1. Significant feminist content
2. Excellence in writing
3. Appealing format
4. Age appropriateness for young readers
The first criteria is what sets this award apart-- "Feminist books for young readers must move beyond merely “spunky” and “feisty” young women, beyond characters and people who fight to protect themselves without furthering rights for other women. Feminist books show women overcoming the obstacles of intersecting forces of race, gender, and class, actively shaping their destinies. They break bonds forced by society as they defy stereotypical expectations and show resilience in the face of societal strictures." (Here's more on the specific criteria used to evaluate "feminist content."
The lists are always interesting, and this year's is no exception. Do go check it out!
Me being me, of course I looked to see what middle grade fantasy books were being recognized. Answer--none (although there is one fantasy graphic novel--Princeless Book One: Save Yourself).
None? I said sadly. Were there really no great middle grade fantasies that transcended the ubiquitous spunky girl and embodied true feminism? Surely not.
So I started thinking, and here are my top picks of Feminist Middle Grade Fantasy from July 2011 to December 2012 (which is the eligibility period of the Amelia Bloomer Project--an important point to remember, because two of these books are eligible for next year's list!) Note: there are many books with strong girl characters, but I tried really hard to think of books that truly embody my personal reading of the Amelia Bloomer criteria!
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung (October 1, Arthur A. Levine). This Cybils shortlisted book is told from the point of view of a boy who thinks that super heroes are boys. He's finds out how wrong he is, when his classmate Polly is forced to confront the gendered expectations of super heroness head-on, overcoming stereotypes right and left, and showing tons of resilience as she whacks societal strictures to pieces. I do not hold the fact that the main character is a boy against this book--in fact, I think it's a plus to have feminist books on hand that will appeal strongly to boys. (disclaimer: review copy received for the Cybils).
Peaceweaver, by Rebecca Barnhouse (March 2012, Random House), is the story of Hild, an Anglo-Saxon girl sent to a marriage that will make peace between to warring kingdoms. During the course of her journey, she begins to question the social injustices that are woven into the fabric of her life, and, in what I think is a profoundly feminist way, she realizes that though she could try to run away from the destiny of her arranged marriage, she also has the choice to go through with it. She recognizes that though her future may be set in place for her, she can shape the way in which she lives that destiny, and make it something worthwhile on her own terms.
Icefall, by Matthew Kirby (October 1, 2011, Scholastic) This is the gripping tale of Solveig, a Viking girl sent with her siblings and a handful of retainers to an isolated holding far in the north, to keep them safe while their father wages war. In the dark and crowded wooden hall, boredom gives way to unbearable tension when it becomes clear that somewhere nearby, perhaps in the hall itself, there is a traitor, working to sabotage the group's chances of survival. But Solveig finds that she herself has the gift for telling stories...one that she will be forced to use when treachery is compounded by the arrival of her father's enemy, come to claim her older sister as his bride. Solveig's path toward becoming a skald, (the Viking equivalent of a bard, a role traditionally reserved for men), and the way she finds her place in the world through her own talents, makes this one feminist in my opinion. And it's a great read!
Edited to add, thanks to Brandy, Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis. Kat, the young heroine of this Regency Period magical adventure, is most certainly a heroine who is doing her darndest to actively demolish the restrictions that gender and class are imposing on her.
So there's my list--what did I miss? Which would your winner be? (remember--July 2011 to Dec. 2012)