Little girls, little girls, everywhere I turn--they're being marginalized...
I'm just finishing my second session of my Wee Reads group, a partial separation 4-7 year old storytime. Last session, I pulled Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio for our chapterbook read-aloud. One does like to start with the ringers when building a program and that's one guaranteed to appeal to boys and girls alike.
The Ambassador Emeritus does include some female characters, but TWT is mostly stories about three boys. Realizing this as I started to prep for session two, I decided I needed to have a chapterbook with a girl as the main character.
1) Nothing "pink"--where the majority of titles are pink/sparkly/princess/fairy. This ruled out such current popular titles as Tiara Club, Rainbow Magic, Magic Puppy/Kitten, etc. I wanted something that wouldn't give me a toothache just to read it aloud.
2) No horses
3) Short enough that I can read it aloud in 5 weeks. So about an hour long--usually about 80 pages.
4) Female protagonist(s)
I walked the shelves. I talked to coworkers. I went back through my order lists.
And I came away with the disturbing knowledge that once you take the "pink" and horse books out of the equation, series with female protagonists do not seem to be being written for emerging readers. We have boys having adventures and boy/girl pairs. Apparently girls can't stand alone--even as animal characters--unless they are princesses or fairies.
Examples of series I could have chosen to meet my parameters?
With Boy Protagonist: Time Warp Trio, Roscoe Riley Rules, Encyclopedia Brown, Jigsaw Jones, Horrid Henry, Dinosaur Cove, Matt Christopher/Jake Maddox, Pirate School, Something Wickedly Weird, Hank Zipzer, Melvin Beederman, Dragon Slayer's Academy (could potentially be mixed...), Roland Wright: Future Knight.
Male Lead Animals: Elliot's Park, Bunnicula, Jack Russell Dog Detective
Mixed Pairs: Magic Tree House, Down Girl and Sit, A-Z Mysteries, Bailey School Kids, Keyholders to the Kingdom, My Weird School, All American Puppies, Calendar Mysteries, Capital Mysteries
There are a number of longer chapter books that fit the bill: Ramona, Franny K. Stein, Claudia Cristina Cortez, Rachel Yoder, Dyamonde Daniel, Sassy/Little Sister, Clementine, Ivy and Bean, Abigail Iris, Nikki and Deja, Sisters Grimm, Judy Moody, Katie Kazoo, Pippi Longstockings, Julia Gillian, Little House, Ruby Lu, Harriet the Spy
but most of those characters were 8-10, their stories almost always revolve around school dynamics, and the majority of those books were just too long. I seriously considered Ramona, but I can't read it aloud in under an hour. And before anyone asks, I abhor Junie. The lack of discipline and grammar irritates me to no end. Most of my storytime two year olds have better language skills and manners.
This was what I found that might have worked:
Cam Jansen. This meets my requirements but I can't get into that character for some reason. I think what bothers me is that she has to get a lot of detective help from the boys around (every 2nd or 3rd cover has a boy on it) and basically only solves the mysteries because she has a photographic memory she seems to spend all day "clicking." I just couldn't get enthused.
Meet the Kreeps. Female protagonist. Length was close. But an Adams Family set of characters when I have four year olds whose reading rules at home that I don't know? Nah.
American Girl. Not sparkly, mostly not horse (minus Felicity). But the name says it all.
I ended up reading a book called Dear Whiskers by Ann Whitehead Nadga. I wish I'd found something else. It was cute on initial, at-my-desk, read. Reading it aloud, all I could hear was classroom dynamics, mean girl/teacher's pet nonsense, and the whining of the main character to be let out of a task when the results aren't instantaneously gratifying. I've edited out a lot of the mean girl stuff on the fly and my kids don't seem to notice. So why did it need to be included?
It's disappointing and frustrating. Here we have girls ready to read and yet the selection of strong female characters is nonexistent until a third grade reading level--easy readers tend to be even heavier in the mixed male/female leads with a leaning on the side of male protagonists. And it will comes as no shock that little boys are not generally inclined to read anything about sparkly princesses/fairies/horses.
So what am I missing? Which series should I be buying? Where are the girl detectives and girls going on adventures and girls who aren't stuck in the mean girl cycle and page counts under 100?
I'll be reading up over the summer, trying to find something I like better for the fall. Judy Moody and Ruby Lu aren't off the list entirely, and I need to read the new Abigail Iris. We'll see.