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raising little feminists
10 books to start a conversation about equality at home.
Finding Simone de Beauvoir in my mom’s bookshelf was one of those pivotal moments that changed the course of my life. If you are not familiar with her work, Simone de Beauvoir was a French writer, philosopher and political activist who single handedly revolutionized feminism. Her philosophical views on equality were elegantly depicted in her book The Second Sex, where she reflected on women’s otherness as a result of being defined by the male gaze.
Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.
- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Simone’s words served as inspiration for my final project in college: an illustrated book of venezuelan poetry written by women. I wanted to collect poems that dealt with definitions of womanhood which I then illustrated, and in doing so put to the test Simone’s thesis—only women can aptly portray other women. To this day I’m incredibly proud of the result and intrigued by women’s proper representation in literature, film, art and beyond. The Second Sex undoubtedly defined my outlook on many subjects dealing with my own femininity. But it was Simone’s second autobiography, The Prime of Life, that gave me the idea to go to Paris after graduation. A decision that started a domino effect pushing me to get a job, start a savings account and fall in love with the dream of my future independence.
As soon as I got my diploma, I tattooed the word Liberté on my wrist and set off to see the city of light. I’m not gonna lie, once I was there I was terrified. I didn’t speak the language and was completely solo in a strange, expensive city with too few euros to my name. Still, I experienced it—the pure transparent freedom that Simone talked about in her books. The ultimate window to self-knowledge. This might have not been a direct path to happiness, but it definitely injected me with the courage to fight for it.
Freedom is the source from which all significations and all values spring. It is the original condition of all justification of existence.
- Simone de Beauvoir
I can trace many of the decisions that led me to where I am today back to this trip. A taste of your own resilience and savviness can pave the path to becoming someone who is not afraid to make choices that feel true to oneself. This is the importance of representation. Exposure to strong ideas by strong women can be intimately powerful. Had I not found a guiding light in Simone’s works, I might have never taken the leap that ultimately led the way for the rest of my adult life. And so I wanted to share some of the books I’ve been reading to my daughter on this subject. Books that showcase strong women and important ideas of equality, respect and strength.
Featuring 18 trailblazing black women in American history, Dream Big, Little One is a board book offering an uplifting celebration of black leaders from past and present. The subjects include scientists, artists, authors, performers, politicians, and athletes. Harrison introduces the figures in groups of three (“Be bold like Josephine, Shirley, and Maya”) before presenting them individually. Although the illustrations show the subjects as adults, they have a childlike quality that will appeal to young readers.
Through simple eye-catching illustrations and clever rhyming this book underscores that important idea that girls are equals to boys. From encouraging girls to use their voice and to support other girls, to showing them that beauty is on the inside, to reminding them that no woman is free until all women are free, there are big lessons here. My First Book of Feminism (for Boys) is another great title from the same author aimed to explain the concept of feminism to the little guys at home.
In my opinion it's never too early to introduce Simone De Beauvoir to young readers. Answering life's big questions for little children, this board book explains De Beauvoir's beliefs about equality and respect in a clear, accessible way. Through this simple premise kids will be encouraged to think about how the same things can make girls and boys happy or sad or excited, how everyone should listen to who they are on the inside and to respect that in others. A great book to inspire exciting thoughts and conversations about big ideas.
This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations with a clear and accessible insight into the life of this great artist and feminist icon. Another great title from the Little People, Big Dreams—the best-selling series of books and educational games that explore the lives of outstanding people. Other favorites from the collection are Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, Louise Bourgeois and Iris Apfel.
A love letter to all girls. Dear Girl is a collaboration between Amy Krouse Rosenthal and her daughter—a series of tiny reminders that emphasize how all girls are powerful, strong and important. Featuring charming text and stunning illustrations, this book encourages every girl to be herself and to love who she is, inside and out—no matter what she likes and chooses to do.
Ugh, this book makes me cry every time I read it. A New York Times bestseller and the picture book winner in the Goodreads Choice Awards. A gorgeous, lyrical ode that explores the concepts of loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another through beautiful illustrations. From Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo. A must have in every library.
After the success of her Juno Valentine series, fashion front-row regular Eva Chen is back on the shelves with this alphabet book highlighting trailblazing women. Shining a spotlight on 23 icons, this vibrant and fun alphabet board book is perfect for the youngest of budding feminists. The actual mirror that surprises the reader on the YOU page is my favorite part.
This timely board book rethinks and reframes the stereotypical blue/pink gender binary and empowers kids and grown-ups alike to express themselves in every color of the rainbow. Through vibrant illustrations depicting a diverse group of relatable characters, Pink Is for Boys encourages children to enjoy what they love to do, whether it’s racing cars and playing baseball, or loving unicorns and dressing up. A sweet and simple prose that delivers a powerful message: life is not color-coded.
9. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions Hardcover by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I originally received this book in the mail when I told my best friend I was having a girl. She knew she had to send this one right over and she was not wrong. Dear Ijeawele is Chimamanda’s response to a friend's question on how one raises a daughter to be a feminist. From perceptive suggestions about toys, clothes, careers and more, this short book encourages the upbringing of strong women who will be able to navigate the modern world with tenacity and independence. A must read for every woman, especially if they are a girl mom.
And lastly, the list wouldn’t be complete without Memoirs of Dutiful Daughter. Simone De Beavoir’s first autobiography, where she offers an intimate portrait of growing up in a bourgeois French family, rebelling as an adolescent against the conventional expectations of her class, and striking out on her own with an intellectual and existential ambition exceedingly rare in a young woman in the 1920s. De Beauvoir included travel stories, set pieces, metaphors, intimate details, philosophical musings, and political comments as she described her early years in France.
And speaking of reading—I have exciting news to share: you can now read maybe this, baby that in the new Substack app for iPhone.
With the app, you’ll have a dedicated Inbox for my Substack and any others you subscribe to. New posts will never get lost in your email filters, or stuck in spam. Longer posts will never cut-off by your email app. Comments and rich media will all work seamlessly. Overall, it’s a big upgrade to the reading experience.