Every year the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association compiles a list of the best books for children and young adults with strong feminist themes. Dubbed the Amelia Bloomer Project in honor of the great suffragist writer and publisher, the list has been produced since 2002. Each list contains between 20 and 50 books segmented by type (fiction or non-fiction) and reading level (young readers, middle readers, and young adults). The content ranges from coloring books to textbooks, from comics to novels.
The Task Force selects books based on four criteria:
- Significant feminist content
- Excellence in writing
- Appealing format
- Age appropriateness for young readers
The “feminist content” criterion is of particular interest. Given the relative prevalence of stronger women characters in modern publishing, identifying books that are truly feminist and not just inclusive of female protagonists is essential. As the Task Force states in its statement of criteria:
Feminist books for young readers must move beyond merely “spunky” and “feisty” young women, beyond characters and people who fight to protect themselves without furthering rights for other women. Feminist books show women overcoming the obstacles of intersecting forces of race, gender, and class, actively shaping their destinies. They break bonds forced by society as they defy stereotypical expectations and show resilience in the face of societal strictures. In addition, feminist books show women solving problems, gaining personal power, and empowering others. They celebrate girls and women as a vibrant, vital force in the world. These books explain that there is a gender issue; they don’t leave the reader to guess. A book with a strong female character that does not demonstrate that an inequality exists may not be a feminist book.
With the forces at work in our government and society that want to relegate women to second-class status, it is more important than ever that young readers — both girls and boys — are presented with reading material that emphasizes the power and equality of women. Kudos to the Feminist Task Force for undertaking the essential work of identifying high-quality books with positive messages.