Review of What Are Little Girls Made Of?

What Are Little Girls Made Of?
by Jeanne Willis; illus. by Isabelle Follath
Primary    Nosy Crow/Candlewick    32 pp.    g
2/21    978-1-5362-1733-9    $14.99

What are little girls made of? More than “sugar and spice and everything nice” in Willis’s narrative-flipping revision of the classic rhyme. Her update? “Sun and rain and heart and brain / that’s what girls are made of.” Sixteen more nursery rhymes get a similar feminist refresh, with girls and women redrawn as capable, brave, and independent. Jill fixes Jack’s broken crown — and their scooter — after a tumble down the hill; Little Miss Muffet contentedly sits on her tuffet while petting a spider; and Little Bo-Peep rescues her sheep from a slimy ditch. In Willis’s clever rewrites, girls take center stage; there’s a queen, not a king; girls fight pirates and build spaceships. Plus, they speak up for themselves, as in this showstopper: “­Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, / kissed a girl as she walked by. / ‘Don’t kiss me unless I say!’ / she said, and sent him on his way.” Follath’s mixed-media illustrations play nicely with pattern and texture. They’re winsome and powerful portraits: a girl in a wheelchair can, of course, wear knight’s armor and wield a sword. And what does this gender ­stereotype–busting book say about boys? Why, Joe can be a princess, and Kai can hold a teddy bear while pushing a pram, because what are boys made of? “Except for little things, much the same [as girls] / that’s what boys are made of.”

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger
Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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