Format: Picture book
Author and illustrator: Clare Pernice
Publisher: Simply Read Books (published April 2014)
One kind of book I’m always searching for is picture books with strong, independent female protagonists. Girls who are following their dreams, girls who don’t need any help from boys to vanquish the dragon, girls who know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there, girls who are learning about themselves and the road they’re on. It’s an ongoing challenge, though there are a lot more books on the shelves with female heroes than there used to be. Parents need to be constantly vigilant, as we all keep discovering: a Barbie/Tinkerbell book my friend Belinda was reading her three girls contained this gem of a line: “I knew we would be best friends after a makeover” and another friend’s father-in-law gave their three-year-old a book about how “a pretty princess is neat and sweet.” If you don’t think these books are harming little girls’ self-image, or if you’re sure they are, I highly recommend you read Redifining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween by Melissa Atkins Wardy. Actually, you should read it regardless.
Anyway, when I was shopping for books for Little E’s birthday in the summer, I came across Circus Girl and bringing it home was a no-brainer. Subtitled “A Story of Make-Believe,” Circus Girl begins simply, with colourless sketch drawings and “a leotard / socks / and a girl.” The girl sets her stuffies and toys up as an audience and “to the sound of applause / the curtain goes up.” Colour floods the pages and “Tada! It’s CIRCUS GIRL / star of the show.” Circus Girl is “daring and dazzling and Oh! so dramatic”; she’s “courageous / stupendous / and completely outrageous.” In exuberant watercolours, she flies through the air on a trapeze, balances a tower of teacups on her head, and stands atop an elephant’s trunk. On the final page, we see Circus Girl, peacefully sleeping with the stuffed animals who inspired the animals in the circus. She is still Circus Girl, star of the show.
A spirited adventure through the imagination featuring a plucky girl following her dreams, Circus Girl is a heady jaunt with a girl who’s having fun, using her body and her strength, and being exactly who she wants to be.
Of course, it depicts animals in circuses, which is a whole other pile of terrible. But I can only fight one battle at a time here.