Thursday, 21 February 2019

Kidlit needs more than just 1 dimensional 'mighty girls' - A ReadItTorial

"Mighty Girl" books have been a huge part of our blog since the very beginning.

I'm so glad that our daughter has grown up amongst reading material that acknowledges and understands that girls can do absolutely anything boys can, and that the 'battle of the sexes' is increasingly an outdated and crazy notion that a few misguided folk still cling to, perhaps because of tradition, upbringing or just some weird primal instinct.


The problem is, as we see more mighty girl characters in books and comics, we're also seeing the rise of a disturbing trend, described pretty perfectly in an article about movies over on IO9, but certainly applicable to a large section of children's literature too:

It's interesting that quite often in picture books, the approach is to show that characters must undertake a journey or a discovery of self, in order to achieve their 'mighty' aims (which can be practially anything, thus is the joy of writing for kids).

We began to notice a trend. C was drawn not to the characters who were self-assured, confident and instantly 'mighty' but always to the characters who messed up, or had self-doubt, or some upset on their journey path that made them take a step back, pause, think for a minute before re-embracing their task or quest.

Consider the sublime "Rosie Revere, Engineer" by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.

By anyone's measure, here is a book about a 'mighty girl' who wants to turn her adept skills at inventing things towards making the perfect flying machine.

Most books would've taken the direct path of showing Rosie working for a while and eventually achieving her aims. But Andrea's 'mighty girl' suffers setbacks, has flaws, and needs some inspiration - and a little steer here and there from an understanding (mighty) Aunt in order to finally realise that achievements aren't always easily attained, skills must be learned, praise should be earned, and that the way we learn to deal with defeat can define how we learn how to achieve success.

We love this book, and though we love the rest of Andrea and David's 'mighty kid' books too, this is the one that gets things absolutely right. Rosie isn't some brash self-confident character who makes it all look easy, she is aware of - and learns to work against - her flaws, and the story (and characters) are so much better for it.

So many times, children's books merely assume that the reader will bond with a character that is basically a flat 'echo' of what we've come to expect and demand from mighty girl characters. Their girls are strong, outgoing and confident and they seem to arrive at the beginning of the story fully formed in this way. To be quite honest, if there's no development or we're not taken through that character's evolution in some way, the story will suffer for it, and the characters will be as memorable as what we had for breakfast on the 22nd Feb 2017.

Of course, writing flawed characters who realistically have other things to cope with that underpin or sometimes even undermine their mightiness takes extra effort, and that's not effort that many authors are willing to put in for something like a 12-spread 32 page picture book or sometimes even a middle grade book. It's something that begins to emerge more in upper middle grade and YA, but perhaps that's due to the luxury of having more space to breathe, more space to flesh out our characters, and more space to have them fail as well as succeed, in order to drive a story successfully.

Would be great to hear other opinions on this. Well aware that no one bothers to comment here but hit us up on Twitter @readitdaddy by all means!