NAYA | Reshaping female protagonists in children’s books

“Children’s books can have a huge impact on who a child becomes as adult. Therefore, this can influence the society in terms of perceptions and attitudes,” Sawaya said.
by Vanessa Ghanem

7 May 2019 | 11:52

Source: by Annahar

  • by Vanessa Ghanem
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 7 May 2019 | 11:52

(AFP photo)

BEIRUT: Once upon a time, there was a girl who dreamed of becoming a well-known mountain climber. After years of training, she made it to Mount Everest and hoisted her country’s flag.

This doesn’t sound like a typical fairy tale story, right? Well, that’s because it isn’t.

The conventional female protagonists usually represent princesses who are graceful, elegant, and soft-spoken. These female protagonists define happy endings by finding prince charming and getting married.

Nonetheless, a new wave of anti-fairy tales has seen daylight over the past few decades. Those work on balancing the bookshelves and challenging the misogynistic undertone of traditional fairy tales.

“It’s very important, that both boys and girls from a very early age, see women in leadership roles and prominent positions in children’s book,” Dr. Lea Sawaya, PhD, a Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist, told Annahar.

Some modern publishers have realized that there is a pressing need to address the gender imbalance found in storybooks by re-conceptualizing the meaning of a fairy tale princess.

“Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” a story by the Italian writers Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli, is one of the examples of such books. The story narrates the achievements of 100 great women. All the heroes of the stories are creative, intelligent, ambitious and powerful - and none of them need rescuing by a prince.

“Children’s books can have a huge impact on who a child becomes as adult. Therefore, this can influence the society in terms of perceptions and attitudes,” Sawaya said. “When children never see a female protagonist in a book or cartoon making the headlines, it becomes difficult for them to imagine women in leading roles or positions.”

Sawaya added that books play a major role in shaping children’s role model. Therefore, showing empowered female characters can help in raising powerful women.

In the same context, Lebanese singers, songwriters, and illustrators Noel and Michelle Keserwany, produced a song that criticizes and challenges the gender stereotypes found in “Cinderella.”

“We saw that traditional children’s narratives were written in a bizarre way,” Noel Keserwany told Annahar. “We decided to defy the norm by highlighting that women can exactly accomplish the same things that are stereotypical for men. In other terms, we reflected the world we live in today, where several female leaders are shaping societies.”


Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations. Naya editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]

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