Brace yourselves, parents. We've just been handed further proof that the road to parental hell truly is paved in good intentions. A new study says loading our kids' bookshelves with as many books as we can may not be such a good idea.
Turns out the average children's book is still loaded down with more gender bias than an episode of Mad Men. So when our kids -- especially our daughters -- open a book, they're not just learning their ABCs and sight words, they're having it drummed into their heads that "women and girls occupy a less important role in society than men or boys." There are too few female fictional heroes, and when the girls appear, many are simply secondary characters. Sigh. And all I wanted to do was raise a kid who would be so excited to dive into a book that she'd go to BED on time. Well, that, and a kid who has a lifelong love of reading, DUH.
We all say that, don't we? That we want our kids to love reading? So why do we allow their shelves to be filled with so much schlock? Be it the books that make girls feel like crap about themselves, or books that are so inane they make us want to take a melon baller to our eyeballs after the bedtime routine, we seem to think we HAVE to put up with them because, hey, that's what's out there.
I'll be honest, I've fallen victim too. A few months ago, a local bookstore was closing, and we hit the closeout sale. I let her have free rein in the children's section because money was no object at 75 percent off every book, and she came back with a pile that I promptly purchased. It wasn't until we were snuggling in bed a few nights later that I discovered a book that looked innocent enough, about a little girl and her kitty cat, was from a religious press and included material that doesn't fit with our family's particular values. Serves me right for not checking, right?
But when it comes to kids' books, this is pretty common. You see kids' book, you think, how BAD can it be? All that matters is our kids are reading!
But it does matter. Just as there are crappy television shows (cough, SpongeBob, cough, cough) that I won't let my daughter watch, there are trashy children's books I don't let her read. It matters that we engage them with materials that are actually interesting and thought-provoking, lest they get bored. It matters that we provide them with materials that enrich them.
Want to avoid the gender bias trap? Blogger Reel Girl has a great list, or you can try some of these titles on for size for your little girl:
- Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad by Jacky Davis and David Soman: The latest in my personal favorite series about a seriously adventurous girl with a penchant for polka-dotted wings, it's a tale of friendship that puts the emphasis on acknowledging everyone's feelings.
- Fancy Nancy: Aspiring Artist by Jane O'Connor: She has her critics, not least because she's sparkly and uber-girly, but I have found a certain charm in little Nancy's attempt to always "fancy up" her life -- particularly her method of broadening a child's vocabulary. What I see in my daughter's favorite series is a little girl who likes her life sparkly, but is still a thinker, emphasizing that it's OK to like beautiful things, but brains matter too.
- The House That Jill Built by Phyllis Root: You've heard the poem about Jack? Well Jill's just as good at construction ... and problem-solving. When she finds each room added onto her house taken over by the encroaching critters, she doesn't wilt and let them trample over her. She builds her OWN, nicer house.
- Me ... Jane by Patrick McConnell: To be honest, this story of Jane Goodall was a suggested read for Earth Day. But it's opened up a conversation that doesn't happen often enough in homes with little girls: how women in the field of science make a difference. Fairy tale stories of superhero girls are great, but it's hard to argue with a real live powerful female.
Do you find the characters in your kids' books disappointing? What are your favorites?
Image via surlygirl/Flickr
Disclosure: I received review copies of three of the books listed (The House That Jill Built was a present). Any opinion expressed is my own.