Oct. 11 is International Day of the Girl, “a special day that brings attention to the needs of and challenges facing girls…while promoting girls’ empowerment and ensuring the fulfillment of their human rights,” writes Jessica Dee Humphreys and Canadian politician Rona Ambrose, who was the driving force behind the United Nations declaring every Oct. 11 as International Day of the Girl in a book by the same name.
Humphreys talks about International Day of the Girls,and the book by Kids Can Press.
I also interviewed Sam Maggs, a video game, comic book and book writer from London, Ontario, who now lives in California. Maggs writes books about girls doing great things from trailblazers to superheroes ( Brave and Bold, Female DC Super Heroes Take on the Universe and Marvel, Fearless and Fantastic, Female Super Heroes Save the World both by DK) as well as women lifting each other up and queer characters.
Inspiring stories of individual girls who are making positive change
In Jessica Dee Humphreys words:
I have been a passionate advocate for the rights of women and girls for most of my life. And as a young girl growing up with a strong and independent working mom, in the ’70s era of “Free to Be, You and Me” (a feminist movement fiercely promoted gender equality), I was sheltered from the glaring inequities that girls and women face globally.
To me, gender equality was simply a given; absolute and unquestioned. It took many years of education and exposure to the larger world for me to understand that this was a problem shockingly far from being solved.
As such, I jumped at the chance to write a book for young children that could serve as an entry point for the topic of gender equality as well as to the obstacles that currently exist to prevent girl children from achieving it.
Rona and I both have a UN background: I started my career at the United Nations working on global women’s and girls’ rights, and Rona Ambrose was the driving force behind the United Nations making Oct. 11 as the International Day of the Girl. So we were a great match to bring this project to life.
While the book primarily features inspiring stories of individual girls who are making positive change in their own homes and communities, the message I love most is the opening metaphor, which aims to explain the need for a day just for girls.
In that metaphoric garden, one side has been encouraged to grow and thrive in sunshine and rain as a garden should, while the other half has been trampled and picked and sprayed with chemicals over years and years, causing it to wilt and fade.
So too have girls been pummelled down for millennia.
Our book asks, “What happens if the entire garden is allowed to flourish and reach its full potential? The neglected half will be able to catch up and grow strong and healthy, too! Just as gardens need to be nurtured so that they can thrive on their own, so do people. But for a long time, half the children of the world – the girls – have been treated unfairly, often denied the same schooling, freedom, safety and care given to boys.”Jessica Dee Humphreys and Rona Ambrose
This message is that sometimes one group needs additional attention and resources to bring it to a point of equal ground. I hope this helps children AND adults understand why a day set aside to focus on girl children, specifically, is important.
The stories in the book are fictionalized to protect privacy but also to allow me to fine-tune the stories and make them appropriate for such a young audience. Take for example Abuya’s story: she builds a washroom at the school where there is none. While sanitation is a critical issue, the impetus for this project was actually teens girls being shamed for menstruating when they were forced to toilet in the open at school.
In my previous work, Child Soldier, I also gently navigated between presenting the reader with facts about mature themes while ensuring the content was age-appropriate.
Finally, you might be interested to know that the main character in each story is named after a word for “flower” in her language, with the exception of the girl from Attawapiskat First Nation. I received permission from her family to base this character on the late Shannen Koostachin, a fearless activist for Indigenous children’s rights in Canada. Her character is named Sokanon, which is the Algonquin word for “rain”.
I chose this because I like to think of Shannen as the wisdom eternally raining down from the heavens to nurture future generations of girl activists.
Citizen Kid The International Day of the Girl, Celebrating Girls Around the World by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Rona Ambrose ($19.99, Kids Can Press).
Through several girls based throughout the world, including in Canada, we learn about the hardships girls have in their community and what they are doing to make it better. We learn that Flora, who is from Brazil, takes part in the traditional martial art that helps her protect herself from men who try to hurt her because they think she is weak. She plans to one day teach other girls. Each story also has a sidebar that talks about the problems girls in each country face. In this case, girls are at risk for violence. A way to combat that is to encourage girls to participate in marital arts and other sports to help them develop physical skills and confidence.
The book is an interesting look at what girls have to overcome for equality.
Writing about women, friendship and queer characters
Growing up in the ’90s and 2000, London, Ontario, native Sam Maggs didn’t see herself represented on screen or on the page.
So when she began writing – comic books, video games and books – she made it her mission to write stories about women, especially women in friendships as well as queer characters.
“I am bisexual and I didn’t see any examples of bisexual characters in the media growing up,” said Maggs, who now is a full-time freelancer writer based in California.
“Bisexual, if represented, was represented in a negative light.”Sam Maggs, author
In her 20s, Maggs started to read web comics with characters that look like her, which helped her understand her own sexuality.
So when she writes characters that are bisexual or binary, she is helping show “14-year-old girls that this is normal, that it exists and that it’s OK.”
Female friendships is also a topic Maggs is passionate about.
Apart from Sailor Moon, an anime TV series that ran from 1992 to 1997 featuring Serena Tsukino and her adventures as Sailor Moon, very few movies and books show girls as anything other than “the girl,” Maggs said.
In most movies, the male character has a personality and is represented as “the funny guy, the fun guy, the cool guy. ‘The girl’ in a movie stands in for all the women. Dubbed the Smurfette syndrome, meaning Smurfette is showed as only being female, while the dozens of other Smurfs have a personality – Grumpy, Brainy and Jokey.
Maggs’ projects include Wonder Women, 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers who changed history and Girl Squads, 20 female friendships that changed history.
Because almost more important than showcasing women on the screen or on the page, is showing women behind the scenes and in roles and positions not often thought of as women roles – scientists, physicians and STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering and math).
“It’s important to reclaim that, for girls to see examples that this has been done and ‘I can do that’.”
In addition to showcasing real women, Maggs has written a number of books about female superheroes, including Brave and Bold, Female DC Super Heroes Take on the Universe and Marvel, Fearless and Fantastic, Female Super Heroes Save the World both by DK
While Maggs said she enjoys all types of writing – the variety keeps her life interesting – comic book writing is one of her favourites.
Both DK books allowed her to research the Marvel and DC universe’s women superheroes, looking at them from their inception to their most modern incarnations.
Her favourite Marvel character is Captain Marvel, while her favourite DC character (“there are so many great heroines”) is Batgirl, who looks a bit like her, but is also smart and has overcome many obstacles.
Laughing about her lack of work-life balance, Maggs said she has several books coming out including Tell No Tales, based on a true story about non-binary pirates, as well as several My Little Pony/Transformers books, which are graphic novels that pairs the characters from My Little Pony with female Transformers, showing friendship between the female characters of these two different worlds.
Her relationship with her mom and her best friends are so important to Maggs that she wanted to see those relationships in what she reads and watches.
“It bothers me we don’t see more of that (women friendships) in the media…The more we see it, the more it normalizes it.”
Plus, the reader and viewer benefits as well.
“It benefits everyone to get new stories and different perspectives.”
DC Brave and Bold Female DC Super Heroes Take on the Universe and Marvel Fearless and Fantastic, Female Super Heroes Save the World ($21.99, DK)
Both these books showcase heroes from each of the comic book worlds. Each superhero has a double page spread – one page is an illustration of the person, while the other page offers information about the hero in question including their backgrounds, including family, and how they got their powers. Each character is arranged into personality qualities including compassion, boldness, curiosity and persistence.
As a Marvel fan, I love reading more about the characters I liked best. I was never a DC girl, so it’s been interesting to read about these characters.
Marie’s Ocean, Marie Tharp Maps the Mountains Under the Sea
“I am an oceanographic cartographer. I mapped all the oceans in the world,” said Marie Tharp in the book Marie’s Ocean, Marie Tharp Maps the Mountains Under the Sea. “That’s amazing. How come I’ve never heard of you?” asks a young girl.
Marie responds: “Sometimes people do amazing things and no one remembers their names.”
So begins the book of Marie Tharp who in 1977 created the first complete map of the ocean floor without computers or satellite technology.
We learn during the Second World War, Marie had the opportunity to go to university. She worked various jobs, none of which she loved nor used her skills until she met Bruce Heezen, a graduate student who asked her to plot sounding data of of the ocean floor.
The book was interesting. There was lots of information on how Marie accomplished her job and how she changed the views of the scientific community. Despite her accomplishments, after Heezen died her role was “diminished and she retired early in 1982.”
A great book about a woman whose name we should know.
Another great book about a woman whose name we should know is Katherine Johnson, who helped bring the doomed Apollo 13 back to Earth, among other firsts. Katherine Johnson is featured in Counting on Katherine. I interviewed the book’s author, Helaine Becker. You can read it here.
Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women & Girls
This paperback book highlights some of the extraordinary women including Anne Sullivan (teacher to Helen Keller), Paula Cain, who designed space blankets for NASA (who knew!) and Maria Montessori, who founded the education method still used today (and is also Italy’s first female doctor in 1896).
Many of the woman have a short introduction on what made them extraordinary, then a poem created by one of the three authors. Other poems talk about fairy tales and heroines such as Hermione Granger or Laura Croft to show girls they can be extraordinary, too.
I review a number of books celebrating girls and women at NewmarketToday.ca. Read it here.
A copy of these books were provided by DK Books, Kids Can Press, PGC Books and Raincoast Books for an honest review. The opinions are my own.