According to a study by live science, a child’s ideas about stereotypes develop from as young as 1st grade and that comes from influence form the parents or guardians they grow up with.
“Kids develop an understanding of prejudice and discrimination in a fairly predictable manner. Between the ages of 3 and 6, they begin to understand and use stereotypes. After age 6, children start to understand other people’s stereotypes, scientists have found,” the study says.
With this in mind, the types of media, entertainment and literature children consume from a young age undoubtedly add to their ideals which is why the right messages catered to kids as early as possible is crucial.
We all know that the younger generation these days are digital natives, meaning they are practically born with an iPad in their hands, but books and stories still play a huge role in their development. It is imperative that young boys and girls have books that can not only ignite their imaginations, but teach them confidence, self-esteem, and acceptance of who they are.
We came across two new book series that aim to do just that and wanted to share them with our audience, as we believe female empowerment taking root at a young age is necessary.
The first title is Ameka Love, created by Ameka Ali who is the co-founder of Higher Mind Apps, a children’s app development company. Ameka Love is an interactive educational series available on the App Store and Google Play. The story centers around a 6 year old African American girl called Ameka Love who uses her mind through meditation to go on adventures and is accompanied by her puppy named Nubie.
The interactive picture book series was developed through research to empower children to know that they can be, do, have, and create anything they would like in life.
Some of the research that stood out to us and made us realize what an impact this series could make on young women, was the fact that 75% percent of main characters in children’s books were White in 2014, and African-Americans were protagonists in 15% of the books while other cultures combined for less than 6% of lead characters.
Additionally, only 36% of children’s books had a female as a main character as opposed to 60% male.
Actress and media researcher Geena Davis, who started the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media after having her own kids and recognizing the need to have content that included diversity, has said in the past that with the current state of media and entertainment, we are effectively enculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls in a specific way – not taking up half the space in the world.
She has been very outspoken about the need to see more female characters in children’s entertainment playing characters such as doctors, heroes, writers, fireman, decision-makers, leaders, problems solvers and so on. Women need to be portrayed as empowered social beings, and the female characters need to be diverse. The Ameka Love series is just one awesome title created to fill the gap that exists.
The second title we believe is going to change the world for young girls is ‘Little Miss Jessica Goes To School‘ from Australian author Jessica Smith. Jessica is best known for being a former Paralympic athlete who suffered with an eating disorder and depression, only to conquer both and start a body positive movement. She shares her inspiring story with many audiences around Australia, and has released details of her latest project, a book series aimed at teaching young girls that being different is ok, as she prepares for the birth of her first child.
Jessica was born with part of her left arm missing and said in a blog post for Huffpost UK she grew up feeling different and alone in a society where so much emphasis is placed on physical appearance and the desire for perfection.
“I struggled to understand and come to terms with my identity and physical appearance. I convinced myself that I needed to attain perfection in every other aspect, anything I could control I did. I starved myself believing it was the only way to feel accepted within society. I thought that if I could just have a body like the models I saw on TV and in the magazines then maybe people would see past my other obvious ‘imperfections’. Maybe then I’d be ‘normal’,” she writes.
On the outside she was the picture of success, representing her country in swimming, but inside she was a mess. It was because of the pressure she felt, and knows that everyone feels it at some point no matter who you are, that made her want to make a change.
“The constant barrage of negatives messages and images that we are fed via the media has fundamentally resulted in generations of people who believe they aren’t perfect and therefore should hate who they are and the way they look,” she wrote and added she had toyed with the idea of a biography but wanted to create something that was more preventative than merely “self-help”.
Falling pregnant gave her idea that there needs to be more diversity shared with children from a very young age so they don’t grow up with the same insecurities about appearance as she did.
“I thought back to the characters that I grew up with and realised that the sheer lack of diversity was a concerning issue. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong about characters such as Barbie, Cinderella, Batman or Superman – these are the characters that ignite our imagination and encourage us to fantasize. But children also need to see and read about characters that represent what they see in real life … Characters with imperfections … Characters with differences,” she said.
That’s how LMJ was born. It is a book that tackles issues such as disability, body image, self acceptance, friendship, social interaction, self esteem, stereotypes and breaking down stigma. The book delivers a fundamental message for younger generations about self acceptance.
“Is not simply about a young girl with one hand on her first day at school. It’s about her journey in discovering that we are all different. She meets other characters who also have a different appearance to her, and together they learn to appreciate who they and how they look, in spite of their differences,” writes Jessica.
Jessica makes a great point about her book being “preventative”. We cannot go generation after generation hoping that young men and women will one day find their confidence and self-acceptance away from the media they are bombarded with.
The third book series we want to share with you is ‘Princesses With A Twist’. Like the name suggests, it is twist on the “happily ever after” storyline we see so often in Disney movies that just don’t portray an ounce of reality.
Chicago-based mother of two girls, Amelia Case, who is the owner of a health institute decided there needed to be an update to the stories girls grow up with. A woman’s life doesn’t end after “I do.” Why should Snow White and Cinderella be any different, she told the Chicago Tribune.
So far Amelia has written 15 stories on popular princess characters such as Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Rapunzel, which showcase what happens after the fairytale ends.
The idea was to show her daughters, and many other girls, that they are capable of accomplishing their goals in life regardless of a “prince charming”. Having that specific female empowerment angle added to these traditional stories was important to her. Plus she added that each of these Disney movies portray the women enduring some pretty full on situations, which deserve some more attention.
“They’ve been through a lot of crap. Now that they’re in good relationships and they’ve got some resources, that’s when things can really start to go,” she says, adding in an element of realism that is definitely missing from a lot of princess-driven literature and movies.
“”Nobody ever says, ‘Hey, Snow [White]!’ Look at you! You ate a poisoned apple, and you’re still with us! How’d you do it?'” But now with Ameila’s book series they CAN ask and have these questions answered.
For instance Cinderella starts a glass slipper factory (the first book in the series), after getting sick of being waited on hand and foot and going to all those extravagant balls.
With the help of Prince Charming and her pals, she builds a factory and outfits the whole kingdom in stylish footwear. She uses her wealth to build a state-of-the-art library.
“This achievement makes me as happy as any Princess could ever be,” Cinderella tells her adoring husband.
Amelia initially launched the idea through a Kickstarter campaign and the proceeds of the campaign will go to printing the books and distribution.
“There is more to all of these lovely characters than just a pretty face and a handsome prince” says a website description of the books, and we totally agree this is the type of empowering story young girls need to read more of!
There are opportunities to inspire young minds with positive messages about diversity, race, disabilities, careers, friendships, relationships and much much more if we choose to surround them with books and series such as Ameka Love, Princesses With A Twist and Little Miss Jessica Goes To School.
Take a look at Amelia Case’s video promotion of PWAT as shared on the Kickstarter campaign page: