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Reading is for Girls: Choosing the Right Book

January 8, 2009

Editor's Note: Gretchen Neisler works on staff at a Lifeway Christian Store and serves in the Children's Ministry of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where she and her husband Joshua are members.

"What books are there for my daughter?" one frustrated mother asked me.  She was frustrated because it looked to her as though the only "feminine" books being made for little girls were silly, shallow princess stories that promote beauty and frivolity. This mother had a godly desire to give her daughter something biblically nourishing.  In a world where Disney Princess preaches to our girls that their greatest dream is to be pretty and admired, while the "Bratz" toys shove them into the sexual revolution, Christian parents who desire to preach the gospel to their precious girls (and that purity and godliness is God's best for them) have a challenging job ahead of them.  Merely instructing them in the evils of feminism or the biblical basis for complementarianism will not make as great an impact on these little ones as a story can.  My goal then, is to aid you in your evaluation of books for girls (even secular books) to discover whether or not they tell a story of admirable femininity.

1. Who is being admired in the story?

Within a few pages or chapters, it ought to be rather apparent who your heroine is, and what her life is teaching the reader. Is she rebellious or is she gracious and full of character?  Does she speak words of anger or envy or does she respond to injury with humility and forgiveness? One book I have come to love is The Railway Children by E. Nesbit.  Both Mother and the eldest daughter Bobbie are clear pictures of admirable femininity.  Bobbie is full of womanly graces and qualities – such as intuition, gentleness and humility – at her young age of twelve.  Bobbie is courageous and compassionate – she stays alone in the railway tunnel with a boy who has broken his leg while the others go for help.  She must pluck up her courage to do so, talking to herself and comforting the poor hurt boy. 

She nurses Mother when she has fallen quite ill and understands her Mother's fragile emotions during the time Father has been taken away.  Bobbie has the clever idea as to how her siblings and she can stop a train that is about to crash, and when they are awarded for doing so, she can hardly bear to have such praise heaped upon her.  When Bobbie and her brother have a row which results in injury, Bobbie is so overcome with compassion that she cannot help but drop her pride and offer an apology first, even though she was the one who was wronged.  This story has Christian undertones, even touching briefly on the sovereignty of God.

2. Does the book address a problem that is particular to my daughter or to all girls?

A beautiful story that speaks to a common girlhood issue is The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.  The girls in the story tease a poor little girl day after day for not having more than one dress. Wanda, the poor immigrant girl, claims she has 100 dresses at home in her closet "all lined up", which turn out to be drawings of dresses. I highly recommend parents reading this book with their daughters followed by an intentional teaching on James 2 (not showing favoritism).  Our girls must be taught to look at the other girls with compassion and loving-kindness.  Parents can help their daughters really think about whether they know anyone like Wanda, and whether or not they are treating them in a Christ-like manner.

3. How are authorities portrayed in the story?

Does the author encourage cynicism from the reader by the way she describes the authorities?  Are parents complete fools who are outwitted by their children? Beware of books that do not have even one truly admirable character that the reader can look to and depend on.  Characters may be very real and transparent, even with weaknesses exposed, but if every character is stripped of all admiration, then the author is probably trying to teach the reader that she is superior to those in leadership over her.  As John Calvin said, "we are created with Christ-shaped holes." We all long for the beauty and holiness that only Christ can fill.  Help your daughter to see the authorities over her in the light of Christ's sovereign purposes.

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