Happy International Day of the Girl, one and all. How are you marking the occasion? I’m making a ‘to read’ list, because I’m cool that way.

The idea behind the International Day of the Girl, according to the UN, is

“to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.”

There are many reasons this is necessary. Girls across the world face a whole load of disadvantages including gender based violence, trafficking, and exploitation. Many do not have access to education. It’s only been 5 years since Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for going to school.

Better, Faster, Stronger

The theme this year is to empower girls, particularly those living through conflict. I would argue that one way you can give girls the power to be a force for change is by sharing examples of them being the heroes in books, film and other media.

ghostbusters

However, due to the sexism and racism inherent in the system, this is not quite as easy as you might think. OK, you’ve got your Katniss Everdeens and Arya Starks – girls who effectively have to act like boys to be heroes (assuming you buy into the notion that some behaviours are male and others female). You’ve got your feisty fillies like Jo March or Anne of Green Gables – both of whom ultimately calm down, get married and live traditionally ever after. And you’ve got assorted bookish orphans or near-orphans who empower themselves through education – Matilda being the most obvious example.

I enjoyed all those books, but so far so white. And in comparison to the volume of books led by boy characters, still kind of few and far between.

Are young readers part of the problem? (No)

As a kid I think I read pretty indiscriminately, picked up piles o’ books in my local library every week. Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley, Goosebumps, Point Horror, Asterix, Terry Pratchett, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger… I did not seek out great literature, I read what they had.

Looking back, a fair whack of that seems to have been about characters who were white and straight. Claudia from the Babysitter’s Club, who was part Japanese, was as diverse as it got.

Claudia

When I later worked in a library, most of the books for kids were still about kids who were white and straight. We had a few titles in Bali Rai’s Soccer Squad series, and Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses for the teenagers, but that was about it for diversity.

Still, even that was a few years ago now – seven, I think. Have times changed? Christina Fonthes reckons not. Read her article for Media Diversified, it has good points and book lists. Also check out We Need Diverse Books – a website that surely wouldn’t need to exist if things were sorted.

Let’s not be part of the problem, y’all. How about we each make a To-Read list with girls of different ethnic backgrounds at the forefront, we talk about them loudly to every boy and girl we know, and we demand more of that sort of thing?

To start you off, check out the efforts of the incredible Marley Dias who – tired of reading ‘stories about white boys and their dogs’ – has already found 1,000 ‘black girl books’.

My International Day of the Girl Reading List 2017

  1. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl – Issa Rae
  2. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – Elena Favilli
  3. Artichoke Hearts – Sita Brahmachari
  4. Flygirl – Sherri L. Smith
  5. The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh
  6. Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
  7. Shadows Cast By Stars – Catherine Knutsson

What are yours?

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