It took me a long time to realize there's a total sausage party happening on Sam's bookshelves. Perhaps it's the ubiquity of board books that feature practically androgynous characters, such as that bunny from Goodnight, Moon and the caterpillar from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I mean, I think I've always assumed they were male, which possibly reveals my own gender biases, but their Y chromosomes always seemed kind of beside the point.
But then when you move into books for pre-schoolers (aka "stories that are actually interesting"), you notice the dearth of female characters. Corduroy? Peter Rabbit? Curious George? Babar? The poky little puppy? All boys. Ditto a couple of my personal favourites: Peter from The Snowy Day and Max from Where the Wild Things Are. And when you think about it, almost every major character in any Dr. Seuss book is male, with the the exception of Cindy Lou Who, who's really more of a bit part. Though I guess that kangaroo from Horton Hears a Who is an important character, but let's face it: she's kind of an asshole.
Let me tell you about one Richard Scarry book we have, which really illustrates my point: Busy, Busy World. Billed as "33 exciting adventures for girls and boys," the book is a collection of stories that take place around the world, each featuring a new and different character... and almost every single one is male. There's Couscous the Algerian Detective, Officer Montey of Monaco, Happy Lappy from Finland, Rajah of India, and Ukelele Louie the Hawaiian Fisherman. (Disregard for a moment the raging ethnic and nationalistic stereotypes. The matter currently under discussion is the fact that almost none of the titular characters in these stories are female.)
Oh, there are women in these stories. You've got Heidi, who keeps asking Ernst the Swiss Mountain Climber to rescue her damn stupid cow. You've got Tina, a pig who is so fat that on her wedding day she can't fit into a gondola. (Fortunately, Mario comes along with his melon boat and saves the day.) And you've got Shalom of Israel's wife, a woman who is such a nag she doesn't even deserve to have a proper name. But if you take away the damsels needing rescuing and the nagging wives, you've got precious little left.
There are a few noteworthy female characters in pre-schooler lit, I'll admit. Sam adores both Madeline and Olivia. And I guess you can sort of count Mary Anne from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, if Sam's fondness for her is anything to go by... despite the fact that hers isn't really a speaking part. But that's about all I can come up with.
Help! Any suggestions for great kids' books featuring girls? I'm trying to raise a kid who doesn't follow in the footsteps of his father -- a man who, while I love him dearly, has never been known to voluntarily crack the spine on a book written by a woman. Unless you count Annie Proulx... which I suspect he doesn't.