Girls in the news
This has been a good week for girls in the news. We’ve had new leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale, launch a gender-balanced cabinet, Yvette Cooper rebut sexist claims and invitations to withdraw from the fight to become leader of the UK Labour Party, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon make headlines with her pledge to make sure there is no better place than Scotland to be educated.
As a translator who likes to promote women’s issues and diversity, preferably in books by women writers, I’m quite happy to see women making their rightful way in what are quite often male-dominated environments.
As a reader taking books into primary schools and libraries, I share the Scottish Government’s belief that, to make progress and find your place in life, early learning is fundamental. What children are reading and the models they are exposed to is a big part of that. The Scottish system seems to be a progressive one, and, luckily, not tarred by people like Luigi Brugnaro.
Luigi Brugnaro is the mayor of Venice who single-handedly set civil rights and attempts to tackle homophobia back several decades by banning a list of 50 children’s books. Why? Because the list was originally drawn up to help preschool educators fight prejudices and stereotypes and featured, amongst other things (even M. Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!!), a male dog who aspired to be a ballerina, a little boy who wanted to be a princess, a princess who wanted to be a soccer player, a penguin adopted by two male penguins, and a little boy who drags a little red saucepan around with him as a metaphor for living with a physical disability. Hardly subversive stuff.
So why did Brugnaro and his ilk try to stop teachers from using them in the classroom? Because Italy is still a relatively conservative, patriarchal society that is “struggling to transform itself into an increasingly multicultural and multifaceted society” [New York Times, New York Times online edition, Aug 18, 2015].
Good girl role models
If reading any of these books can help to foster inclusiveness and respect, not to mention encouraging girls to achieve their full potential in whichever pursuit they choose, shouldn’t we make sure our children are reading them?
My answer is obviously a big “Yes!!”
This month I’ve decided to share one such book (not on Brugnari’s list though) that I had great fun reading with my daughter. It’s an excellent, action-packed fairy tale quest with a female protagonist who miraculously saves the day.
In Rosa Tiziana Bruno’s I Ladri di Favole [The fairytale thieves] someone has stolen imagination in sunny Solealto. Oh no! And nothingness has descended. Yikes! Worse still, nobody seems to care! Grrrr! Well, except for Angelina that is. Phew! Angelina is the toughest little cookie in town and she takes to her flying fork on an intercontinental mission to bring back creativity and enchantment.
An array of characters from classic tales are rolled out in her crusade to bring colour back to the world. As she crosses continents, pulls into corners of the earth steeped in mystery and intrigue and meets peoples of many cultures, she learns that only by giving and sharing does she stand a chance of saving the world from nothingness.
Lessons between the lines
A female hero on a flying fork who saves the world. What is there not to like? We thoroughly enjoyed travelling the world with her, perched on the end of her flying fork, trying to work out what clever ruse she’d come up with to use the many wild and wacky gifts she’d collected to outsmart the fairytale thieves. This page-turning read in bouncy prose has little readers racing to the end, when the cheery, cheeky protagonist’s ingenious solution is finally revealed.
As a mother and sometimes educator, I enjoyed the social commentary and saw the potential to use the story as a didactic tool for anything from geography to cross-cultural understanding. You could even say it has echoes of the much-loved children’s classic, The Little Prince, to it. Especially when Angelina comes to the conclusion that, “Imagination is the kingdom of children. Adults have other kingdoms, like work and money.”
On numerous occasions, Angelina ponders the behaviour of adults, how they often make mistakes but don’t like to admit them, are indifferent to injustice as long as it doesn’t affect them, or place too much importance on money without worrying about the consequences. Sound familiar?
Having read this book during the campaign for Scottish Independence last year, I had to laugh at the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Angelina’s mum. She had so much tidying, cleaning, cooking and ironing to do that there was no way she’d have time to have a serious discussion with her daughter about saving the world. UK readers among you might remember the patronising Better Together lady complaining that she had tea to drink, dishes to wash, and no time to be making historic decisions.
Italian red tape, corruption and media misinformation don’t escape the author’s biting wit either, as she describes pompous police chiefs using red tape to warrant inaction, men in suits who’re on TV more for their crimes than for their politics, and the many things that, oddly, don’t make the news.
The takeaways are multiple – but perhaps the most pertinent one for publishers, educators, parents, anyone interested in using books as a springboard for learning and to encourage critical thought in children is: “Sometimes the most serious things happen without anyone realizing. When good and bad become indistinguishable. When we can’t see what’s happening, even though it’s right under our noses.”
I can certainly identify with that… and I’d be very happy for my small daughter to start thinking about it too, while lost in a fairy-tale quest to save the world in the swash-buckling hands of girl hero on a flying fork.