A study of children's literature from 1900-2000 reveals what savvy readers have known for some time: there aren't many positive female characters in kid lit (we're talking about stories for young readers, 4-8 years old). The result, according to the study's authors: "The disproportionate numbers of males in central roles may encourage children to accept the invisibility of women and girls and to believe they are less important than men and boys".
Do you agree? Can you prove them wrong?
Classic stories with brave and clever girls do exist—Jane Yolen has a great collection—but they tend to revolve around older characters (Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, etc.).
So where are all the strong girls for beginning readers? With rare exceptions, you won't find them in traditional fairy and folk tales, what with wicked witches and damsels in distress waiting for knights in shining armor. You can search online and come up with a few lists, but the pickings are slim in classic picture books.
Has it changed in the twenty-first century? Doesn't look like it. You'll still find the majority of feisty females in MG and YA lit. At the younger end of the reading spectrum, there's Ladybug Girl, who makes her own fun; Fancy Nancy, who likes to dress up; Olivia, an energetic piglet; and Dora the Explorer, a cartoon character.
There must be more. What have I missed? What would you recommend?
To read the article, go to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/06/gender-imbalance-children-s-literature To read the full study by Janice McCabe, et al, go to: http://gas.sagepub.com/content/25/2
Books cited: Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle; Beverly Cleary, Ramona Quinby; Jacky David, Ladybug Girl; Ian Falconer, Olivia; Jane O'Connor, Fancy Nancy; Scott O'Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins; Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond; Patricia Wrede, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (love these!); Jane Yolen, Not One Damsel in Distress.