children’s books from feminist readers: Mindy

A guest post by Mindy Rhiger, a librarian specializing in children’s books.  Mindy blogs about books, family life, and whatever else is on her mind at Proper Noun Blog

a beloved book from childhood

The book I remember reading over and over again as a kid was Christina Katerina and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch.  It was first published in 1971, and it fell out of print in the 1990′s.  I actually cheered when Boyd Mills Press brought it back into print last year, and I eagerly shared it with my young daughter.  There are many great picture books that celebrate cardboard boxes, but this book may have been the first.  In it, Christina Katerina claims the refrigerator box for her new castle.  When her friend gets mad at her and kicks the castle over, Christina Katerina turns the castle into a clubhouse.  Soon something goes wrong again, and the box is turned into something completely different.  So it goes, until finally there is nothing left of the box.

what that says about that child

I admired Christina Katerina.  She had great ideas, and she never seemed to let anything get her down.  Castle ruined?  No problem!  Now we have a clubhouse!  It seemed like she had an answer for everything.  At least, that’s what I saw in her at the time.  Now I can see that she treated her friend terribly, but I’m not sure I picked up on that at the time.  My focus, as was Christina’s, was on what could be done with that box.  She made possibilities seem endless, and I loved her for it.

a children’s book worth sharing enthusiastically now

I never grew out of loving children’s books.  Now that I’m an adult, I spend my days surrounded by children’s books of all sorts at my day job as a librarian for a book company.  And I read a lot in my off time too, especially with my five-year-old daughter.  There are so many really great picture books and novels that pass through my department every day that this question seemed almost impossible to answer.  How could I choose just one book?

Eventually, I thought about my admiration for Christina Katerina.  Who would I want my daughter to admire?  It didn’t take long before I landed on Just Grace as the perfect book to share in my answer to this question.  Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper is the first book in a series about a girl with lots of ideas.  She’s a lot like Christina Katerina that way. But my favorite thing about her is her “teeny tiny superpower.”  She says, “My power is that I can always tell when someone is unhappy, even when that person is pretending to be happy and is a really good actor.”  Her dad explains that this power is called empathy, and Grace takes her superhero status pretty seriously.

My daughter is only five, so she’s a bit young for Just Grace still–it’s aimed at 2nd or 3rd graders–but I have to admit that I’m excited to share it with her.  Though I suppose a tiny part of me just likes that Grace discovers zines in one of the later books.  As a long-time zinester, I love that there is a kids’ book in which zines play a prominent role.  :)

what that says about this reader’s evolution

I hope there is some of Christina Katerina in me now.  There is still much to admire in her ability to face problems and adapt creatively.  But I’ve definitely widened my admiration to other qualities, such as empathy and kindness.

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