CBI taps into feminist focus

CBI taps into feminist focus

Children’s Books Ireland (CBI) is launching a project to celebrate women and girls in children’s books to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK and Ireland next year, while a wave of feminist children’s and YA books is hitting bookshelves.

The Bold Girls project, which will launch on International Women’s Day 2018 (8th March), will see CBI partnering with institutions such as Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Dublin City University. Activity will include the publication of an 88-page Bold Girls’ Reading Guide reviewing 122 English and Irish language children’s books that feature strong women and girls and highlighting 18 Irish female children’s authors and illustrators. There will also be a school resource pack based on the guide.

Bold Girls Live literature events will take place in partnership with festivals and venues, including the Hay Festival and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and school events will take place around the launch.

A Bold Girls exhibition of texts celebrating the achievements of Irish women writers and illustrators will be hosted in Trinity College Dublin for three months.

CBI director Elaina Ryan (pictured) said: “Our aim is to break down societal barriers and to instill confidence in girls and young women by showing them characters in books with agency, power and opinions. We want to address some of the issues that stand in the way of women achieving their ambitions.” Publishers are also gearing up for next year’s anniversary with new feminist children’s and YA publishing.

Hachette Children’s Group’s trade non-fiction imprint Wren & Rook will publish Rebel Voices: The Rise of Votes for Women, written by Louise Kay Stewart and illustrated by feminist pop culture illustrator Eve Lloyd Knight, in January 2018. Debbie Foy, publishing director at Wren & Rook, said the publisher wanted to put out “something very fresh and unique for the 100th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote in the UK”. Wren & Rook is also publishing Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Sport in January, an illustrated celebration of 50 trailblazing women in sport. It is a follow-up to the imprint’s launch title Women in Science, also written by Ignotofsky, which has sold 17,163 copies since publication in March.

Other female-focused non- fiction children’s books such as Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) and Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Particular Books) have also enjoyed charts success, with the former shifting 58,334 copies and the latter selling 97,818 copies, earning it five weeks in the Hardback Non-Fiction number one spot. Sequels to both books are on the way. Foy thinks these books’ success show that “in our uneasy geopolitical times, consumers are looking for affirmation of the human spirit in the form of inspirational, real-life stories”.

     

Other publishers also cite the current political climate as a factor in the rise of feminist children’s books. Scholastic editorial director for fiction Lauren Fortune, who commissioned a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid by Louise O’Neill due next May, said: “A lot of us feel powerless and disheartened at how the world is increasingly being run and I think there’s a real need for narratives that show young women standing up for what they believe in and having the agency to influence the world around them.”

Scholastic is not the only publisher bringing a feminist slant to fairytales. Bloomsbury Children’s Books will publish Jessie Burton’s reimagining of Grimms’ story The Twelve Dancing Princesses next year, while Irish publisher Little Island Books has released Tangleweed and Brine, a collection of feminist fairytales by Deirdre Sullivan.

Fortune said: “Fairytales are such a staple of our collective reading history, but it’s important their more problematic representations of society should be questioned and subverted. Many of the fairy tales most familiar to us all contain dubious representations of girls and women, so it’s high time they are given a feminist spin in order to feature female characters that reflect how girls today want to be viewed.”

Gráinne Clear, publishing manager and art director at Little Island Books, added. “Feminism is high on the world’s agenda and the battle for gender equality that started decades ago still hasn’t been resolved. Fairytales can be an excellent way to explore our options as women today, as well as our preconceptions about what society deems acceptable.”

Waterstones’ children’s buyer Florentyna Martin welcomed the number of “vital” children’s books supporting and exploring feminism, and said such titles have been bestsellers for the chain. “We’re excited to see there are more titles to come, with different approaches for a variety of age ranges, and more focus on specific categories, such as mathematics, science and sport.”

Publishers share Martin’s confidence that the current appetite for children’s and YA books celebrating girls and women will continue. “Gender equality is in the public spotlight,” said Ellen Holgate, Bloomsbury Children’s Books’ editorial for fiction. “It means we keep talking about it. It doesn’t look like related publishing will stop any time soon.”