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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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