When Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, to "remember the ladies" while the Constitution was being drafted in 1776, little could she know that girls and women would continue to be fighting for recognition in 2019. With the celebration of Women's History Month in March, we continue to honor the strong and visionary women of the past, while growing and empowering the next generation of women today. As professionals who work with girls, we can share literature to help them see their places in the world and find their voices. Fortunately, there are many YA authors who create powerful female characters and tell engaging stories with smart girls at the center. And many of these books are winning awards and appearing on best lists. Consider The Poet X by Elizabeth Avecedo which earned a National Book Award AND the Printz Award. Girl power at its best!
It is so important to consider the depiction of gender and culture in the creation of high-quality literature for young people in fiction, nonfiction, and even poetry. For many years, it was boys who dominated nearly every novel, serving as the protagonist and taking the most active, problem-solving roles. Girls were there, but they served as sisters, friends, or girlfriends and rarely as the one who stepped up to the challenge or saved the day. That has gradually changed and girls' voices are heard more and more often as the main character that takes the lead. That has also led to an acceptance of more sensitive boy characters who may take supporting roles and who can be depicted struggling with emotional issues and identity questions. The same can be said of adult characters in literature, with mothers and fathers, women and men, portrayed in more varied ways and with family structures more variable and wide-ranging as well, from single-parent families to blended families and everything in between. Consider the gender quotient as you analyze books you share with young people and reimagine the story as if the gender of the protagonist were reversed (male to female or vice versa). Would it make a difference? Why or why not?
If you're looking for teen literature that focuses on strong girl characters, don't miss the Amelia Bloomer Book List published each year by the American Library Association (ALA). Amelia Bloomer was a 19th century women's rights advocate who is associated with the fight to allow women to wear pants (or "bloomers"). The Amelia Bloomer Project is a committee of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of ALA. Since 2002, they have issued "an annual annotated book list (or bibliography) of well-written and well-illustrated books with significant feminist content, intended for young readers (ages birth through 18)" (http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/amelia-bloomer-book-list). You'll find links to all the previous lists since 2002, as well as information about the award and how to apply to be on the Bloomer committee here at https://ameliabloomer.wordpress.com. You can see the 2019 list at http://www.ala.org/rt/srrt/2019-amelia-bloomer-list.
Another excellent resource for finding quality literature that celebrates the accomplishments of girls and women is "A Mighty Girl," an online resource that offers a blog, book club, weekly newsletter, parenting tips, and more. I have learned so much from following their posts including facts like the next Mars Rover will be named after pioneering DNA researcher Rosalind Franklin! A Mighty Girl provides multiple recommended booklists by genre, theme, topic, and culture, with lists of books that feature strong girls and women, as well as guidance in selecting movies, television programs, music. You can find them at https://www.amightygirl.com, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.
To educate yourself further, listen to any of the more than fifty KidlitWomen podcasts created and hosted by award-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin. She invites a variety of women authors and illustrators from the field of literature for children and young adults to talk about their views and experiences. It's a fascinating and very personal look at how gender influences literature and what kinds of issues women are coping with in publishing. It's a free online resource available on iTunes and Listennotes.com. Its mission is "focusing on women's and gender issues, including non-binary and gender fluidity, in the children's literature community and all its intersectionality!" (https://www.kidlitwomen.com/).
You'll find more help on the topic of empowering girls through literature at in Nancy Evans' article, "Helping Girls Grow and Thrive: Creating a "Strong Girls School" Program at Your Library." She provides guidance and a list of helpful resources on topics such as self esteem building, gender bias, body image, beauty, relationships, bullying, and social media, among others topics. Check out her pre-recorded webinar, "Cultivating Strong Girls: Library Programming that Builds Self-Esteem & Challenges Inequality" to learn more even more.
To get you started on your own reading and readers' advisory, here's a book-a-day for March, National Women's History Month. This list is based on the current 2019 Amelia Bloomer list (and includes their recommended Top Ten Titles), as well as booklists found at A Mighty Girl. It includes current fiction, nonfiction, and even novels in verse—all sure to inspire and empower the young people you serve—girls AND boys!
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
- Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson
- Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
- Crush by Svetlana Chmakova
- As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
- Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather
- Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
- Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
- Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff
- White Rose by Kip Wilson
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (and her new novel, On the Come Up)
- Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins
- Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen
- How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
- The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
- by Malala Yousafzai
- American Street by Ibi Zoboi
- Voices by David Elliott
- by Christine Heppermann
- by Meg Medina
- by Nina LaCour
- by E. Lockhart
- by Aisha Said
- Sadie by Courtney Summers (also an award-winning audiobook)
- Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
- Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge
- Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu
- Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagen