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Ten of the Best books for young feminists 10

‘From Northern Lights to The Hunger Games, there is no shortage of contemporary books for young people with iconic heroines’, says Geraldine Brennan. For this Ten of the Best, she looked for examples that will help girls and young women steer a path through the world as it is, only resorting to fantasy and magic realism where it makes a point about the received wisdom we are offered. ‘Being able to think is a key skill for a feminist and being able to laugh the last defence against the nonsense all around us, so these books encourage either or both’.

Ballet Shoes (1936)

Noel Streatfeild, Puffin, 240pp, 978-0141334424, £6.99 pbk

The eternally soothing quality to this classic tale of three sisters gathered into a loving makeshift family in bizarre circumstances, Ballet Shoes leaves room for feminism by stealth. When the Fossils take to the stage to support themselves (if published today, this would be the stuff of fantasy) their experience is low on stardust and high on reality: this is a book about knowing what you want and making it happen, whether you’re committed ballet dancer Posy or middle child Petrova, who shuns the limelight and is brilliant with engines. Supported by a circle of strong women, the girls learn the value of hard work, generosity and persistence.

Princess Smartypants (1986)

Babette Cole, Puffin, 32pp, 978-0140555264, £6.99 pbk

This tale of the princess who throws her toys out of the pram and the hapless princes out of the palace is rooted in a sense of howling irritation with the status quo of fairy-tale conventions. Babette Cole, with the chutzpah of her heroine, has set up her own e-book company to ensure that Her Royal Stroppy Highness achieves immortality. Long may she reign.

14 Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014 Bill’s New Frock (1989)

Anne Fine, Egmont, 112pp, 978-1405233187, £4.99 pbk

It would be depressing to find that this sharp satire of gender stereotyping in schools was still just as necessary, but its sheer entertainment value does not date.

Amazing Grace (1991)

Mary Hoffman, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, 978-1845077495, £6.99 pbk

The first and most enchanting Grace book, Amazing Grace


opportunities for talking about race, gender and self-esteem with young children who can go on to enjoy the Grace storybooks. The reader is compelled to cheer on a little girl who loves acting out stories, who creates her own cast of thousands with her toys and cat and who fights tooth and nail for the role of Peter Pan (not the Virgin Mary) in the school play. Caroline Binch’s watercolours present affirming glimpses of real family life, including an exhausted working mother and a wise Nana who tells Grace: ‘you can be anything you want to be, if you put your mind to it’.

The Illustrated Mum (1999)

Jacqueline Wilson, Doubleday, 320pp, 978-0440867814, £6.99 pbk

Many of Jacqueline Wilson’s books show young girls coping with whatever life has thrown at them with courage and ingenuity: the Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather tales stand out, plus the Girls trilogy for older readers. The Illustrated Mumis particularly impressive because of the complexity of the mother-daughter bond it explores. To outsiders the chaotic Marigold is a hopeless parent, spending the housekeeping on tattoos and cake and unable to manage her alcohol dependency and manic depression. Older daughter Dolphin often struggles to parent both her mum and her younger sister. But it is clear that while Marigold’s vulnerability attracts scary situations, she and her daughters offer the only port in a storm for each other.

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