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Happy International Women’s Day! On this day when women are celebrated, I can’t help but reflect on this article I read last week: Books by female authors studied by just 2% of GCSE pupils, finds study (Rachel Hall, Guardian: 2nd March 2023) https://www.theguardian.com/education/2023/mar/02/books-by-female-authors-studied-by-just-2-of-gcse-pupils-finds-study

How is this possible when there are so many fantastic books written by female authors available? What message does this send to the female pupils in our schools? In English lessons we are teaching them the skills they need to become writers, but also demonstrating that what they write would not be worth studying.

I wanted to rally against this statistic by sharing some fantastic books by female writers that we use in our Story Project curriculum or that I have personally read and come across recently. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this topic, these books or any books you’ve been reading that should be celebrated on International Women’s Day?

Firstly three books we use in the primary curriculum for The Story Project are:

The Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

The Drum Dream girl is based on the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga a young girl who loved drumming but was told girls don’t play drums. Despite this she persisted and went on to become a famous drummer. We use this story in year 6 to explore stereotypes and to learn about goal-setting and what can help or hinder us when we try to achieve our goals.

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

The Proudest Blue is based on Ibtihaj Mohammed’s true memories of being a child and watching her sister proudly start wearing a Hijab. It tackles the discrimination shown by some members of her community towards her sister’s choice to wear a Hijab and opens up conversations around bullying but also about being proud of your cultural heritage.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

The Hundred Dresses is a fictional story and I’ve included it to highlight the fact that stories about women and girls don’t always have to be focussed on inspirational women, in fact this story is about some girls who behave appallingly as they bully another student into leaving the school. However, at the heart of the story is a message about learning from your mistakes and choosing to be better- as Maddie, a character who was a bystander to the bullying, does. It’s a great story for opening up conversations about bullying and friendship.

As well as the books already used by The Story Project, I wanted to create an extra free resource especially to celebrate International Women’s Day:

What are Little Girls Made Of? Nursery Rhymes for Feminist Times by Jeanne Willis.

Jeanne Willis is one of my favourite children’s books authors, her books cover so many important wellbeing topics, but always in an entertaining way so they never feel contrived. I found this book when looking for a present for a friend on the birth of her daughter and it’s simple genius delighted me and my friend (and I’m sure it will her daughter in the years to come). The book involves a retelling of some of our favourite nursery rhymes but with a feminist slant such as Little Bo Peep who wades into slime to find her sheep and Little Jade Horner who spends her time in the corner creating spaceships. This is a fun and engaging book to read with all ages, but could also be a great start to exploring everyday sexism. Contact olivia@story-project.co.uk to receive a free resource that helps you to use this book during a lesson on gender stereotypes and inequality.

Run Rebel by Manjeet Mann

In our secondary programme we have also recently created some resources around Run Rebel by Manjeet Mann. Amber the protagonist is determined to outrun the barriers she faces and her story opens up discussion around many wellbeing issues including feminism, abuse, mental health and family dynamics. The novel is also written in verse allowing the opportunity for interesting discussion around structure and form. This short novel covers a lot of difficult ground but remains engaging and inspirational.

All these books are available here: https://peters.co.uk/the-story-project and at other booksellers.

Now onto the amazing books for adults I have been reading myself recently by female authors.

Driving Forward by Sophie Morgan

Most recently, I read Driving Forward by Sophie Morgan. If you haven’t watched Sophie’s show ‘Living Wild’ on BBC1 yet, I would highly recommend. Sophie travels around visiting people who made the decision to leave their jobs and forge a new life in the wild. In the programme Sophie visits a range of people including a man who moved to a remote island to tend to goats, a woman who uses her artistic skills as a narrow boat sign painter and my favourite was a couple who opened an alpaca farm. Despite the terrible pang of how my own life choices haven’t led me to an alpaca farm, the programme always leaves me feeling uplifted and calm and that is mainly due to the excellent presenting from Sophie and when I heard she had written a book, I was intrigued.

Sophie is a paraplegic and her book ‘Driving Forward’ is her telling the story of her life including in great detail the life changing moment when she was paralysed in a car crash. As you would imagine this is not an easy read, but it does feel ground breaking in its honesty, and although Sophie doesn’t like the word it does feel inspiring in the way Sophie’s experience led her to campaign and make a big difference in areas such as human rights and driver safety. I’d highly recommend.

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews

As a woman who likes walking, this book looked like an apt purchase. I’ve just signed up for my first long distance walk and I will be tackling the 100 mile long West Highland Way in May. As part of my preparation, I have been reading lots of books about walking, and it had struck me that a lot of these books are by male authors. This is something that Kerri Andrew wanted to address, by bringing together and analysing extracts from some of the most prolific female authors who write about walking. She starts with Elizabeth Carter whose experience demonstrates the privilege it is to have the freedom to walk and not be confined to ‘taking a turn around the garden’, like most eighteenth century women would have had access to. Elizabeth was the exception to this rule and her commitment and love for walking transcends time and is infectious. Andrews covers the experience of ten female authors/ walkers and one of the last pieces she explores is Cheryl Strayd’s Wild, which is one of my favourite books and films. Her combination of writing about walking, finding ways to manage her mental health and interspersing the books that inspire her really appeals to me. I will write another blog looking into more detail at all the books I have been reading about walking, but I really appreciate Kerri Andrews putting this selection together and definitely think it should be celebrated this IWD.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy by Marie Claire Amuah

The final book I wanted to celebrate is the debut novel of Marie Claire Amuah; a fiction story about Stella, a British Ghanian Lawyer and her experiences growing up. The story starts in Stella’s childhood and takes us on a journey through Stella’s teens and into adulthood. It is written from Stella’s point of view and the narrative voice ages as Stella ages. Amuah manages to do this seamlessly, so that as the reader you feel like you are witnessing someone authentically reaching adulthood. I laughed and cried along with Stella as she faced endless challenges including domestic violence, racism and mental health struggles, with bravery and the support of some incredible friends. Although the content was challenging, the relatability, honesty and strength of Stella made this an ultimately hopeful story that would be a great book to purchase this IWD.

I could go on sharing many more fantastic books by female authors, based on the stories of inspirational women or with incredible female characters, but hopefully I’ve shared something already that has caught your interest. I’d love to hear if you have also enjoyed these stories, or if you have another book you’d like to shout about this IWD. It would be great to hear about the fantastic female authors you have been sharing with your classes too. We may be outraged by the inequality in the GCSE specification, but we can start to address this by increasing the amount of female authors pupils are exposed to before they reach their GCSES. Have a great day!

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