Children's Heroines

I'm the father of two daughters, one aged seven and the other aged ten. They've both enjoyed a fair amount of traditional fantasy and science fiction tales - Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, etc. However both of them have also indulged in a fair amount of what I'd considered to be "girl-centric" literature and videos.

As a caveat, I'm far from being an expert on women's issues and am not a wiz in the social sciences. With that caveat in mind, I have nevertheless tried, together with my wife, to make certain the girls have good female role models. I want them to be able to enjoy stories where a girl or woman protagonist is the hero - where she is not waiting for her prince to rescue her, nor just a "dude with boobs", nor some ultra-sexed object.

Another desire is the stories actually be entertaining. Preferably without sparkly vampires.

Both girls started off with Dora the Explorer. I can still recite the theme song to Dora with ease. I suspect when I am old and have forgotten my name. "I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map!" The television show had Dora going on all sorts of minor adventures but the kids really enjoyed the longer Dora movies where she would have adventures in fairytale land and deal with the Pirate Piggies. I'd view these as primarily "cute" with a goal of providing some education to the viewer/

I think though their interest grew more when they discovered the Barbie Fairytopia movies. Now as a caveat - these are clearly designed to sell Barbie dolls. For those of you who lack knowledge of Fairytopia the initial story is that of Elina, a fairy without wings. She gets teased by the other fairies for her lack of wings. Elina becomes involved in saving Fairytopia from the villainous Laverna, sister of the kind ruler of Fairytopia, the Enchantress. As Laverna kidnaps the guardians of Fairytopia she comes closer and closer to her desire to rule - and she tempts Elina with her greatest wish, having wings. However Elina rejects this temptation and saves Fairytopia - and (spoiler alert) gets rewarded with wings.

It is a simple enough story but one my daughters both greatly enjoyed. It had some nice fantasy tropes such as the magical land, fairies, magic, etc. Sequels deal with other parts of Fairytopia such as the undersea kingdom of Mermaidia. And Elina is not one who uses violence to solve her problems (not to say that a "male" story must have violence either). She often doubts her own abilities but nevertheless does not give up.

Lately my younger daughter has discovered the American Girl series. While a lot of people think of just the dolls with American Girls, there is a strong effort at historical accuracy with the books that are associated with the dolls. They are not fantasy but rather grounded in history - just as a number of RPG-ers I know also double as history buffs. There's got to be a number of people who are experts on the 1920s due to participation in Call of Cthulhu games.  Right now my daughter Jasmine is all about Caroline, the protagonist of a series of books centered around Sackets Harbor along the shores of Lake Ontario in New York during the War of 1812. In the first book Caroline witnesses her father, a shipwright, being taken by the British just after war is declared - and before the protagonists had gotten word of the declaration of war. The books do not alter the historical role of women - Caroline does not strap on a sabre and engage in the life of a privateer. But it does show the great accomplishments women were capable of despite the limitations sexism put upon them. Caroline's mother takes over operation of the family shipyard's without hesitation and during the First Battle of Sackets Harbor stands ready with a pistol should the British manage a landing. Caroline herself finds herself assisting the guncrews as they try to adapt their too-small cannonballs to their cannons - during this she forgets to be afraid despite being vulnerable to British bombardment. But after the event is over the realization of what she has been through hits her.

These novels really reach my daughter as she recently got to meet the author of the books, Kathleen Ernst, at a book-signing and tea party at the nearby (for us) U.S.S. Constitution Museum - any author of a work with nautical action in it in the War of 1812 would find the museum an excellent resource.

To be honest, I never thought I'd find myself being a connoisseur of works targeted for girls. But I'm really hoping to get one of them to join the gaming group at a certain point - I really need new blood. And if you can't recruit them then best to create them. Also, in all seriousness, I want them to be able to imagine their own fantastic worlds where they are not the princess in need of rescue but rather their own strong characters in their own rights.


  1. Barbie Twilight - I smell me an opportunity...

  2. How about Garth Nix's Abhorsen books? Probly better for the older one, but they're great high-fantasy 'girl coming of age' stories. Plus, what girl doesn't want a talking chaotic evil kitty cat or chaotic good puppy dog for a best friend?

  3. I've never actually checked out the Abhorsen books - I'll have to add them to my reading pile. My older girl, Vicki, at ten is determined to avoid uncool books, but also can't wait till we're let her read The Hunger Games. (Probably towards the end of this year of school, 5th grade, we'll let her). That said they both love our doggie Freya so that sounds a good lever.

    Barbie Twilight. I am now shivering.

  4. I think Dora show might have changed a bit.


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