In 2016, an 11-year-old girl went on a mission to find 1,000 books that contained black girls. She started this mission because when in the fifth grade, all the books that were given to her by her teacher were about white boys and their dogs. She wanted to be able to relate to the characters she read about and frankly, she didn’t have a lot of options.
I remember growing up surrounded by books. My father, an avid reader himself, encouraged us to read all sorts. But looking back, I hardly remember a female character that stayed with me. I remember being able to relate to Jughead from the Archie comics, but never Belle or Cinderella or even Jane from Peter and Jane. Enid Blyton had some delightful tales to tell about fearless girls but somehow, I only remember them to be either too mean or too kind; something I was not.
History has a way of erasing the accomplishments of women. If somehow, the works or achievements of a woman made it through our curriculum it was brief and watered down. So, for e.g., if I read about Fatima Ali Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan’s Founding Father, all I read was about her relation to Jinnah and that she was supportive. Do I know more about her? About her education, her actual contribution, her life? No, not really. But I do know a lot about Jinnah and Iqbal and every other prominent figure that helped establish an independent Pakistan.
My point here is, I grew up being oblivious to the achievements of women let alone young girls. I did not grow up hearing about girls who were changing the world. Frankly, hardly anybody in Pakistan did. Maybe that is why what Malala did was so controversial. Imagine a girl seeing something wrong with the world and actually doing something about it!
This problem is not just confined to Pakistan. Marley Dias from New Jersey of the #1000blackgirlbooks clearly saw the need for representation. And in 2011, Janice McCabe (Associate Professor of sociology at Dartmouth College) and her colleagues investigated 5,600 children’s books published in the US throughout the 20th Century. Guess what they found: a gender imbalance.
Male characters were at the focal point of 57% of the books, 31% had female Leads. Males featured in the titles of 36.5% of the books, while 17.5% of titles featured a female character. This is not to say that books featuring girls don’t exist. But studies (such as that mentions above) prove that such books are hard to find.
When I heard about a book coming out that puts young girls front and center, a book that would show my children that while men are the focal point of pretty much everything, women are not too far behind, I was ecstatic. Girls Do Good is a project initiated by Jos Dirkx, designed by Jade Isaks and illustrated by Bianca De Jong. Meaning, a book by women for the future leaders of the world. The general concept is “to create an ever-lasting impact in the lives of girls and boys around the world, by rewriting the narrative, telling untold stories and re-inspiring creativity in Education.”
This book features the likes of Ashleigh, who has touched thousands of hearts through song, to Autumn, who fearlessly fights for the right to have clean water.
But, what grips me the most about this book is the evident desire to change the ongoing expectation, from girls. Girls are supposed to ‘be good’. By that, we are supposed to be kind, well spoken, gentle and polite. We are to be respectful and self-sacrificing. We spend out entire lives ‘being’ good. So much so that we forget on ‘doing’ good.
This book is setting out to redefining that expectation. We are not supposed to be just good, we are to here to do good. Bit by bit just as these courageous girls in the book have.
I am happy a book like Girls do Good exists. Not because I have a daughter who needs a role model, but because I have a son who could use such inspiration. So that when he looks back at his childhood, he doesn’t only remember his mum or grand mum as female role models, but has stories of how Melati and Isabel (the environmentalists who helped Indonesia clean up their beaches) or Halima (the Survivor) inspired him to do better.