Girl Power! A Discussion of Gender Empowerment in Toys and Books

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picture-books-about-strong-girls-1Recently, a well-meaning relative gave my four-month-old daughter a stuffed pink turtle, and her young male cousin a stuffed astronaut. When the two toys were juxtaposed, my relative exclaimed, “I should have bought them both astronauts!” A few days later, another relative noted to me that she is good at buying toys for boys because she has a male godson, but does not know what to buy girls. “The same thing,” I answered, to which I was met with a look of genuine puzzlement.

This subconscious, and seemingly innocuous, gender bias has gained its fair share of criticism recently, prompting major retailers such as Target to take action to stop the gender labeling of toys in their stores.

And toys are not the only culprits exposing our your girls to gender stereotyping. In a 2011 study on 20th century children’s books, only 31% of popular books have central female characters, and only one Caldecott Award winner has a sole, central female character.

It is important to empower our young girls with the knowledge and inspiration necessary to make them successful leaders in today’s world. This includes exposing them to reading materials that instill courage, intelligence, and decision-making abilities encompassed by female characters they can relate to. (Additionally, we cannot discount the importance of sharing these books with our boys, who are missing a key lesson in empathy by reading only books with central male characters.) Below are a few of our favorite literary resources for young female readers:

  • Empowering Books for Girls – PBS’s lists of books that include central female characters overcoming obstacles (separate lists for preschool, grade school, and middle school)
  • A Mighty Girl – a nice selection of chapter books suitable for young readers (age nine and up) or as read-alouds for younger children
  • No Time for Flash Cards – 21 Picture Books about Strong Girls – these picture books are perfect for our youngest of readers
  • I See Me – although not specifically a female empowerment site, this publisher creates personalized books for children, which means that the girl in your life can have her name (and photo) printed in their books; I chose ABC What Can I Be! for my daughter. This book provides a career choice for every letter of the alphabet, beginning with A for–you guessed it–Astronaut.

-Maria Vlahiotis, Literacy Specialist, ACOE Core Learning

P.S. To continue the conversation and raise awareness about empowering our young girls, consider joining one of the following online communities:

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