I do my best to raise my three daughters to be strong, confident, and guided by sound principles. I want them to love themselves as they are: girls of mixed ethnicity with beautiful souls.
For a long time, I thought that there was no need to talk to my girls about female empowerment because at their young ages, they wouldn't experience the disadvantages that women used to face and the discrimination that they still suffer. I imagined that in our little sheltered world, this did not exist. But one day, as I was reading with my daughters a collection of stories about pioneers, inventors, and explorers from my home country, the eldest one asked, "Why are there more men pioneers than women in this book?"
It was a good question, the kind that can set you off on a whole new learning journey. The best answer I could give her at that time was, "I’m not sure. Maybe we can find more ladies doing amazing stuff in other books."
We certainly did. We also learned more about equality, the fight for women’s rights, and some heroes. Here are seven books that are real girl-power boosters, conversation starters, and great reads:
This is a great book to begin with – a whimsical picture book portraying pioneer ladies and explaining why what they did was actually fantastic and how it brought about change (which is not always obvious). The first strong woman portrayed in the book is a writer, Jane Austen, and when I started reading it with my daughter she was perplexed, "What’s so brave about writing a book?" Well, it was a brave thing to do if you were a woman living in 19th century England. I also loved the book for introducing some lesser-known heroines such as Agent Fifi and Sacagawea.
If you want to get to know more heroic ladies there are many biographies to choose from, but none are quite as beautiful as "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls." This collection of fairytale-like true stories is illustrated by 60 female artists from around the world. Basically, it’s interesting enough just to look at the pictures. But the stories are equally enchanting and often lead to further research to find out more about some amazing heroine from long ago. The diversity of the collection was a pleasant surprise: there are stories of queens, pirates, astrophysicists, ballerinas, and boxers from all around the world. It’s a treasure chest of inspiration for any girl or woman.
Malala Yousufzai is one of the brave girls portrayed in the "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls," but we wanted to get to know her better. Firstly because she’s amazing and her story carries an important message, and secondly because she’s Pakistani and so are my daughters (partly). I think it’s important to find a hero or heroine that we can somehow relate to. It’s great when their stories teach us that wherever we come from and whoever we are, we can still achieve great things and change the world for the better. Malala is a remarkable young lady and her book is a must-have on any girl’s bookshelf.
If you or your daughter jump to the false conclusion that men are stronger, braver, and generally more amazing than women, then Sandi Toksvig is your go-to author for setting things straight. Women are stronger than men and equally amazing. The only reason we don’t know it is because the history that we learn is a bit skewed: it’s history, and not herstory. "Girls Are Best" offers a glimpse at an alternative version of world history and gives you some great arguments for the amazingness of women.
Fiction can be as powerful a motivational tool as true stories. For my family, the best girl character of all time, the true rebel, and the ultimate heroine, is Pippi Longstocking. This little red-haired girl in odd stockings and too large shoes is strong as a horse and free as a bird, full of great (if crazy) ideas and always ready to help those in trouble. She does things her own way and is not afraid to stand up to injustice, even if it involves throwing bad men into a sea full of sharks or opposing the authorities. "Pippi Longstocking" and the other books in the series may have been written decades ago, but they haven’t lost their charm or their relevance. Pippi remains the literary role model for all rebel girls.
If a girl wants to do something that no other girl has done before her, what does she need to succeed? A supportive father would be of great assistance. "Drummer Girl" is a beautifully illustrated book telling the story of a Muslim girl, Najma, who wants to become a Ramadan musaharati, banging the drum and waking people up for a pre-fast meal. But to do that she has to find the courage to voice her dream and the determination to do something that goes against people’s expectations. Fortunately she has a dad who tells her, "girls can be anything they like." With his support, she makes her dream come true. Najma’s quiet determination is truly inspiring.
The main character in this cute picture book is a blue rabbit-like creature who is strong, fast, loud, and brave. Because of these qualities, everybody thinks she’s a boy. "I’m supposed to be nice, all sugar and spice. But I’m sweet and sour, not a little flower! I’m a girl! I’m a girl! I’m a girl" she yells, defying prejudices and misconceptions. This one of a kind girl-power book for pre-schoolers shows that there is no such thing as girly play or boyish interests.
Here's to happy reading and brave girls!