Representation Matters for Young Students

Celebrate Women's History Month with Junior Great Books

Junior Great Books showcases the capabilities and dreams of girls

Representation matters for young students—especially for our youngest readers so they can see that being a girl or woman in today’s world is not limiting. In the following article from Edutopia, the writer provides tangible steps to ensure Gender Equity in the Classroom, specifically highlighting the importance of curricula materials in building a gender-equitable learning environment. Our Junior Great Books® programs showcase diverse narratives that foreground the capabilities and dreams of girls; these stories not only empower young girls to take up space in the world but also help young boys see their female peers as equals. In this blog post, we will explore the transformative power of female characters in the following children’s stories: “Under the Lemon Moon” by Edith Hope Fine (Series 1), “Boundless Grace” by Mary Hoffman (Series 3), “Tuesday of the Other June” by Norma Fox Mazer (Series 4), “The Scholarship Jacket” by Marta Salinas (Series 6), and “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai (Series 7).

“Under the Lemon Moon” by Edith Hope Fine

“Under the Lemon Moon” by Edith Hope Fine revolves around the character of Rosalinda, a young girl who, while wronged, seeks to understand those who’ve wronged her rather than hold a grudge. She works instead to find a solution, and in doing so, she shares her gifts with her community. This story instills in young minds that anyone, regardless of gender, can be a force for positive change in the world.

“Boundless Grace” by Mary Hoffman

“Boundless Grace” by Mary Hoffman introduces readers to Grace, a young girl whose love of stories makes her question her place in this world. Through the events in the story and the other characters, she learns that many different stories and experiences make up one’s life and that even those experiences that may not meet her expectations can have happy endings. Grace finds power and meaning in the ability to write her own story.

“Tuesday of the Other June” by Norma Fox Mazer

This story poignantly explores the emotional turmoil June faces when confronted by a bully, another girl who shares her same name. The story subtly underscores the strength and resilience of this female protagonist, as June journeys towards self-empowerment and finding her voice. The text highlights the capacity of young girls to confront adversity, assert their identities, and rise above societal expectations.

“The Scholarship Jacket” by Marta Salinas

This story follows Martha, a high-achieving student who dreams of earning the prestigious scholarship jacket awarded to the valedictorian at her school. The narrative explores Martha’s challenges, particularly the systemic gender and racial bias that complicates her pursuit of academic recognition. “The Scholarship Jacket” sheds light on the societal expectations and prejudices young women, especially women of color, face in their academic endeavors.

“I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai

This excerpt from Malala’s memoir underscores the unwavering strength and resilience of women and girls facing adversity. Malala’s story is a testament to the transformative impact that education can have on individuals and their communities. Malala’s courage and determination to go to school defied oppressive forces and ignited a global movement for accessible education and women’s rights. Throughout the narrative, Malala highlights the strength inherent in every girl’s voice and emphasizes the importance of empowering women to stand up for their rights. The memoir serves as an inspiration, reminding us of the incredible strength women and girls possess when they are determined to overcome challenges and positively impact the world.

Incorporating strong and diverse female characters into children’s stories is a powerful way to shape young minds and promote gender equality. By exposing girls and boys to narratives that challenge stereotypes and celebrate individuality, these stories pave the way for a future where everyone is encouraged to take up space in the world, irrespective of gender. As parents, educators, and storytellers, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the literary landscape for children is rich with characters that inspire, empower, and foster a sense of equality for all. This policy brief from NCTE explores why culturally responsive teaching is essential and why we need to expose students to more than white, male, Eurocentric literature that can be found in every classroom.

To fully capitalize on the strength and narratives of these female voices, incorporate some questions into your lesson plan that explore the gender roles, biases, and preconceptions that your students may bring to Shared Inquiry™ discussion. After discussing the interpretive questions, consider an evaluative writing prompt or discussion question that explores the role gender plays in each story and challenge your students to question their own beliefs about what girls can and cannot do.

To learn more about Junior Great Books® and Shared Inquiry, and how to bring productive discussions to your classrooms, contact your Great Books K–12 partnership manager today.

Professional Learning Consultant Teri Laliberte has over 20 years of experience working with learners from a variety of backgrounds. Prior to working abroad, she earned her master’s degree in language and linguistics from the University of Georgia. With 15 years of experience working with English language learners, she has supported language growth and acquisition in her students, along with the needed academic skills of critical thinking, listening, and speaking. Prior to rejoining the Great Books Foundation, she spent 15 years working with adult learners in higher and continuing education, honing her skills by meeting the needs of various learners in literacy, communication, and critical thinking.