Picture Book Sheroes
Day to day our kids face trials that can deflate their self-confidence, which in turn may affect their learning, social interactions, and overall happiness. As their parents, teachers, grandparents, family and friends, we’ve got to be on guard, be their defence — not always out at the front but behind the scenes offering encouragement, unconditional love, giving them good examples to be inspired by. Such examples can be found in children’s literature. You’ll meet kids that are brave, patient, who overcome adversity, keep trying after failure, kids who embrace their uniqueness, who dream, imagine, know their potential. Reading children’s book is learning without the didacticism, with humour and with all the many wonderful things that go hand in hand with story time.
We’ve put together a list of Picture Book Sheroes that are sure to inspire both girls AND boys.
These female characters may live within the realm of fiction, but they’re very real to us. We’re motivated by their courage and vibrancy. Their stories become a part of our own.
BLOOM AND GENEVIEVE
Bloom is a Mud Fairy who can spin delicate creations of glass. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, believes that we’re all capable of greatness, that we’re all capable of performing extraordinary feats. Genevieve is given a task that others of great stature have failed at. Although she has moments of timidity, she never gets discouraged. She’s teachable, humble, and in no way an ordinary. “…there is no such thing as an ordinary girl.” There’s no such thing as an ordinary child. This is an important message for both girls and boys to understand. So too is the message that Bloom shares — when ingenuity, hard work, teamwork, perseverance and knowledge come together, that’s when the magic happens.
Lila, the protagonist in Nothing! by Yasmeen Ismail, has an active imagination. When her mother asks her to put on her shoes, she’s under the sea wrestling an octopus. When she’s told to put on her coat, she’s whisked herself away to the circus, where she’s centre stage on the back of a leaping zebra. She’s a giant, and “the queen of super speed.” All the while, her mother asks, “What are you doing?” The contradiction of Lila’s reply, “Nothing,” is very funny to both child and adult. This book is exciting from beginning to end. The illustrations are busy and vibrant. Lila is a spirited girl with an edge. Bursting with courage and self-confidence, she’s a friend that will inspire kids to live fearlessly and make the most of every moment. I need to make mention here of Ismail’s book, I’m a Girl, published last year. It’s one that strengthens, encourages, comforts, empowers and breaks down those gender stereotypes.
ADA MARIE TWIST
From birth to the age of three she didn’t say a word. Her parents were worried, but they had nothing to fear, as Ada was busy exploring, observing, and investigating the world around her. “Why?” was her first utterance, and quickly more queries followed. I overheard a conversation between a mother and child at the supermarket a few days ago. The boy was asking why questions, one after the other, and the mother was answering. She asked a question of her own. “Why do you keep asking why?” It’s that beautiful thing called curiosity. Sure, we have our moments when we want to say, “Stop!” and Ada’s parents did too, but they quickly realised that an inquisitive spirit shouldn’t be discouraged. It’s important for kids to know this. There’s still going to be barriers, but if they have Ada’s persistence, nothing will stop them. Ada positivity, her passion and self-belief is what gets her through, keeps her going. She symbolises and promotes equal opportunities. A role model for every kid, so are her namesakes, Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie. Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer, is another must read, and it’s also on our list.
“In a place where color ran wild, there lived a girl who was wilder still. Her name was Swatch, and she was a color tamer. She was small but she was not afraid.” Three sentences in and you’re already in love with Swatch, and that’s just from a quick introduction. Swatch’s energy is invigorating. Her tenderness is touching. This is one of those magical books that evokes the imagination, but not only that, it celebrates everything wild and wonderful about being a child, creating things, being free to express ourselves. Denos’ story is strong, bold, with lots of enjoyable surprises. I love that she named her colours, “Bravest Green…In-Between Gray…Rumble-Tumble Pink…Just-Laid Blue.” These colours, and others, are given life. They’re personified. While reading, it seems as though the spirited illustrations are being created right before your eyes. This book takes my breath away and warms all those creative juices. It’s a masterpiece, and Swatch the girl is enchanting.
Mia, from The Star Tree, reminds me of how I was as a child — dreamy, imaginative, full of wonder. I wish I had her fiery hair. All are asleep in “the dreaming house,” but not Mia. She sways on her rocking horse and wishes on the midsummer moon. An owl sings to her, “Climb on my back, fly away with me, over the hills and down to the sea.” Mia sets off on an adventure, receiving help along the way from many fanciful creatures. She’s always looking ahead, eyes set on her goal — finding the Star Tree. Catherine Hyde has created a dream. A bedtime lullaby. Its lyrical verse and oil pastel illustrations are beautiful and soothing. We found ourselves wishing that we could run our fingers over the illustrations and feel the texture. We found ourselves longing to join Mia up in the clouds, in the hot air balloon with the Big White Bear. We found ourselves dreaming, creating our own stories together. Hearing Mia’s story lit the spark of our imaginations, and we all know how important imagination is for a child’s development.
Imagination is everything.
— Albert Einstein.
FAIRY TALE SHEROES
Fairy tales are a part of life. Centuries-old stories that were read to us as children and we pass those stories on to our children. They’re read in the home, in school, they’re plays, movies — Fairy tales are a constant, and traditional versions predominantly portray its female characters as waiting, wanting, dependant on a prince to come and rescue them. But that is changing, and has been for some time. Retellings of fairy tales are a constant, and many of these retellings are empowering its girls.
ANNABEL AND ZOE
Annabel lives in the 1950s and is fascinated by the future. She loves learning, reading books and everything to do with science and robots. Sadly she doesn’t escape the evil spell placed upon her by a spiteful witch or her one thousand years of slumber. Annabel’s protectors are her two aunts. Flora turns herself into a light so Annabel will never be in darkness, and Rosalind becomes a rose tree that shields their home from the changing world around it. Annabel’s rescuer is a young historian named Zoe, who without hesitation or fear runs to the rose tree and fights her way through its thorny branches. She’s also a comfort for Annabel when she wakes, a friend.
The sheros in this tale aren’t knights in shining armour or princes with magic kisses, they’re caring, selfless guardians, and a warm-hearted, courageous girl with a love for knowledge. These are the examples I prefer to show my kids.
Another fairy tale retelling with a fierce female character published this year is, Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion. Little Red isn’t afraid of giraffes or crocodiles, elephants or warthogs. What about a sneaky, naughty, very hungry lion? She doesn’t shiver when they meet, not one little bit, and when she sees him in her aunt’s bed wearing glasses, earrings and lipstick, she not fooled, nor does she stand for any of his nonsense. Little Red teaches Lion a lesson he’ll never forget. This fairy tale with a twist will have you laughing and wanting more. Serving up just deserts is not cool and Little Red knows this. She uses wit and spunk to outsmart Lion, but she also shows him compassion. They become friends.
Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
Though she’s little, her inner strength and smarts make Little Red more powerful than brawn, mightier than a lion’s ROAR!
SHEROES FROM HISTORY
I’ve shared many stories with my kids about people from history. The best moment comes when I tell them that it’s a true story. They pause for a second or two and their eyes light up with hope, as if their inner voice has said to them, “If they can do it, I can too.” That’s pure magic right there.
32 SHEROES FROM HISTORY
Amazing Babes, by Eliza Sarlos and Grace Lee, is a gorgeous creation originally written by a mother and gifted to her son. I felt admiration reading this. As a mother, it’s equally important for me to share positive examples of women with my daughters as it is with my son. I want him to grow up to have a strong respect for his wife, his daughters, every woman. This book opens with three simple words, “As I grow…” It continues, introducing 20 female role models, such as Frida Kahlo, Vandana Shiva, Malala Yousafzai, and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, some of which I hadn’t previously been exposed to. Each page spread shares a full page portrait and a single strong statement, “I want to never lose the excitement of possibility like Gloria Steinem…I want the curiosity of Hedy Lamarr.” Back matter includes thumbnail portraits, important dates and information related to each woman.
Another treasure, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, by Kate Pankhurst, is engaging and informative. Meet Marie Curie, who had so many questions to ask about science. Learn about Rosa Parks, who “stood up for herself and others — by sitting down.” Kids will discover interesting facts. Did you know that Coco Chanel was one of the first women to wear trousers? Did you know that Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim across the English Channel? Story time will be a fun journey through time, that will encourage thought, and you never know what else.
Kids deserve the right to [know] that they can change the world.
— Lois Lowry.
AMELIA EARHART, MAYA ANGELOU, AMELIA EARHART, COCO CHANEL, AND FRIDA KAHLO
The Little People, Big Dreams series is an amazing collection of picture book biographies. Read about Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou, and Coco Chanel — glimpse into their childhood and follow their dreams as they unfold, soar. Each book has a different illustrator, yet styles blend. These books are gorgeous, informative, and are sure to inspire young, courageous hearts. Best suited for older children aged 5–8. Still, my littlest loves the bright colours. Back matter includes additional facts and photographs. We cannot wait to read Marie Curie and Agatha Christie.
Ada’s ideas “would carry her far above the ordinary. She would become the world’s first computer programmer.” Yet another picture biography that is a charming inspiration. From an early age, Ada was encouraged to study mathematics — a steady and serious subject, and her mother’s favourite. She had a strict schedule to “keep her out of trouble.” It was a strict time, but also a time of great revolution. Ada became fascinated by the modern wonders, which stirred her imagination. It “whirred along with the powerful engines! And her mind, so well trained by her many lessons, began to invent!” The story continues through ups and downs, her encounters, influences and endeavours.
Robinson has done well simplifying the complexities of Ada’s story. “Working out the algorithm for the program was a little like creating a treasure hunt inside a maze.” The paper cutout illustrations connect with the era, the creative piecing together of a puzzle, or the punched patterns of The Jacquard Loom, and have a little steampunk edge about them. They’re truly stunning!!
Got any more Picture Book Sheroes to add to our list?