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Re: Childrens books of interest



Susan gave me a good idea with her information about children's books. I=20
thought the list might also like to know about an anthology of folktales=20
about female protagonists which I reviewed this year. The review and=20
particulars about the book follows. Barbara Harman

BOOK REVIEW

Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from=20
Around the World
Edited by Kathleen Ragan, with a preface by Jane Yolen
W. W. Norton and Company, New York, London, 1998

    In her introduction to Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters,=20
Australian anthologist Kathleen Ragan acknowledges a personal interest in=20
finding stories that show girls and women as resourceful, competent,=20
imaginative, determined problem-solvers. Ragan, the mother of two daughters,=
=20
had been reading to her children from the time her first child was a year=20
old, but the longer they shared reading, the more she noticed the almost=20
complete absence of female characters in the available children=92s literatu=
re.=20
A casual survey of  Dr. Seuss books (fondly recalled from her own childhood)=
=20
revealed few female characters, none of whom were central to the story. This=
=20
initial survey led to a perusal of books in her local library, where she=20
again found =93at least twice as many male...as female protagonists.=94 Wher=
e=20
female characters did appear, more often than not, they lacked the=20
three-dimensional qualities of real people, having been reduced to either a=20
negative characteristic (as a caution against similar behavior in the child=20
reader), or as the passive recipient of male heroic actions. She could not=20
find, in the popular children=92s literature, stories to share with her=20
daughter that showed the range of girls=92 abilities, interests, curiosities=
=20
and intelligence. In talking with other mothers of girls, she found them=20
engaged in similar searches and equally frustrated.
    Ragan=92s search for heroines eventually led her to fairy tales, a favor=
ite=20
genre from her own childhood, but though she found several versions of the=20
most often told tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella, th=
e=20
versions differed primarily in the illustrations; the tales themselves=20
remained those of =93beautiful, passive and helpless victims.=94 Local libra=
rians=20
assured her that the quality heroines she was looking for would not be likel=
y=20
to appear in these stories, since they had been written at a time when women=
=20
were constrained to be silent and passive. In searching the available=20
published anthologies, Ragan did find this to be true. But, as she soon=20
discovered, in anthologies the stories have to be first collected, selected=20
and, often, transliterated by someone. They are further selected, often=20
translated and possibly edited in the process of being anthologized. And=20
since most of the available anthologies had been edited by men, the selectio=
n=20
of stories within them reflected their personal as well as cultural biases.=20
    Sure, from her previous studies of oral traditions in folklore and fairy=
=20
tales, that the stories she was looking for must exist, Ragan began searchin=
g=20
libraries instead of the existing anthologies. She reviewed over 30,000=20
stories to assemble this anthology of 103 folktales from all over the world.=
=20
Ragan has traveled or lived in 45 countries; resulting in a cultural richnes=
s=20
of experience that is reflected in the diversity and inclusiveness of this=20
anthology. Stories are grouped according to the region of the world from=20
which they came: Europe, North and South America (including three from=20
relative newcomers to the Americas), Asia, the Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa,=20
and North Africa and the Middle East. Every story is accompanied by Ragan=92=
s=20
afterward, a brief reflection on the exemplary qualities exhibited by the=20
heroine. Though these occasionally stretched to make their point, they were=20
usually insightful and thought provoking, lacking any condescension toward=20
the reader. After each story title, the country of origin is given, followed=
=20
by a number  which refers to the extensive notes at the end of the book. Her=
e=20
Ragan provides complete citations for  source(s) of the story, occasionally=20
including further information about the area of the world from which the=20
story is taken, or unusual circumstances surrounding its collection. I found=
=20
the notes to be very interesting in themselves, with much information about=20
where field work was originally done in collecting the stories, and by whom.=
=20
It was pleasant to discern that many of the original collectors of the=20
stories in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters are women. A=20
bibliography of both picture books and secondary literature is also provided=
,=20
directing the reader to other books featuring heroic female characters. The=20
book is indexed, referencing stories by title and themes.
    Writers, illustrators and publishers of children=92s literature, take no=
te:=20
this book is a wonderful resource. Instead of yet another picture book=20
retelling of Snow White, how about lavishing some talent on a story from thi=
s=20
anthology? =93Anait=94, for example,  who would agree to marry a prince only=
 on=20
condition that he learn a trade, a trade which, in combination with Anait=92=
s=20
intelligence and courage, ultimately saves his kingdom and helps to free him=
=20
from slavery. Or =93The Child Who Was Poor and Good=94, whose generosity to=20
others, coupled with determination to take responsibility for her own needs,=
=20
yields friendship and the rewards she seeks. Or =93How Parvatibai Outwitted=20=
the=20
Dacoits=94, wherein the wife of a rich man, through her example of courtesy,=
=20
generosity and fellowship, saves her husband and all their goods from a gang=
=20
of murderers and thieves.
    The stories in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters of forgotten=
=20
heroines=97courageous, intelligent, loyal, determined, wise=97are inspiring=20=
and=20
deeply satisfying to the girl still very much in me.

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