Also, I love this version of The Princess and the Pea.

And the children's books that bell hooks has done are worth a look, too.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:09 PM on October 10, 2011

And Kevin Henkes.

I'll stop now. Sorry
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:11 PM on October 10, 2011

Ooh, I also loved Jane and the Dragon (some of the plot description isn't ringing a bell - it may refer to other books in the series...? I didn't even realize there was a whole series (or a tv show) until just now).
posted by naoko at 8:30 PM on October 10, 2011

It won't be relevant for a few more years, but Un Lun Dun by China MiƩville starts out as a pretty stereotypical young adult/precocious pre-/adolescent story for the first 10% of the book, then switches into a fantastic story with a super-strong non-caucasian female character who defies standard conventions.

Lovely, clever story with amazing wordplay. MiƩville's early works are fantastic if inaccessible - it felt like Un Lun Dun was an exercise for him to tighten up high writing. He wrote the amazing Kraken after and it looks like his exercise paid off in spades.
posted by porpoise at 9:20 PM on October 10, 2011

The Wolves in the Walls and Coraline by Neil Gaiman. The first is a picture book that can be read at your discretion. The second, a book and movie both of which might be for when she's a bit older.
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:02 AM on October 11, 2011

Katy and the Big Snow! Just read this last night to my son, and was actually thinking about posting a question about what other little-kid books are about characters who are strong, brave, and persevere to solve a problem.

Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey are lovely books with a female protagonist who is a regular kid who tromps around in the mud, not a princess. Probably better in a year or so when she can understand the stories.

Not a big fan of Olivia, I think she is a brat.

Regarding what's appropriate for a 1-year old versus a 3-year old, lots of pictures and few words are better for this age, and board books are definitely better than regular books that can tear easily.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:43 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of good suggestions in this previous thread about fairy tails with strong female characters.
posted by sparrow89 at 6:51 AM on October 11, 2011

Not a big fan of Olivia, I think she is a brat.

Ah, but remember that old saying: "Well-behaved women rarely make history."
posted by tully_monster at 12:26 PM on October 11, 2011

Stories for Free Children! It's not a picture book, but some of the stories are appropriate to read to a 1-year-old, others she'll have to grow into. It's lovely. Maybe a little dated, but not too preachy.

More 1-year-old appropriately, I love Corduroy and A Pocket for Corduroy, too - not feminist, particularly, but there's a female protagonist who is nonwhite and lives in a city, not on a farm or in fairy princessland.
posted by mskyle at 12:43 PM on October 11, 2011

Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman
posted by Talulah at 8:22 PM on January 6, 2012

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