Girls: Beyond Eyelashes and Bows
Not too long ago The Guardian had a piece out called Picture books that draw the line against pink stereotypes of girls. I was keen on it, particularly since in the midst of all these children’s books about breaking down stereotypes, I’ve seen awfully few “tomboy” titles. Books about girls who won’t wear dresses or care two bits about makeup and pink sparkles. They exist, but they’re not often commented on, so I liked the piece.
In the midst of all its books mentioned, I was particularly intrigued by a Yasmeen Ismail title that I’d not seen before. Called I’m A Girl!, it was described as, “a challenge to every instant playground assumption that a blue-clad, rambunctious speed demon must be a boy.” It looks awfully neat, and it got me to thinking about a little commented upon children’s book character: The female who doesn’t sport eyelashes, bows, or pink. In other words, books where girls are just as sordid and snarling or wild and wacky as their male counterparts. An ode to my four favorites:
Sasspants from Guinea PIG, Pet Shop Private Eye
She made her debut just before the current wave of children’s graphic novel love sweeping our fair nation. She was a guinea pig, dour and more interested in reading than interacting socially. She solved crimes. Her name was Sasspants. Honestly, is there anything else that need be said? Her series was fantastic, but might have been hampered by the fact that sizewise it looked like a picture book. Still, you can’t help but adore any series where the fish make obscure MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH jokes.
Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
There are many reasons to love Bad Kitty. She has more chutzpah than Garfield, more charm than Heathcliff, and more of an appetite than Grumpy Cat. She uses the word “Feh” with flair and I would argue that she is a feminist icon since her driven self-interest makes her a wonderfully flawed character. At no point does she fall in love or bat her eyelashes or do anything but act like a very inwardly focused cat.
Piggie from the Elephant and Piggie series
Honestly, it wasn’t until Mo wrote I Am Invited to a Party that I realized that Piggie was a girl at all. When it comes to animal characters, so many illustrators think it necessary to deck their girls out in bows and eyelashes and the like. Mo figured out that if you say a character’s a girl then by golly it’s gonna be a girl. And though at first you might worry that she’s the manic pixie dream pig to Gerald the elephant’s Eeyore-like persona, we know that at times she is just as prone to dour thoughts as her pachyderm pal.
Bink from Bink and Gollie
Of all the characters I’ve mentioned today, it is Bink that throws my four-year-old for a loop. She refers to Bink as “he” constantly, though I point out repeatedly that Bink wears a skirt (unlike, say, any of the girls previously mentioned). The skirt may throw her out of contention, but clearly it doesn’t register with her readership, so I’m keep her on this list. Truth be told, Bink may also be my favorite gal here. She has only three books but one can hope that the Bink & Gollie train has not entirely left the station. Three is a perfect little number, sure . . . but four? Four would be superb. Four then, please!
Feel free to mention your own lovely ladies that don’t rely on frills and furbelows.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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