Getting girls excited by STEAM projects is incredibly popular right now. So we were very excited when the GoldieBlox team came out with their first chapter book for young girls this past May. I immediately purchased the first one for my daughter and she loved it. While she is a complete fashionista, E is also my child who likes to think outside of the box and create things, so I think she relates to Goldie.
The series focuses on Goldie and a group of her friends. In the first book, Goldie Blox
Ruins Rules the School, Goldie has to go to a regular, though private school for the first time after blowing the roof off of the small home-style school her mother runs. When she arrives there, even though her neighbor and best friend is there with her, she knows she doesn’t fit in. Higgs Bozon Prep is complete with rigid rules and conventional conformity which don’t work well for someone like Goldie who laughs in the face of rules and has unique was at solving problems. She rounds up a group of allies who want her out of the school and winds up making some new friends and learning about teamwork. Continue reading →
When I first heard that Shannon Hale was writing a graphic novel memoir I knew that it was one of those books that I was going to have to get my hands on. Thanks to NetGalley, my daughter J and I were able to read this before it actually came out, but I also still have a copy of it pre-ordered in my Amazon account.
Shannon Hale is one of our favorite authors who has written books from the Princess in Black Series to Ever After High and the Princess Academy series. You can check out some of our comments on those at an earlier post about Princesses who Defy the Rules. The characters that she writes about are strong, spunky, and take chances to be their own best self. Combine our love of her writing with the ever-trendy graphic novel format, and I knew there was a winning combination.
In her new book, Real Friends (being published this May by First Second), Shannon Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham bring forth a graphic novel about growing up and the realities of friendship and cliques. Continue reading →
Ada Marie Twist, named after Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, is a precocious little girl who doesn’t speak until she is 3 when she comes right out with full sentences. I actually grew up with a young boy like that, and it is amazing how some children just observe the world around them and hold off on speaking until they really have something to say. For Ada Marie, she had a scientific mind from an early age and when she started talking, it was to ask “Why” everything around her worked the way that it did.
With brilliant rhymes that keep the story flowing in a sing-song manner, Ada discovers the world around her. When she is confronted by a horrific smell one day, which happens to come from her brother’s sweaty socks, she feels a compelling need to understand what the source of the smell was and how our sense of smell even worked. “A mystery! A riddle! A puzzle! A quest! This was the moment that Ada loved best.” Whether working through the problem by experimenting on things around her or writing out questions that led to other questions and possibilities, Ada scientifically explores the things that intrigue her.
This books is loved in our house by our soon to be 6 year old as well as our 9 year old. Heck, this 40-something momma loves it! This book champions girl power and exploration. It supports women in scientific roles. It supports the idea of never giving up and finding new ways to problem solve. Many also love the fact that Ada is a girl of color. Ada may never find the source of the stink, but her family supports her efforts and she continues to discover new things. Whatever your reasons for loving it, this is a book to be enjoyed over and over again!
We read a lot of princess stories. I’ve been surrounded by princesses and fairies for years. But we have always done a pretty good job of bringing non-traditional princesses into our mix. I always enjoy reading other people’s lists of books, so I try to create them myself (when time allows). I’ve been putting this grouping together for a few weeks.
The Princess and the Pizza – This fractured fairy tale takes the traditional Princess and the Pea and turns it on it’s head. Here Princess Pauline’s father decides to give up his thrown in order to follow his own dreams, but Pauline misses her princess days. When a local Queen announces that she is searching for a true princess to marry her son, Princess Pauline finds her tiara and heads out.
Pauline passes the “old princess-and-the-pea trick” and is able to wear the glass slipper, but each time a challenge is placed on the group she has some sort of smart response that begins with “for Pete’s sake…” The final test is to cook a feast fit for a king, but before she can even get ingredients, Rapunzel trips her and the seven dwarfs grab nearly everything available. All she is left with is “some flour, yeast, water, three overripe tomatoes, and a hunk of stale cheese.” Then she finds that she has to cook in her room without pots and pans. Of course, in true story form, in a last desperate attempt she manages to make pizza and wins. What makes this even better is that she decides that she doesn’t want to marry the prince after all and would rather make a fortune on pizza.
The Princess and the Pony – This story focuses on a little girl in a warrior kingdom. All she wants is a strong warrior horse, instead of the cozy sweaters her parents keep giving her. When her birthday rolls around, she begs her parents for a warrior horse and instead they give her a squishy pony. To lift her spirits, she enters a battle for warriors. Her pony is not exactly up to the battle, but on the day of the event she tells him to just do his best.
When the battle begins, it is like a crazed skirmish and the reader can’t imagine this little princess going up against all of the big warriors. Princess Pinecone gears up to throw her first spit ball and the fierce warrior that is running towards her comes to a stop to admire her pony. Then all of the other gruff warriors do the same. “This is not how a battle usually goes,” she said. “You’re right,” said Otto, “but we warriors don’t often get to show our cuddly sides.”
Princess Pinecone, and a slew of her cozy sweaters, helps the warriors do just that. This flips the big tough warrior concept on its head when Princess Pinecone wins “most valuable warrior of the day.”
Princesses are Not Quitters – In this unusual tale, three princesses suddenly decided that their days were too dull and that servants seemed to have all of the fun – “out in the fresh air, doing interesting things.” So they decided to swap places for the day.
Soon their backs, hands, and feet were sore, but they didn’t want anyone to say that princesses were quitters, so they kept on working. They missed lunch and dinner because they couldn’t get their chores done fast enough, but they stuck with it and finished everything on their lists.
The next day the princesses slept until noon and limped down to breakfast where they realized that they had had a hand in the food that they were eating. They also had learned just how hard their staff worked. So that day the princesses made a royal proclamation to make the lives of their servants easier. Now if you visit their kingdom, chances are that the princesses are still helping out.
This is an important story about realizing the work that goes on behind the scenes, the importance of helping out, the importance of rest and most of all, perseverance.
Princess Pigsty – Isabella is the youngest of three princesses. The girls have everything they could ever wish for and servants to do their bidding. But Isabella was sick of being a princess. “It’s boring, boring, boring!” She doesn’t want to sit around and look pretty. She wants to have fun – wear pants, climb trees, even pick her nose if she so chooses.
Her father banishes her to the kitchens as punishment. He figures that doing dishes and peeling onions will make her come to her senses. After three days her father sends for her, but she was having a blast. When she still wouldn’t fetch her crown from the fishpond she had thrown it in, he sent her to the pigsty. There she helped feed and clean them, but also played with them. She still refused to get her crown. Her father finally realized that his little girl was finally happy and that she should be allowed to do what she wanted to do.
This is a wonderful story of being true to yourself and also that not all little girls want to be traditionally “girly.” Isabella had an inquisitive mind and learned things by getting her hands dirty and actually working. She had a better knowledge of where her food came from and how the world worked then even her father, the king, did. A great way to encourage young girls to be what they want to be.
The Princess and the Giant – I’m not sure where I first heard about this story, but I am so glad that I did. From the very first page, it challenges traditional gender roles by saying “Her father made the porridge, and her mother chopped the wood, while Princess Sophie rode her bike, as every princess should.”
Sophie and her family were plagued by a giant who stomped around every night and made it impossible for anyone in the kingdom to get any sleep. No one seemed to be able to do anything about it, so Sophie took matters into her own hands. She climbed up to the giant and tried giving him a midnight snack. When that failed she tried loaning him some stuffed animals. She kept trying, but nothing seemed to work. The queen finally sent in the army, but she ran up ahead of them to give it one last valiant try and it worked.
I loved reading about Sophie’s pluck and determination. There was no fear of the giant, who wasn’t mean, just cranky. From a parent’s perspective, there is also the issue of trying to put your kids to bed and finally finding the one thing that works. A great story with a smart little princess.
Interstellar Cinderella – Given my penchant for finding all of the various versions of a specific fairy tale and the fact that we have read a TON of Cinderella stories, I couldn’t help myself when I heard that this book was coming out.
Interstellar Cinderella is about a little girl who dreamed of fixing fancy rockets. When the Prince holds a Royal Space Parade and invites her family she is very excited, but her step-mother tricks her and strands her at their home. Her fairy godrobot brings her a special set of tools and she manages to make the parade. When the prince’s spaceship starts to burn, Interstellar Cinderella knows just how to fix it and together they go to the Gravity-Free Ball. As with all Cinderella stories, she has to run out at midnight, but she leaves her socket wrench behind. The prince searches high and low for the girl who knew so much about fixing rockets and manages to finally find Cinderella. When he asks her to be his bride, she thinks about it, but says “I’m far too young for marriage, but I’ll be your chief mechanic!”
Dreams can come true for this bright little Cinderella. She lives a happy existence fixing ships and hanging out with her friend the prince. A great lesson to follow your own dreams and be whatever you want to be. It is also nice to see Cinderella not marry the prince in the end. A true 21st century take on a classic story.
We love finding books that are different from the norm. What non-traditional princess stories have you read?
In the past few months, I have seen my older daughter get a stronger appreciation for serious issues – politics, injustice and discrimination. She learns a great deal from the books that she reads, but also from the conversations that we have. Obviously, the political primaries happening and my not so quiet dislike for certain politicians has swayed some of her thinking, but I like that she is taking an active interest in the world around her and understanding that choices that we make affect not only our local world but our larger community.
One thing that has come up a lot has to do with the rights of women. It is very difficult for young girls to understand that while they have the opportunity to do and be almost anything, that these rights have come because so many women were oppressed in years past and fought back. When we read books about women who led the way, J definitely asks why they were not allowed to go to school, or why they were expected to get married and take care of a family. Since at the moment both of my girls long to be on stage, they have a hard time with the notion that at one point this was considered an unacceptable life choice. Our children now have many opportunities that my mother’s generation did not have, but as we saw in the case of Malala, the struggle still continues for many.
So how do I educate my girls on both the past and the present? Books of course! The following are a few of the books that we have been reading lately, and a few old favorites, that have started J thinking more about women’s history.
“What would you do if someone told you can’t be what you want to be because you are a girl? What would you do if someone told you your vote doesn’t count, your voice doesn’t matter because you are a girl?” This is how the wonderful biography, Elizabeth Leads the Way, begins.
As I said above, it is exceptionally difficult for girls today to comprehend that women were not allowed to do things simply because they were girls. But when Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a girl, her choices were very limited. Her own father thought that her life would have been easier if she had just been born a boy. Fortunately, he did allow her to continue her education and she married a man who had fought for the rights of slaves and therefore understood when Elizabeth talked about women’s rights.
Still, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton proposed the idea to fight for women’s right to vote, people were flabbergasted. There were others who agreed with her though, and they just needed her spark to start the fire. Women didn’t actually get the right to vote until 18 years after she died, but we all owe Elizabeth Cady Stanton a huge debt of gratitude.
When you think about important women in history, Eleanor Roosevelt’s name always comes up. A woman who spoke up for what she believed in and changed the role of the First Lady, a biography on her is a must read for anyone interested in women’s history.
In Doreen Rappaport’s outstanding biography, “Eleanor, Quiet No More,” children of all ages can get a sense of how amazing she was. From a childhood of privilege but lacking love, she finally was encouraged to be her best self when she was sent to England to study and found herself in the tutelage of a progressive teacher.
Using wonderful illustrations by Gary Kelley and a number of strong quotes, the book gives you a sense of who she was and how her beliefs were formed. She stood up for the vast number of Americans who struggled to survive while the wealthy lived easy lives. She sood up for the rights of women and African Americans. She helped the soldiers during the war. Eleanor was often mocked for her looks and called a do-gooder, but she persevered and was a major force in our history. Eleanor Roosevelt was a game changer and this book does a wonderful job or portraying that.
Speaking of strong women and First Ladies, there is Hillary Clinton. Now, I will admit, she is one that many people have very strong feelings about, and not all positive. She has made a lot of mistakes, but she is also an important figure in changing the role of women in this world. Whatever your politics, people should be able to look at Hillary Clinton, what she has accomplished over the years, and realize that she is an important person.
The new biography “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead,” does struggle with being rather propagandaish, but there is still a solid message for young girls. As the book begins, “In the 1950s, it was a man’s world. Only boys could grow up to have powerful jobs. Only boys had no ceilings on their dreams. Girls weren’t even supposed to act smart, tough, or ambitious. Even though, deep inside, they may have felt that way.” Here is the story of a young girl who excelled in school, who learned about the world beyond her pristine town of those that struggled and wanted to help make a change. As she got older, she saw the plight of migrant workers and their kids, she was a part of the movement to make sure that everyone had the right to vote. As First Lady, she fought for health care and women’s rights, even while everyone continued to make fun of her appearance – something they would never think of doing to a man.
This is an important addition because it shows that the struggle for women’s rights is real and still current. For all of the advances, we are still needing to make cracks in the glass ceiling.
There are some great books about women that escape the political realm. A few of these are old favorites, but this one is newly published.
In our quest to find biographies about strong women, we discovered this little gem published in 2015 – “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.” Ada Lovelace was the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron. Ada had a lonely childhood and filled many hours coming up with inventions in her journal.
Through pictures of her childhood, we are shown Ada’s fascination with things that fly and her desire to create a flying machine. She experimented and made many computations, but was stalled by a bout with the measles that left her unable to walk for many years.
Fortunately for Ada, her mother recognized her passion for math and hired tutors for her, even though there were few highly educated women at the time. Through one of her tutors she met Charles Babbage, a famous mathematician and inventor, and they developed a friendship.
Babbage had designed an Analytical Engine to solve complicated problems – a true thinking machine and forerunner of the computer – but he hadn’t actually built it. Ada took home his lab books and created early coding to go with the machine, the instructions to actually make it work. While she never touched a modern machine, Ada Byron Lovelace created the profession of computer programmer long before the computer was even invented.
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough, might be one of my all time favorites. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. What is truly amazing about the book is how it continually shows how things were done in the late 1800s when Anne Moore was growing up and in the early 1900s, but when Miss Moore was faced with people telling her that girls “didn’t” or “shouldn’t” do something, the common refrain was “Miss Moore thought otherwise.”
“In the 1870s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery.” But Anne Moore wanted to be like her 7 brothers out having fun and she wanted an education like them too. With her education she became a wonderful librarian and then turned the library system on its head when she actually encouraged children to come into the library and check out books. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books.
In a very straight-forward manner, the book gives a great sense of who Elizabeth Blackwell was and how she wound up becoming a doctor. She was a girl who was spunky, strong, smart and who never walked away from a challenge. She was a curious girl who wanted to know more about the world around her She also never imagined being a doctor until a friend who was very ill put the idea in her head. Of course she was laughed at and rejected, but one school finally admitted her. “Elizabeth proved she was as smart as any boy.”
There are tons of other great resources out there for stories on strong women that we will continue to read. Anyone can make a difference in this world, regardless of your gender.
I am highlighting great biographies as a part of my efforts with Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out her website for a ton of great resources!
I have long been fascinated by the story of Malala Yousafzai. As a young girl, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She risked her life to get information to the western world about how important education was for all children in Pakistan and how difficult the Taliban was making it for them. For her bravery, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived. In 2014 she became the youngest Nobel Prize winner for her amazing work.
Of course I have wanted my children to get an understanding of who she is and what she did. That said, I didn’t think that J was ready to read I am Malala, even in the version specifically made for children. Sometimes it is necessary to find ways to ease her into non-fiction subject. When I saw this great post from Valarie Budayr during Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I knew it was a book I had to get my hands on.
With gorgeous pictures and an engaging story, For the Right to Learn tells of Malala Yousafzai’s unusual early education growing up in the Swat valley of Pakistan. Malala’s father believed that both boys and girls deserved to have an education and, because he ran a school, Malala was able to get a wonderful education.
However, when the Taliban came to power in Pakistan they made rules that changed how women were treated. For the Right to Learn manages to use simply imagery and text like the following to let children know just how many changes the Taliban instituted.
“They declared that females should be separated from males. They wanted to outlaw education for girls. They also tried to force women to wear garments called burqas to cover their entire bodies and faces.”
The Taliban slowly made more and more rules making it harder for women to get an education. Through intimidation and violence, the lives of those that disagreed with the Taliban become more and more difficult and increasingly dangerous.
But, as the book explains, bombs could not silence Malala. She wound up blogging anonymously through the BBC to tell first-hand what it was like to experience the school closings for girls. That garnered international attention and some girls were allowed to go back, but only those under the age of 10.
Then in 2009, the Pakistani army decided that it was no longer safe for the people within their own country and 2 million people fled the Swat Valley. “The Taliban had already tried to take her rights, her education, and her voice. Malala prayed they wouldn’t come after her home.”
After three months, the Taliban seemed to be gone, but her home town was a shell of what it once was. By that time, people had also discovered that she had been the one blogging and Desmond Tutu had nominated her for an award. But the Taliban wasn’t really gone, they were just laying low, and now she was on their hit list.
On October 9, 2012, a man got onto her bus headed for school asking who Malala was.
Malala and two of her friends were injured in the shooting, but miraculously they all survived. Malala was injured the worst and had to be airlifted to a hospital in England for additional surgeries and to keep her safe from the Taliban. She inadvertently became a household name standing for equal education for women, but what she wanted more than anything was to be allowed to go back to her own studies.
In December 2014 she became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner. In her speech, she lifted her voice for children everywhere: “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”
Malala is the voice of how important education is for everyone. We have long heard that the only way we are going to fight terrorism is to educate people and help them help themselves out of poverty. Author Rebecca Langston-George did an outstanding job of tackling the difficult situations that Malala faced in a wonderful way without causing un-needed fears and illustrator Janna Bock brought it to life. Malala stands for strong women everywhere and is someone I want my girls to look up to at an early age. I am highly impressed by this beautiful book as an entry point into her biography.
I have given myself a challenge this year to write once a week about a non-fiction picture book as part of the non-fiction picture book challenge. I aim for Wednesdays, but sometimes, life just gets in the way. For additional titles, you should check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the many great blogs that participate in the link-up. I’m especially excited about a new book about Elizabeth Cady Stanton that is apparently coming out later this month.
As far as our society has come, it can still be challenging to find books that encourage little girls to consider anything and everything in terms of what they are capable of. We love finding good books that also reinforce the message that girls can do anything they want. In honor of women’s history month, here are a few of the newer books that we have discovered that fit this mold. For any other books in this category, you can also find books we have talked about by checking out the tag “a mighty girl.”
Authors Margaret Baker and Justin Matott along with illustrator Mark Ludy have put together visually stunning book with the perfect message that little girls can dream big in When I Was a Girl I Dreamed. The book follows the memories of a grandmotherly woman saying all of the dreams that she had as a little girl – from being the lead in a ballet to exploring the seven wonders of the world in a hot air balloon, from being an artist in Paris to being a big time basketball player. Each page repeats the phrase that encourages little girls to follow their dreams. In the end, the woman turns out to have become an award winning writer and getting immense pleasure from hearing that people love her books, but it never says that she didn’t also pursue the amazing adventures that she dreamed about as a child. The wonderful part is that I know my 8 year old definitely got the message as when I asked her why she liked it she said “You can dream anything and you can be anything.” A wonderful book that we were lucky enough to receive as a gift with an autographed illustration by Mark Ludy. There is also a boy version although I haven’t actually seen it.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty is one of my favorite books and one that my 4 year old can listen to over and over. This is the story of Rosie Revere who dreamed of becoming a great engineer. “Where some people see rubbish, Rosie sees inspiration.” Rosie loves to invent things, but after an uncle laughed at one of her inventions, she became afraid to show anyone anything. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions a life-long dream of flying, Rosie sets out to create a flying machine for her. It hovers for a moment and then crashes and Rosie again feels like a failure. Her aunt Rose, on the other hand, sees her invention as a marvelous success because you can only fail if you quit. This is a great book to encourage experimentation and to remember to believe in yourself.
In the same vein of creating new things, we also love The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This is the story of a little girl and her dog who love to do things together. One day, she gets a marvelous idea to make the most magnificent thing. She knows just how it will work and starts drawing up plans and then she gets to work in front of her house and starts to build. She figures that building it will be easy-peasy, but it’s not. She tries over and over again and just can’t get it right. She gets frustrated and then even gets mad. Her dog convinces her to go for a walk and it manages to clear her head and by the time she gets back, she has figured out exactly how to build her project. This book is awesome in its display of perseverance and creativity.
For a wonderful book both about believing in yourself as well as bullying, we recently purchased Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon, by Patty Lovell. Little Molly Lou Mellon is tiny, buck-toothed and clumsy but her grandmother has always taught her to believe in herself. When she moves to a new school the local bully taunts her in various ways but each time she just stands up for herself and turns whatever he has said to her around. If he makes fun of her buck teeth, she wows everyone by balancing pennies on them. She manages to put the bully in his place and gains many friends in the process. In the end, she calls her grandma to let her know that all of the thing she had taught her were true. Sometimes it is really hard to be different, but this book shows how believing in yourself allows your differences to shine.
In a completely different vein, we have also enjoyed reading Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio. In this great book, Grace’s class is learning about American presidents when she learns that there has never been a female President of the United States. She sets out to change that by first running for class President in a mock election. The race is between Grace and a little boy and for the most part it becomes a boys vs girls election, but it also shows the boy making popular promises while Grace actually tries to figure out how to make change. While learning a great deal about elections and the electoral process this book shows you how hard work, determination and independent thought can help you move mountains. One voter makes all the difference when a little boy chooses Grace over the boy candidate because he thought that she would do a better job. A great book about elections and a great way to inspire our young girls to be interested in politics and to make changes in their world.
We love our mighty girl books which is why we are always looking for new ones. Here are some of our favorite resources:
A Mighty Girl
What Do We Do All Day?
No Time for Flash Cards
And other great lists that I find on Pinterest – here is my children’s book link
Let’s encourage our girls to go out and change the world!
When we first opened the pages of Willow, the strains of Harry Chapin Carpenter’s “Flowers Are Red” floated through my head. Given that this was a favorite song from my youth, I was immediately captivated by this book. Multiple readings with my 4 year old only made the book that much better.
Willow is the story of a little girl with a big imagination and a deep love of art. The only problem is that her art teacher cares more for order and conformity than for creativity. With today’s climate of teachers being so limited by new rules and regulations and a need to teach to the test rather than inspire and focus on creativity, this book really touched home.
Every day when the kids entered their art class, the room felt cold and definitely devoid of creativity. Their art teacher, Miss Hawthorne, isn’t what you would expect from an elementary school art teacher. She expects the room to be in order with nothing out of place and no broken crayons.
Each week Miss Hawthorne gives them assignments with an example of what she would like to see. Then all of the children in the class copy what she does. “Everyone except Willow.” Willow takes the assignment and then paints what she sees when she closes her eyes. Each time Willow gets told things like trees are not pink and apples are not blue.
This would crush most children, but Willow has a deep love of art and a favorite art book at home and so each time she is told that she has done it “wrong,” she brings in her art book and shows another famous painting that didn’t follow the rules.
When winter break comes, only Willow thinks to give Miss Hawthorne a gift – her beloved art book that inspires her. All alone during the break, Miss Hawthorne allows herself to be creative and the children come back to a brand new world of art.
This is a marvelous book that encourages children of all ages to use their imaginations and to believe in themselves. It is also a good way to see that famous artists often saw things outside of the box and created fabulous works that viewed the world in different ways. It is through art that we can have pink trees swaying in the breeze. It is through art that you can combine parts of many different animals into one.
My 4 year old loves this book because she has a very vivid imagination. My 8 year old has started to enjoy art more and this is a nice way to encourage her to believe in her own vision and start wanting to visit art museums with us. As Harry Chapin Carpenter said
There are so many colors in the rainbow,
so many colors in the morning sun,
so many colors in the flowers and I see every one.
Maybe a year ago a good friend started a kid’s book club for our, at the time, first graders. Most of this had actually started because a few of them had gotten into Harry Potter and they had a lot of fun watching the movie together and then discussing the differences. So when deciding to start a book club for such young readers, and given the fact that they needed more than just a book to read and discuss, we went with books that also had movie counterparts. The group fizzled out due to a variety of reasons, but a few weeks ago I decided to give it new life.
Over the holidays I purchased some soundtracks for my Broadway loving 8 year old. One of the picks was Matilda: The Musical. I wasn’t initially enamored with the soundtrack, but it has definitely grown on me, especially since I listen to it EVERY DAY. That said, it can be hard for a kid to fully understand what is going on just by listening to songs. So when we were driving with another friend one day, I tried to explain some of the story to them. Then I said, “You know, we should read this for our book club and then we can watch the movie.” Needless to say, the girls loved the idea.
J had already read two Roald Dahl books in the past, one being The BFG with our book club, but she didn’t seem all that interested in reading others. Perhaps because they both had male leads and she has a thing about strong female protagonists. Regardless, her love of Roald Dahl has done a complete turnaround.
The story of Matilda is about a little girl who loves to read but is completely misunderstood by her parents who are completely self-absorbed and think the television should be the center of their universe. Mom plays bingo all day (leaving Matilda on her own) and Dad is a crooked used car salesman. Matilda sticks out like a sore thumb having learned to read by age 3 and her parents generally think of her as a nuisance or a scab. When she finally convinces her parents to sign her up for school she winds up at a horrible place run by Miss. Trunchbull, who happens to also hate children. Luckily, she does have a wonderful teacher and she discovers that she has some remarkable powers of her own to deal with grown-ups who are so awful to children.
J immediately took to reading Matilda. We started reading it together because that is fun, but she quickly left me in the dust and read it on her own. When she finished, I asked her what she thought and this was her response: “It was a really good book. It told all about this girl that had a family who didn’t love her and how she escaped them. It also tells how girls can be strong. Matilda has a family that thinks she is weird so they send her off to school with a mean principal who is evil. Matilda has special powers to make things move with her mind and she escapes.”
The magical powers was a theme that the kids really loved. When we got 4 girls together yesterday to talk about the book and watch the movie her superpowers and the chalk writing scene came up. J also later talked about how it was cool that she used her powers to get Ms. Honey’s doll out of Ms. Trunchbull’s house without going back on her promise of not actually going into the house.
Matilda is also a great story to encourage kids to think about writing themselves. One of our book club members talked about how she liked that there were unexpected twists and turns in the book, similar to the much loved Harry Potter. She added that among the books that she has been reading, a lot of them don’t have that aspect. That led us to a conversation about what makes good writing and thinking about books that we look forward to reading.
Hosting a children’s book club is an awesome way to get kids engaged in what they are reading and to help make it that much more fun. It is great to see how these young minds thing about the books that they read and it is always wonderful to broaden their horizons about the books that they are reading.
We are a household with a deep love for princesses. My younger daughter loves all things princessy and frilly, although her favorite Disney princesses are Tianna and Mulan. I love those choices since they are two “princesses” who are incredibly strong and independent. They don’t need a handsome prince to come and rescue them. They also both work hard to get what they want. In the world of princesses, however, that is not always the case, which is why I love finding books that also showcase the fact that a princess can be anything.
My older daughter has taken a real liking to Shannon Hale’s books. Ms. Hale definitely sees princesses through different eyes. J has utterly fallen in love with the Ever After High series. I wasn’t sure about this series, as I’m not a fan of the whole Monster High phenomenon, but it is a wonderful series. The concept is that the children of famous fairy tale characters all go to Ever After High to learn skills necessary to fulfill their destinies as “the next” in their line. When Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen from Snow White, comes back the year that she is supposed to sign the book of legacies, she questions the whole concept of destinies, instead wanting to choose her own. All of the princesses and other fairy tale characters not only consider if their intended “happily ever after” is what they want, but they also work together when other challenges come up. The television series that goes along is nice, but we have really enjoyed the three books that have been published.
The book that inspired me to write this post is Hale’s The Princess in Black. This is a perfect early chapter book for emerging readers who are ready for a new challenge. It is full of colorful pictures and feels longer due to the number of pages, a sure way to boost a new reader’s confidence. In this tale, a young princess is known for being perfect, frilly and dainty – everything that we have come to expect of a perfect princess. Princess Magnolia, however, has a secret…she is also the Princess in Black, a super-hero who stops the monsters from doing bad things, like eating goats. It is nice to see a princes who can be princessy and badass, although it would have been even better if she wasn’t hiding her fighting persona, but that following the lead of male superheroes. Definitely a book that thinks outside of the proverbial princess box.
Shannon Hale also wrote the Princess Academy series. The fabulous website A Mighty Girl actually just had a Facebook post about this book saying: “The story follows Miri who is sent with the other girls from her village to a special academy to learn the social graces required of a princess. Miri thrives in her new environment but not necessarily in the intended way — for the first time, she discovers the power of her voice and other unique gifts and, when bandits strike the academy, it’s Miri who rallies the girls to save themselves.” We have this on our list of books to read as it is supposed to be a great series for middle-grade girls.
A book that fits this category perfectly that I’ve been meaning to blog about for some time is Dealing with Dragons. In this book, Princess Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart – and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon – and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for. We absolutely loved this book and how fun Cimorene was.
Last year we also read Tuesdays At the Castle, a wonderful book of magic and mayhem. The story focuses on Celie, the youngest princess at the Castle Gower, which just so happens to have a mind of its own. Strong female main character, a family working together, and proof that respecting things around us pays off. We really loved this book, although we were not quite as enamored with the sequel.