children’s books from feminist readers: a series introduction

I’ve invited some fellow writers, readers, feminists, and friends to answer four questions here in the coming weeks:

  1. What’s a noteworthy book from (any stage of) your childhood, something you really loved back then?
  2. What does that tell us about you at that age?
  3. What’s an awesome children’s book that you’d like to share with others now?
  4. What does that tell us about how you’ve changed or stayed the same?

If you’re not writing a guest post, I’d love for you to answer any or all of these questions in the comments! Here are mine:

a beloved book from childhood

It’s hard to pick just one! But I wrote the mean question, so I’ll answer it. I loved Little Women (and its sequels). I have this crystal-clear memory of holding the big chunk of a book at school, having had to stop at a really good part and wanting at a visceral, whole-body level to dive back in.

what that says about that child

I was such a book nerd: I just loved that it was big. (I still love really long novels! And series! Books you never want to end should keep going for a good long while, you know?) I was also a wannabe writer: I hated Meg and was so much more upset about Jo’s book getting destroyed than about Beth dying.

In addition to my readerly/writerly ways, I was way into romance and traditional girls’ book narratives. The sentimentality and mushy bits totally got me. Swoon.

a children’s book worth sharing enthusiastically now

Anything by Diana Wynne Jones, a fantasy author I’ve only recently discovered. She’s totally awesome, and I would have loved her series as a child. I love the Harry Potter books, too, but Jones’s are so much better–everything I find appealing about Harry Potter, but with tighter structure, style, and plotting and less messiah stuff. Funny, smart, and pretty gender-balanced to boot (though boys do tend to take center stage). One fun place to start would beĀ Howl’s Moving Castle and the other books set in that world; another would be Charmed Life and the rest of the Chrestomanci novels.

what that says about this reader’s evolution

I still love series fiction, and I was a big fantasy fan then as now. I am still a book nerd, a passionate reader and writer. It’s just that I now get interrupted at the good parts by my children rather than by my teachers …

On the other hand, I’m far more aware of gender dynamics and stereotypes (as well as racism and other problems along those lines) now. And I’m far more easily annoyed by sentimentality, sappiness, and melodrama these days. I wonder how I’ll feel about Little Women when/if I reread it with Noah or Simon?

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  1. Posted 23 March 2013 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

    Also love Diana Wynne Jones! Charmed Life was my first – I read her as a young adult.

    My beloved book from childhood would be the Anne of Green Gables series. I have every book ever written by L.M. Montgomery, which is a very large number of books. I dressed as her once for a book fair. I don’t know what that says about me, except I loved to read and loved to collect series. I had to ask permission to read, I did it so much. I took books to school and read as I walked between classes. Loved me some books, still do. As for children’s books now – our favorites are the ones without words. Where’s Walrus, In the Town All Year Round, The Umbrella – I like them because they aren’t so boring for me to read night after night, since we find different things to talk about each time. I suppose that says that I’ve evolved into a mother of preschoolers – I am easily bored by repetition, which toddlers, of course, love and need. These books are a good compromise.

    • Molly
      Posted 23 March 2013 at 3:48 PM | Permalink

      Re: wordless books, do you know Flotsam? And the Owly books? Good stuff …

  2. Posted 24 March 2013 at 11:22 AM | Permalink

    Okay, so first off, I owe you an email on this one. I’ve had a draft sitting in my account for weeks. Maybe I’ll get it to you, like, a year after this series is done. :)

    Secondly, I too adored Little Women when I was a child. And yes! I cried in that devastating, guttural way when Jo’s book was destroyed. (Fun fact: We were going to name Alec “Josephine,” both after Tim’s middle name and after Jo March if Alec would have been a girl.)

    I’m going to have to add Diana Wynne Jones to my list of authors-to-read.

  3. Erin
    Posted 24 March 2013 at 1:59 PM | Permalink

    I have all of LM Montgomery books too! Whenever Little Women comes up in conversation, women almost inevitably say they hated Meg. It’s interesting because I felt the Mary hate (from Little House) but not Meg. In fact, even though I was more like Jo (tomboy, writer), I never related that much to Jo; it was Meg that interested me. An opposite thing? An awareness that Meg was what I was “supposed” to like/be like? I don’t know. Another Alcott book I loved was one called An Old Fashioned Girl. Thinking about these books makes me wonder if kids are drawn to moralistic tales – precisely because kids 7+ are trying to figure out right from wrong and how to live and establish those norms. In any event, An Old Fashioned Girl does have one main message that I think transcends time – there was an opposition in the book between the sweet, old fashioned girl and her rich friend (and the rich friend’s friends) who all tried to act super grown up all the time. And the message was basically – be a child when you’re a child, that there’s something troubling about little girls playacting like women. I felt that deeply as a tween, and it really helped me. I wasn’t in a hurry to grow up and simper over boys and wear make up. I agreed with Alcott and that I should just be a kid. It gave me a kind of permission to resist peer pressure by viewing it as a moral stand. (In addition to all the Victorian sentimental creepy gender stuff it was all wrapped up in like in all 19th century fiction.)

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