It’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and who’s that woman with the big grin leading millions of Americans into 2014? It’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with a commanding view of her hometown and her hand firmly on that all-important crystal button.
Why did organizers choose Justice Sotomayor? To put it simply, she is an inspiration. From humble beginnings, she graduated from Princeton and then Yale Law School. Her law career went from strength to strength, and she rose through the ranks to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice and only the third woman to serve there.
What a great choice of person to bring us into the new year with a bang! Organizers could have nominated someone like Miley Cyrus, who was performing in Times Square that night as well, but instead went with a hard-working, fearless, intelligent Hispanic woman who is a wonderful example to both boys and girls everywhere.
When Sotomayor pressed that crystal button, it was a call to us all to make 2014 our Year of the Strong Woman.
Of course as parents, caregivers, and teachers, we are always looking for ways to support and encourage our girls to grow into women as amazing as Sotomayor, and show our boys that women should be equally valued members of society. Reading about strong female characters in books is an excellent way to bring these ideas into the home and classroom.
There are a number of excellent bilingual books that feature interesting and feisty female protagonists that will appeal to all children. Take a look at…
Yeh-Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella
Cinderella’s story is a classic one. However the Cinderella you know from the movies is meek and passive, while the Chinese Cinderella is a much “stronger character”, according to reviewer Maureen Barlow Pugh. She describes how our “kind and clever” heroine makes the decision herself to go to the Spring Festival through which she eventually marries the King, and “makes it happen because she is ‘so determined’.” This Cinderella doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen to her! What a great example for little girls who want to grow up to be princesses. You could use this as a talking point, too: maybe being a princess wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling as being a lawyer, or a doctor, or a professor, or a chemical engineer!
Jill and the Beanstalk
Manju Gregory’s retelling of the well-loved Jack and the Beanstalk really puts girls in their place – right on top! This fairytale female even makes Jack envious of her beanstalk-climbing prowess. It will be fun and useful for all children to see a girl in the traditional role of the warrior who takes on the giant…and wins.
Little Red Hen and the Grains of Wheat
This timeless tale is a perfect example of how our culture already has awesome females embedded into its folklore. Little ones will love the witty illustrations, but will also see how hard the hen works, and how tenacious she is — and how she creates a loaf of bread to be proud of all on her own! This version of the tale won the UK National Literary Association’s Wow! Award in 2006, and you can use it in your home or classroom to reinforce the idea that all people, regardless of gender, can be successful and contribute to their community through hard work.
The Wild Washerwomen
Sometimes the roles that society stereotypically imposes upon women get to be just too much to bear, and that’s exactly what happens in this story illustrated by Quentin Blake. Seven put-upon and strong-willed washerwomen throw off the shackles of their miserable existence and decide to have some fun for once! The Wild Washerwomen effectively undermines the idea that girls are made to do “women’s work”. It shows that we do have the choice to leave the dirty socks to someone else (maybe some washermen?) — and that we might even find love if we do! Encourage your girls to let their hair down and go a bit wild with this adorable romp.
Mamy Wata and the Monster
Mamy (or Mami) Wata is an ancient river spirit revered in large parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Her many followers perform rituals where they dance themselves into a trance. She is a beautiful, complex water queen, known to be able to grant either fortune or bad luck.
In Mamy Wata and the Monster, one of the 100 Best African Books of the century, our protagonist confronts a supposedly fearful monster living in a cave, and manages to help him change his ways.
Mamy Wata displays many qualities we want our girls (and boys!) to aspire to: she is caring and kind, while also fearless and proactive. She deals with tricky situations delicately and fosters a sense of community around her. She is generous and brave. She is, quite simply, a great role model in this fable.
Look out for more about Mamy Wata in a later post!
It’s so important that we raise the young women in our lives to be confident, motivated and ready to take on any challenge. The books they read as children will play a huge part in helping them to develop these qualities, not to mention the fact that learning another language early on will give them a leg up academically and socially! Give your girls the gift of self-esteem: show her books where women rule!