The Amelia Bloomer Project's 2012 list--a mg fantasy perspective on feminism

The mission of the Amelia Bloomer project is to "create an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18." They've just announced the 2012 list of books whose "women and girls reflect the complexities of the female experience and the increased awareness of strong women and girls throughout history and around the world." There are three age groups--Young Readers, Middle Readers, and Young Adult, and there is both fiction and non-fiction in each.

Here are the "middle reader" fantasy books (which goes from a low of second grade grade to a high of 10th, and is thus more flexible than my understanding of "middle grade," ie, ages 9-12):

Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke. Yay for Zita!

The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier. Yay Floating Islands! This was a favorite of mine from last year.

I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett. Um, this was published in 2010, so it seems odd to see it here. But regardless, yay for I Shall Wear Midnight!

(I would have talked about the YA books too, but there were more of them, and more I hadn't read....)

And immediately upon reading the lists, I began to wonder what my own list would have looked like.

Here are the criteria:

1. Significant feminist content
2. Excellence in writing
3. Appealing format
4. Age appropriateness for young readers

Obviously criteria one is the trickiest, and because I'm interested, here's a big chunk of how this criteria is defined. I have enboldened the line I think is most telling.

"....feminist books show women solving problems, gaining personal power, and empowering others.... These books explain that there is a gender issue; they don’t leave the reader to guess. A book with a strong female character that does not demonstrate that an inequality exists may not be a feminist book. Strong female characters may be plucky, perseverant, courageous, feisty, intelligent, spirited, resourceful, capable, and independent–but the book’s presentation may still not be feminist."

I'm running into few problems. I can see why, for instance, the young heroine of Tuesdays at the Castle isn't "feminist": she's plucky, and an agent in shaping her destiny, but she's not a game-changer for the girls in her world. But Zita is troubling me. The text and illustrations don't, as far as I remember, explain that there is a gender issue. I can't remember gender being specifically an issue at all. It seems to be that Zita might be "feminist" just by the fact of her existence (?).

And I'm having a hard time deciding if gender is an issue for Hazel, the heroine of Breadcrumbs (this is a book I'd have put on the list)--I think it is, but again, I can't remember that being explained. I also don't recall any "others" in the book being empowered, but I'm not sure I like that criteria--when your journey is a solitary quest, like Hazel's, who is there to be empowered by it but yourself, and your readers?

But I've thought of one that meets the criteria, I think, rather well--Icefall, by Matthew Kirby. Gender is most definitely an issue, and the heroine refuses to let herself be confined by stereotypes. And I think The Floating Islands is an excellent choice.

What fantasy books from 2011 for "middle readers" would you have added to the list?

Update: Just wanted to say that I heard from Beth Olshewsky, the Amelia Bloomer Project C0-Chair from 2010-2012. She noted that the awards are given by consensus, so there's lots of debate and discussion about what books will make the list! (here's looking at you, Zita!)

She clarified the issue of which books are eligible: "books are eligible if they are published in the last six months of the preceding year (so the span is really 18 months), as you noted for I Shall Wear Midnight. The form for field nominations should be up by the end of February, so check back on the Amelia Bloomer blog http://ameliabloomer.wordpress.com/ to field nominate this and any other books that you think may qualify."

I'm rather thrilled to know that one can field nominate, because I do think highly of this list and am eager to play a small part in its formtion! You can bet I'll be putting Icefall forward, and Circus Galacticus, by Deva Fagan, and The Book of Wonders, by Jasmine Richards and The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman...and quite possibly others!


  1. Wow. I must say I find that definition a bit restrictive. I do appreciate books where girls triumph over inequality, but I also love books where the girls are just plain cool and tough and empowered. In fact I've made a deliberate choice in my own writing to set them in worlds where there aren't gender inequalities because I want the girls to be proving their strength against the backdrop of the world and plot, not just proving they are "as good as the boys." Not to say all books with gender-inequality reduce to the latter, but I do find it common enough to be problematic.

    I'm going to need to think more on this. Thank you for raising this very interesting discussion point!

    1. That's a great point! I especially like the bit about not using boys as a yard stick for the girls. I would certainly include your heroines in a list great books featuring books with girls who are strong in their own right, yet I'm not seeing how I could put them on this list according to its criteria!

      (for readers who don't know Deva's books, her most recent is Circus Galacticus, a very fun sci fi/fantasy space adventure)

    2. I think the organization is doing good work, but agree the definition is a bit restrictive. You make an excellent point - and isn't this at least part of the issue? That women ARE still measured against men? Do we want to live by that yardstick or create a new one based on the value and uniqueness of individual human beings?

      I just added Circus Galacticus to my ToRead list. It sounds exactly up my alley!

  2. Sorry I can't think of one off hand, but for YA The Faerie Ring, Scorpio Races and The Girl of Fire & Thorns would fit. I think the gender issue is the hard part in figuring out what books to include. Because now the whole feminism issues are more subtle in our society and probably one reason they are more subtle in the books we read.

  3. A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber is supposedly YA, but I think it makes a good upper MG--and it features a very proactive protagonist in Stephanie Harrington.

    I completely agree with I Shall Wear Midnight as a pick (publication year aside), but it reads rather YA to me. Huh.

  4. I agree with Deva: that is a very limiting definition of feminist. I'm glad that Zita's on there, but I don't see how it's feminist based on the definition. (Basically what I saw when I read it was just a girl doing really cool things. Gender inequality? Really?) I get Tiffany Aching and I haven't read the third.

    The only books that are popping off the top of my head are YA ones, since it seems to be more of a theme there than in MG writing.

  5. Hi everyone!
    I'm a member of the Amelia Bloomer Project, and enjoy seeing the discussion about the type/definition of feminism we used when selecting our titles.

    One point we debated this year is the shift in some books to create a world that has moved beyond gender equality, as Deva mentions above. So, in a fictional world where males and females do not face anything that limits them, based on their gender, what does it take for a character to rise above and beyond? For example, we discussed this aspect of Malinda Lo's title, Huntress, which made it onto the list. This was also part of our discussion for Zita the Spacegirl.

    The cool thing about Zita is that she presents a female superhero character who is not defined by stereotypical female traits-- she isn't wearing pink, she isn't sexualized in any way, and she gets to turn the rescue narrative on its head by saving a male character.

    The consensus process within this selection committee, as well as with the majority of other selection lists that come out of ALA, does have an impact on the list. We do hope the public makes use of the field nominations, and it's exciting to know that every year the nomination pool gets wider as more and more authors present strong, independent, female characters.


    1. I didn't see your note here before I replied to Deva. Thanks for taking the time to explain and clarify. I look forward to that time when we have moved beyond gender!

  6. Hi Apri,

    Thanks for coming by! It's a fascinating question about these worlds where there is gender equality, which are in such contrast to our own. I'm very happy to see both Huntress and Zita on the list as exemplars of the possible, which is certainly worth celebrating.

  7. I know that you didn't like it much, but I think Scorpio Races would certainly qualify on all counts - though it'd be YA for sure. It's beautifully written, and the issue of Puck's riding in the races definitely involves point 1!

  8. This is a very interesting discussion. I rarely pay attention to feminism when I'm reading MG. I do have to agree with you on Breadcrumbs and I wonder if AKATA WITCH could be another good example?

    1. Akata Witch is on the list, in Young Adult--although that's one that's a bit hard to pin down age wise. I think I would put in the the middle readers myself... But regardless, it was good to see it on the list!


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