Girl Power Books

This morning I was checking out the various blogs, and the TU’s Parent to Parent Blog had what I consider to be an appalling and depressing video of little girls dancing to Single Ladies. Actually, I just went to check, and they’ve pulled the video.  Imagine 8-ish year-old girls wearing thigh-high boots, shorty-shorts & half shirts with ruffles where there will someday be curves, dancing like Beyoncé. Except, you know, probably better than her, actually.  They were great dancers. I won’t go and on about it (although I already did, a little, in comment #14).

It reminded me that I’ve had a draft waiting to be posted that includes this rogue Disney compilation on YouTube.   It’s catchy but also horrifying.  For me, at least.  Because for quite a while my girls loved the princesses, and I would try my best to find what was brave and clever about them, because it would be unkind to sneer at these characters whom my daughters admired so much.  But this has every single hotty-seductress princess snippet, so that, as a Feminist Mommy, I was feeling a little sick by the end.

My antidote is to keep a running list of fabulous Girl Power books.   I used to find it difficult to find great kids’ books to support my feminist habit.  Part of the reason was that many compilations are pretty good, but entirely picture-free, like Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World, by Kathleen Ragan, or Girls to the Rescue, ed. by Bruce Lansky.

Or there are other stories that include pictures that just don’t appeal to my girls.  In The Barefoot Book of Princesses or Robert Munsch’s classic The Paper Bag Princess, the princesses aren’t really. . . pretty.  And I know, I know:  I want my smart, strong, kind, courageous girl heroines to be beautiful, too?  Well, it doesn’t hurt.

J, in particular, loves really lushly illustrated books of fairy tales and legends, and at 5 she’s already a sucker for a good romance.   I love it when we pick books from  different cultures.  Many of these are from our local library.  Here are some of our favorites (in no particular order) . . . click on the images to follow the link to Amazon:

Robert San Souci, Fa Moulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior , Young Guinevere. . . others, too.  Love him!


Emma Bull, The Princess and the Lord of Night

Jacqueline K. Ogburn, The Lady & the Lion

Anne Sibley O’Brien, The Princess and the Beggar:  A Korean Folktale

Aaron Shepard,  Master Maid: A Tale of Norway

Burleigh Muten, Grandmothers’ Stories, Lady of Ten Thousand Names, Goddesses, and other Barefoot Books

Louise Hawes, Muti’s Necklace: The Oldest Story in the World

Laura Krauss Melmed, Little Oh

Laurence Yep, The Shell Woman and the King

Amy Ehrlich & Susan Jeffers, The Wild Swans

Diane Wolkstein, The Banza : A Haitian Story

Judy, Sierra, The Dancing Pig

These are less princess/folktale focused, but still beautiful and/or inspiring. . . .

Shana Corey, Mermaid Queen: the Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History!

Emily Arnold McCully, Mirette on the High Wire, Beautiful Warrior, The Bobbin Girl, The Orphan Singer, and more

William Steig, Brave Irene

Ruby Bridge Goes to School: My True Story


Mary Hoffman, Amazing Grace

Kevin Henkes, Sheila Rae, the Brave

Michelle Markel, Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909

Literally in between typing books for this Girl Power list, I went to check the mail.  And I thought that perhaps my head would explode.  Because I received a solicitation letter to enter my child into the National American Miss Pageant.  No, I am not kidding.  Yes, this was a bad day for that piece of mail to arrive.  The letter starts out, “Congratulations! Your daughter has been referred to us as a possible candidate. . . ” as if some big sister character has made special note that my child among all others is particularly beautiful and poised, and then it went on to tell us about all the money we could win.  It was so clever, I thought, because what mother  doesn’t want to believe that her daughter is really quite beautiful and poised, plus also (I’m sounding like Junie B. Jones in my cheekiness) who doesn’t like money? I was, like, enraged.

Immediately I wanted to find out what product or mailing list had passed my information on to these folks.  There was no 1-800 number, which is probably good, because even though I told myself that I would try my best to be polite and non-judgmental, I think I would have failed.  I requested via email that they remove us from their list, and then I hid the damn thing.  Because generally if my children say that they’d like to do an activity (which is rare–they’d rather hang out and play), we try to do it.  And we will not be doing that.

In their defense, the children are not allowed to wear make-up during the pageant.  The prosecution will point out that their blog’s latest post is about how one of their “role model[s] for our next generation of female leaders” has been accepted as a professional football cheerleader (yay!), and if you Google one of their sponsors, John Robert Powers, Google auto-finishes John Robert Powers Scam.  But,  you know, I didn’t mean to really just go off on this.  I mean, I’m sure that the parents of the cheerleader are very proud.  Because it takes skills, I understand.  And she set a goal and accomplished it.  So, you know, yay.  But a leader of the next generation? Really?!?!

It’s just got me all riled up.  It’s just so freakin’ insidious.  Or is it invidious?  OMG, I looked it up, and it is both insidious and invidious!  The whole dang culture.  Trampy princesses, hoochy-mama dancing that’s trickled down to the Chipmunks for God’s sake,* and learning to “appreciate [my daughter’s] self worth” through pageants?  M came home from 2nd grade the other day and mentioned something about Lady Gaga.  Apparently avoiding cable in my own home isn’t enough.  It’s coming to get us.  I am just going to have to lock all the doors, sew up some cozy, baggy, sack-cloth dresses, turn off all media, and read us some girl power books.   Or something.
So, anyone else have good book suggestions?  Can anyone possibly talk me off the ledge, or are you out there with me?
I wonder if I have any chocolate?

*Don’t get me wrong:  Single Ladies is on my running playlist and it’s even pretty girl-powery, so singing along in the car?  I am all in (you saw the little boy YouTube, right? So cute!).


  1. Great article! My daughter is now 14, so we’ve gone through many of these books over the years. Personal favorite: The Paper Bag Princess. And, I shared that book with my son, too!

    I highly recommend you check out Amy Jussel’s Shaping Youth blog. She has lots of eye-popping resources on kids and media literacy. See:

  2. DD

    While I absolutely disapprove of what that dance teacher did to those little girls in the video, how about just trusting and believing that your girls can and will be anything that they set their minds to? I raised my daughter alone after my husband died several years ago. She has always been a “girly, girl.” She is a dancer (always appropriate) not a soccer player. She read every princess book she could get her hands on. In fact she read every book she could get her hands on. I never told her she couldn’t read something. She is now about to graduate from high school ranked 5th in her class. She will be heading off to a prestigious university for engineering in the fall (a typically male dominated field). I think it is important to let them see and experience everything. Again, encourage, and trust and believe in them. Oh, and by the way, her favorite color is still purple! That’s okay because mine is still pink!

  3. Yeah, my girls are dancers-not-soccer-players, too. Sad b/c poor W LOVES soccer and would love to coach. And I do have a no-censorship policy on the books–funny, I’ve got a fragment of a post on that one, too, because M just picked out a novel about child abuse, followed by her first Judy Blumes.

    That said, if I run to the library for a resupply while they’re at school, I pick stuff that I think they’ll like–that I think is cool, too.

    You must be proud of her–I hope she loves college! I hope I’ll relax more when we’ve successfully navigated the next 10 or 12 years like you guys have. SO not looking forward to middle school!

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