When my eldest was around 2 she was getting the idea that she was like the child characters in her books. So she would ask me ‘what’s that?’ to everything and unthinking I would reply- ‘that’s the little boy’, as most of the characters in the books were little boys. She then she started telling me she was a little boy. This dismayed me as I had wanted to give her a positive outlook on being female, but then I realized that what she actually meant was that she was a little kid, and that she was using little boy in lieu of little kid because there were no girl characters in the books. Looking around I realized that most books where the kid is a generic kid doing something that many kids go through, the character is actually a boy. Characters that were specifically female were often bratty, bossy, or spoiled and the stories were about them getting taught a lesson or learning to be nice. Realizing this made me irate. Like spitting, hopping mad.
I started looking for books that just had female characters being kids for the preschool set. Seems like a simple enough request, right? I had very little luck. I asked around for books with female kids just being kids. People gave me lists of ‘strong female characters’. They gave me novels with good characters in them, completely unsuitable for preschoolers. I don’t know about your kid, but my two year old wasn’t going to sit still for Madeline, Ramona or Pippi Longstocking. There are a lot of great characters that are female for older children, but not very many for little ones. That was not what I wanted. I do not want my daughters to start out with female characters needing to overcome adversity and having them be female be exceptional. That seems a bit like closing the barn door after the cow ran off.
The whole strong female character issue irritates me because I would much rather see good characters that happen to be female, not characters that are strong because they are female and they need to compensate. Gender should be irrelevant to the character. What about a foundation for kids seeing that girls are kids too? Rather than they have to become spunky and exceptional to be worthwhile additions to stories. I wanted my kids to see that simply some characters, doing regular things, are female. In a book they would sit still for. It really seems simple, but the archetypal kid is apparently a boy.
Since then I have found A Mighty Girl to be a good resource. It does focus a bit much the whole strong female character (SFC) rather than strong characters that are female (SCtaF), but there really isn’t too much of the latter for preschoolers.
Books I found after much perusal.
An orphan girl gets left at the zoo
A small girl goes blueberry picking with her mother
A monster girl learns to be herself at school
A girl loses her sister to goblins and must get her back- by Maurice Sendak. The plot of this book is a bit Labyrinth-esque…
TV and movies
You know what? I like Dora. Her gender is completely irrelevant to everything she does in the regular show. The new sexed up, slimmed down Dora isn’t great, but the older one, with her toddler belly poking out of her shirt, is ok. Yeah, they shout. But I’m ok with her as a tv role model. Not so much on the merchandising front however…
Brave- I like how Merida gets herself into her problem and gets herself out again. Other than the gender roles she has to fill (getting married against her will) she is a good princess role model. She is certainly more of an example of a SFC, but she isn’t anyone’s sidekick. She’s a self rescuing princess.
Doc McStuffins- is ok. Doc is a doctor to stuffed animals, calm, confident and helpful.
Many of the Studio Ghibli movies. My eldest is especially fond of Ponyo, but also likes Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Arietty. My Neighbor Totoro too.
Anyhow, my eldest now knows that she is a little girl (and Momma is a girl and sister is a girl and Daddy is a boy) and she seems happy enough with that.