My daughter wants to read mythology about girls.
April 30, 2014 6:04 PM   Subscribe

My daughter is nuts for mythology and folklore, but after a particularly testosterone-powered Norse story last night she was asking if there were any collections of stories that weren't all about the boy-gods and heroes. So: recommendations for female-centric mythology and folklore, either story-cycles or lesser-known pantheons, suitable for bedtime-reading to an intelligent six-year-old. She wants actual myths rather than modern fiction based on or in the style of myths, or traditional myths retold from a female POV. (Yes, I have the Angela Carter books of fairy-tales. No, they are not suitable for a six-year-old.)
posted by Hogshead to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

Of course, in the original myth she gets distracted by something shiny soooo...
posted by Madamina at 6:08 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Athena, Artemis. Yes, Atalanta. If you don't have D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, you should.
posted by BibiRose at 6:11 PM on April 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

three goddesses, no gods at the judgment of paris. four goddesses if you count nemesis.
posted by bruce at 6:15 PM on April 30, 2014

The story of Arachne has both a female hero and a female villain. (You might want to gloss over a couple of minor details, though.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:16 PM on April 30, 2014

A lot of the stories in Ovid's Metamorphoses are fairly female-centric, and that covers vast swathes of Greco-Roman mythology. I like the Charles Martin translation, which is pretty modern.
posted by littlegreen at 6:18 PM on April 30, 2014

Shapeshifters looks like an awesome book if you can find a copy. Ovid is full of wonderful female mythological characters but most of the stories are very gnarly as Ovid tells them.
posted by BibiRose at 6:22 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Woman in the Moon
posted by balacat at 6:22 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We have both the D'Aulaire's Books of Myths, and it was the Norse one that inspired the request for more stories about girls, please. They're both pretty heavy on stories where the guys do cool stuff and the girls hang around, get kidnapped/raped or fuck shit up. Athena and Artemis are great characters but neither actually does very much: there's not much story-meat there.

I am not going to skip stuff or gloss over details so that my daughter can realise in later life that she didn't get the full story. I'm after full-on mythology that doesn't treat women as second-class citizens or begrudgingly give them an occasional moment in the spotlight.
posted by Hogshead at 6:23 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Fearless Girls. The Maid Of The North is a similar collection.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I picked up a copy of Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky while in Hawaii last year and found quite a few goddess-centric stories for my 8-year-old pantheist.
posted by mogget at 6:24 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's always Rhiannon, the Divine Queen from the Welsh mythological cycle of the Mabinogi, who is strong and magical and always seeming to need to rebuke the menfolk.

(Aside on popular retellings: The Fleetwood Mac song is beautiful and kinda-sorta about her, but doesn't tell her original tale. In terms of popular or novelized adaptations, the Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander are based on Welsh myths and do have Eilonwy as an enjoyable girl character, though she is not the main focus, and I don't think Rhiannon appears in them in any event. I don't know of other popular reworkings of Rhiannon/the Mabinogi, but anyone who does should MeMail me.)
posted by Smells of Detroit at 6:29 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I adore the Princeless series of graphic novels. A princess who's been locked in a tower refuses to wait on a prince, befriends the dragon guarding her, and sets off on a quest to rescue other princesses. There are some jokes/references that are for adults (mocking Xena's and Wonder Woman's outfits, for example) but the overall story is a great one for young girls!
posted by TwoStride at 6:35 PM on April 30, 2014

Whoops! And in case my previous rec wasn't folk/myth enough, here's another: Her Stories: African American Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, and True tales all featuring heroines...
posted by TwoStride at 6:44 PM on April 30, 2014

Best answer: Tatterhood! And Maid of the North! Oh god I LOVED those books, as a mythology-loving, budding feminist kid. I think most if not all of the stories will be age appropriate.
posted by emkelley at 6:46 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

This isn't specifically female centric but I remember most of the books in this series having more female centric stories in them once you got out of European mythology.

Spirits Heroes Hunters

I remember a few good stories about a girl with a seal skin who could turn into a seal from this one. This series generally has also some amazing full color paintings.

She wants actual myths rather than modern fiction based on or in the style of myths, or traditional myths retold from a female POV.

Raetian Tales by Diane Duane is really a book of Swiss folktales structured around a longer arc with a female heroine. This is more a teen book but might be good to have in your pocket for later.
posted by edbles at 6:56 PM on April 30, 2014

You might try Daughters of Copper Woman, which isn't solely about goddessy types, but also about heroic females. I think it is embellished myth and stories, but the stories are nicely pro-girl. Some stories might be a bit rugged, do read it first if you decide to give it a go.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 7:07 PM on April 30, 2014

Pacific NW native story Frog Girl might fit the bill...
posted by Sublimity at 7:10 PM on April 30, 2014

Also, if you're not familiar with the work of Jan Brett, you may want to check her work out. She often invokes folk tales for her stories and her artwork is just incredible, multilayered and lovely. Trouble with Trolls is clearly Nordic, for instance, and features the adventure of a girl and her dog (but don't miss the parallel storyline with the hedgehogs that runs in the margins...)
posted by Sublimity at 7:17 PM on April 30, 2014

It's not a myth, technically, but Rapunzel's Revenge is an excellent graphic novel which puts Rapunzel in an Old West setting and places her squarely in the hero's seat. She lassos bad guys with her amazingly long braids.

She might also enjoy Nimona, but you will have to read it online.

Sadly, the ancient classics are just rife with patriarchal bullshit. I actually ended up not reading my son a lot of the classic fairy tales (and some of the myths) because I wanted his bedtime reading to come without that stuff ladeled on top. I figure he can read them when he's older and more informed.
posted by emjaybee at 7:20 PM on April 30, 2014

Ovid's Metamorphoses.

A big chunk of them are female focused, but they can be somewhat twisted.
posted by empath at 7:54 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Snow Queen, a Hans Christian Andersen story with a brave young heroine. I read a version as a girl that's a little less dense than the original turned out to be.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 9:02 PM on April 30, 2014

She wants actual myths rather than modern fiction based on or in the style of myths, or traditional myths retold from a female POV.

Can you clarify this sentence for us? I'm reading it two ways:

1 - She wants real myths or traditional myths retold from a female POV (she doesn't want modern fiction based on myths or modern fiction in the style of myths).

2 - She wants real myths (she doesn't want modern fiction based on myths, modern fiction in the style of myths or traditional myths retold from a female POV).

I might also start thinking about how I could weave some J. Campbell Hero with a Thousand Faces into the conversations. It could lead to some interesting storytelling.
posted by Brent Parker at 9:16 PM on April 30, 2014

I would perhaps explore Vicki Leon's series on "Uppity Women"...
The most general title is "4000 Years of Uppity Women" but there are others on Ancient Times, Medieval Times, etc...
posted by calgirl at 9:34 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not entirely positive this is the book I'd seen previously but it seems familiar enough to possibly be the right one: The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women. It's a very good illustrator, too. The same two did a book called Changing Woman and her Sisters that looks like it might be aimed a little older, but, depends on the kid, if she's doing well on pull-no-punches versions of the Norse myths she might like it.
posted by Sequence at 11:06 PM on April 30, 2014

Many of Grimm's fairy tales prominently feature female characters - e.g. Mother Hulda (a story without any male characters). Also, I know you want actual myths, but there is a classic German children's book called The little witch which you and your daughter would certainly enjoy. Its grounded in the rich folk mythology of Bohemia, which the author Otfried Preussler has explicitly credited as the main inspiration for most of his work. (I recently read both these texts to my almost five year old daughter and she liked them.)
posted by tecg at 11:44 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Freya has a couple of tales dedicated to her, to carry on the Norse theme. Then there's The MorrĂ­gu, though those tales might be a little dark for a six year old.
posted by fearnothing at 11:56 PM on April 30, 2014

My daughter was extremely fond of this retelling of Tam Lin when she was little.
posted by mr vino at 4:25 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Athena and Artemis are great characters but neither actually does very much: there's not much story-meat there.

Totally not the case withArtemis! I'm kind of sad to find that, apparently, no one has written the perfect book about her for this question. (The site I linked to is someone's kid-friendly version on one page.)
posted by BibiRose at 5:15 AM on May 1, 2014

Ceridwen is pretty interesting. Bonus discussion question: compare & contrast this story with the picture book "The Runaway Bunny".
posted by belladonna at 5:20 AM on May 1, 2014

I had (still have, actually) the Book of Goddesses as a kid, and I absolutely love(d) it. Profiles of 26 goddesses, and great illustrations, and it's from more than just the Greco-Roman myths.
posted by sephira at 6:15 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my oldest bookmarks is Encyclopedia Mythica I kind wish someone would migrate it into a wiki. But failing that it's just a ton of starting points. Including some mythologies out of the norm. (Inca and Basque along with Persian and Greek!)
posted by DigDoug at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2014

Best answer: As a kid I LOVED this collection of fairy tales and folk stories. I never even realized all the protagonists were female. Tatterhood and Other Tales

"All the central characters in these folk tales are spirited females-decisive heroines of extraordinary courage, wit, and achievement who set out to determine their own fate. Some of their stories are comic, some adventurous, some eerie, and some magical. The 25 traditional tales come from Asia, Europe, India, Africa, and the Americas; detailed information about their sources is given. "A sparkling gathering or traditional, yet little-known tales."-Chicago Sun"
posted by forkisbetter at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If fiction is acceptable, The Books of Great Alta (by Jane Yolen, a prolific YA author) is a female-centric fantasy miniseries that has its own female mythology in its world.
posted by homodachi at 9:51 AM on May 1, 2014

Seconding Tam Lin. Brave Janet/Margaret saves her lover from paying the Queen of Faerie's tithe to hell. There are several reworkings for a YA audience on Amazon, but here's the text of the Child Ballads. 39[J2] and 39[K] look pretty readable.

If you want to check it out in music form, try Fairport Convention's "Tam Lin" from their Leige & Lief album. I also love "Martinmas Time" by Anne Briggs on the Bird in the Bush compilation. The rest of that album is probably not appropriate for her, but in that song the Scottish farmer's daughter makes fools of a group of British soldiers.
posted by stompadour at 10:10 AM on May 1, 2014

I don't know where to find child adaptations of the story, but Lady Zhurong, who claimed to be the princess of a fire god, comes to mind.
posted by ifjuly at 12:17 PM on May 1, 2014

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley.

"Castle Waiting is a fairy tale that's not about rescuing the princess, saving the kingdom, or fighting the ultimate war between Good and Evil, but about being a hero in your own home."
posted by JDC8 at 10:07 PM on May 1, 2014

Hogshead: confirming that your daughter is looking for actual myths as opposed to fairy tales by authors, yes?

Also - you may find some interesting things in Celtic myth. There are a couple of kick-ass women there; although, sometimes the stories can be a little....earthy. There's one in which a fairy woman is the wife of an ordinary man, but the man is kind of an idiot and brags that she can outrun the king's horse. The king decides to call the guy on it, with threats to kill him if she loses; the problem is, she's pregnant and actually goes into labor at the start of the race. But she runs the race anyway, wins, and delivers twins at the finish line - and then curses all the men in the kingdom that from now on, they and all the next nine generations are cursed that whenever they are under a threat, they'll go through labor pains for nine straight days. (I think it's awesome, but it may be a bit much for a six-year-old...)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 AM on May 2, 2014

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