As we celebrate Women’s History Month, now is the perfect time to introduce young boys to books that feature strong female characters. Trust me, boys will enjoy these stories as the latest research from the Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition shows that 17% of kids and 28% parents look for characters that “help me understand people who aren’t like me/my child.”
One of the most powerful things my mother said to me as a young child was, “a real man is feminist.” At first, I did not understand what she meant. It was not until I was in elementary school that I noticed how boys and girls were treated differently in the classroom and the playground. Once I noticed how unfair it was for either side to be pigeonholed by stereotypes, I started to gravitate towards books where I wanted a female protagonist to succeed and overcome many boundaries ranging from sexism, racism and more.
Here a just of few my top picks of characters who not only reflect what types of characters kids currently look for in children’s books (35% of kis look for “smart, brave or strong characters”, Kids & Family Reading Report: 6th Edition), but also can provide parents and educators a way to introduce young boys to some great stories.
Jo from Little Women – When I first saw this book on my sister's bookshelf I mistakenly thought, “that’s a girl’s book!” Thanks to my mom, I discovered why this book was so important. Jo defies all expectations of women at the time. She wants to focus on her – not her as a wife. She represented the struggles that women faced at the time where “marriage” defined success. She was truly revolutionary - and I was hooked on this great story as her journey for autonomy can resonate with any reader.
Cassie Logan from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – This book not only opened my eyes to the role Cassie played as role model for her younger siblings, but also reminded me the additional struggles women of color face in our society. She was true hero to me when she stood up to Mr. Barnett about his blatant, racist behaviors to her and her family. She even faced physical violence, but she still stood up for what she believed in. This story can encourage any child to learn more about the world, its injustices and become an advocate for others.
Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights – I truly believe she is one of the earliest “superheroes” in literature. Her wit and bravery prevented the King Shahryar from executing a new bride every day by engaging him in a cliffhanger story for 1001 nights. This story showed me that even in the most dire situations, everyday people can become superheroes. This story is perfect for any child who enjoys myths, legends and even the comic books genre. Everyone loves the power of great storytelling.
Melissa from George – This book was a more recent read for me. This book tells the story of George, who everything thinks is boy, but she knows she is a girl. This story was very powerful for me, as many times we oversee the importance of a voice needed for the transgender community when it comes to matters of feminism. The journey of Melissa, who is identified as George by the world, challenges the world to re-evaluate what are gender roles and why everyone should be treated fairly. This is a great middle grade read to teach children the importance of kindness and understanding of other people's stories.
Hermoine Granger from The Harry Potter series - Let's be honest: Harry and Ron would have been goners without Hermoine. Her character provided a new generation of young men and women the ability to see a young women who took charge with her knowledge and wit (and even giving Draco a left-hook in in the nose) to save the world. Remember, Harry Potter is one of the top series that parents and kids enjoy to read for fun, so it's a great series to help reluctant readers - especially boys - discover multi-layered characters. Bonus: the books is full of female role models that all children will root for throughout the series.
Amazon, Puffin in Bloom