International Women’s Day—Guest Post by Christine Baldacchino

I guess it would be odd to start off a piece for International Women’s Day by admitting that I grew up rather distrustful of girls.

I was bullied badly when I was a child, by both boys and girls. But being bullied by the girls felt as though it was edged with betrayal, and that left far deeper cuts. I was a girl, they were girls. Weren’t we all supposed to stick together?

I grew up watching shows like Dallas and Dynasty with my parents in the evening, and soaps like Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless in the afternoon. Women were constantly attacking each other. They were getting pushed into pools or wedding cakes. They were pulling each other’s hair or ripping each other’s clothes. They were slut-shaming each other, humiliating each other, throwing each other under buses. They were rarely fighting for money or power – that was for the men. The women mostly fought over men. The women would only fight for money or power if it involved taking it from other women. The woman almost never got to be the super villain – she had to fight other women to be the super villain’s wife.

I slowly started to become aware of how frequently and enthusiastically the media pitted us against one another. And when I say slowly, I mean at a glacial-like pace, because the whole “survival of the fittest/prettiest/thinnest/best-dressed/most popular” thing was very deeply ingrained. It took years to realize that my mistrust had been entirely misplaced. The “mean girls” were also victims in a way, though blissfully unaware of it. Or maybe they weren’t. Maybe we weren’t giving each other enough credit.

When I was a child being bullied for not being “a real girl”, I rarely took the time to consider what had the girls so adamantly believing I wasn’t normal, and what gave their attacks that extra bite. Once I did take that time, though, it went a long way towards me silently forgiving my childhood tormenters and doing a little healing. When I wrote Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, I wanted to infuse Morris not just with the pride that comes with being yourself, but also with the pride that comes with being enlightened. It’s what saved my life. It’s what gave me hope that if I could figure it out, maybe other girls could, too.

I was afraid of girls once. Maybe the same way some people are still afraid of a boy in a dress.

Fast-forward to today, sitting in front of my laptop at 4:30 a.m. trying to decide which of all the amazing, inspiring women I’ve opened my life up to I should write about for International Women’s Day. I’ve been agonizing over it for two weeks now, but it’s hopeless – I can’t pick just one, and if I were to write about all of them, I’d never get to bed.

I could have bigger problems, right?


Christine Baldacchino is a graphic artist and web designer with a background in early childhood education. Her picture book Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress was the winner of the CBC Bookie Award for Best Picture Book 2015. She lives with her husband in Toronto. She likes cats and the colour orange.

Old Woman—Guest Post by Martine Leavitt

International Women’s Day is March 8th, so with the help of some of our female authors, we’ve decided to dedicate the entire month to women and their stories.

Old Woman

Dear Tim and David and Kekla,

I can never explain myself verbally, which is likely in part why I became a writer. I was trying, that night in the faculty lounge, to tell you what it is like for me, now that I’m an old woman. This is what I was really trying to say:

When I was young, though I didn’t know it, I was beautiful. I became aware of it the day before everything changed. I understood on that day that I had been moving through the universe in a slipstream of pulchritude, a sparkling force-field, a charmed existence that softened some hearts and inspired something else in others. One day I knew it, and the next it was gone. One day for knowing, one day for mourning, and one for wondering what I might have done with that beauty if I had known of it.

But then – lightness. I move smaller and unnoticed through the universe, since then, as if I passed some long initiation and now I get to go in peace, as if I am now acknowledged to be made of some finer material. I wonder how I lived before, with the weight of years-ahead-of-me, and ambition aplenty, and having to carry it all with the ideologies of femininity to face like a headwind. I can’t blame everything on the world, however tempted: Every day I shed something I didn’t recognize was my own strength, shed it like a snake sheds her skin, and I wondered at that papery being that looked something like me.

Now I am in the Sabbath of my life, the seventh decade, and in it I find a kind of rest. I have grown into my face. It is comfortable, not too tight, with just enough room to stretch into any given expression at any given moment, according to whim. My feet and ankles ache, but expectations are low. I have the comfort of grandchildren who are being raised better than their parents were. My dieting days are over, and yet my husband likes me just the way I am. I have a little less estrogen, my husband a little less testosterone, and the Venn diagram of our relationship overlaps a little more, sometimes even nests. I never shed my strength now – it means I am less shiny, but more interesting. My writing brings more joy because I have learned to admire where before I had envied, to pity those who are unkind, to see clearly that the line that divides coveting and surrender, pride and humility, resistance and forbearance, is a pale, wandering line.

I see young women as music, each particle of them vibrating at a register of loveliness. But I want to say this to them: One day you will cease to be beautiful and you will be old, and as hard as is it to believe, I promise you will be glad. What a remarkable thing is an old woman, if I do say so myself.

And that, dear friends, is what I was trying to say.

Much love,
Martine


Martine Leavitt is the author of ten novels for young readers. My Book of Life by Angel, which received five starred reviews, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the CLA Young Adult Book of the Year. Other titles include Keturah and Lord Death, finalist for the National Book Award; Tom Finder, winner of the Mr. Christie’s Book Award; and Heck Superhero, finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Her novels have been published in Japan, Korea, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands. Martine teaches creative writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Win an International Women’s Day Prize Pack

IWD Giveaway


In honour of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Groundwood Publicist Cindy Ma chose her favourite books for girls!

In honour of International Women’s Day, I wanted to talk about children’s books that feature female characters because it’s important to have female experiences represented in its multitudes, and how all these experiences are equally valid. The impossible terror that permeates the lives of the characters in Elise Moser’s Lily and Taylor is just as important as the journey of self-discovery in Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s Skim; the entrepreneurial spirit of the protagonist in Nadia L. Hohn and Irene Luxbacher’s Malaika’s Costume is just as significant as the courage of Parvana in Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner series. I think it’s imperative that one can read books about female characters and realize that there will always be a spectrum of personalities and experiences, and all of them matter so much. Here are three of those books:

NAPTIME

Naptime is a fun picture book with lovely illustrations, charming dialogue, and a fantastic protagonist: she’s assertive and brave, while maintaining fearlessness and a sense of humour. She may only be a toddler, but all of us could stand to be a little bit more like her!

JANE, THE FOX, AND ME

Growing up can be hard, as explored in the story of the unforgettable Hélène and her loneliness (because, let’s face it: we’ve all been there). There’s also something magical about going through the journey with her and finding out that everything will (probably) be okay, as we all strive to find the foxes and Géraldines in our own lives. This is a truly stunning graphic novel about one girl’s quest to belong. 

 I DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE

Where was this book when I was a teenager?! This is a short and gorgeous YA novel about fifteen year old Charlotte, as she makes her own decisions and mistakes, and learns to take responsibility for her actions. Charlotte is curious, open-minded, and independent, with a strong sense of empathy and the courage to be her own person. I Don’t Live Here Anymore is an unconventional story about first love, featuring a female character that isn’t afraid to defy expectations.


Enter for a chance to win Cindy’s top 3 picks for girls, including:

  1. NAPTIME written by Iris De Moüy
  2. JANE, THE FOX AND ME, written by Fanny Britt & illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
  3. I DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, written by Gabi Kreslehner

Fill out the form below to enter. Contest closes March 15th. A winner will be randomly chosen.

The Untold Story of The Lost Girls of Southern Sudan [guest post by Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca]

"South Sudan refugees in Uganda January 2014" by European Commission DG ECHO is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“South Sudan refugees in Uganda January 2014” by European Commission DG ECHO is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Much press has (deservedly) been given to the Lost Boys of Sudan, those boys who were displaced or orphaned during the civil war in Southern Sudan. Yet the question remains: what about the girls? Did any survive, and, if so, why hasn’t their story been told? 

Most of the young women we interviewed while writing our book said that, before the civil war, life in Southern Sudan was simple and good. These women were also quick to point out that, even during the best of times, it has always been tough to be a woman in Sudan. For one, girls are often discouraged from going to school. What is more, marriages are often arranged, leaving young women with little choice about their life partner. Because of the practice of bridewealth, girls’ families — especially poor ones — are often motivated to arrange marriages at a young age so they can receive gifts of cattle, goats, money and other gifts from the groom’s family. If a husband decides to beat his wife, for example, the woman often has little to no recourse.

From 1983 to 2005, Sudan was ravaged by a civil war that pitted the North against the South. Villages were burned to the ground, and children were forced to flee. Displaced and orphaned children made a treacherous thousand-mile trek by foot in order to reach the relative safety of a refugee camp. Along the way many died from starvation, dehydration, bombs and land mines. Yet despite these many dangers there were girls who, against all odds, survived, just like their male counterparts.

Unlike the boys who were encouraged to tell their stories when aid workers or resettlement agents came to the refugee camps, girls were discouraged from sharing what had happened to them. Girls were taught to keep silent about their suffering. For example, if a young woman was raped, she herself could be blamed for the rape. For this reason, many women decided it was better to keep silent.

While the boys were grouped together, many of the girls were placed with ad hoc foster families who, due to poverty and war, were motivated to arrange marriages without the girls’ consent so they could benefit economically from receiving the bridewealth. Often they were treated as servants or worse within these foster families. When resettlement agents looked for candidates who could be sent to countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, the town elders volunteered the boys, whom they considered to be better educated, stronger and more likely to find success in a new country.

Of the 3,700 young Sudanese refugees who were initially settled in the United States in 2001, only 89 of them were female.

978-1-55498-416-9_lLost Girl Found is the story of a girl who does survive and who wants, more than anything, to get an education. Though the book is fiction, it is based on the real stories of many female refugees who shared their stories with us. The common thread among all the women’s stories was one of resilience, a strong will and the desire to get an education. The young women we spoke with hope that by bettering their own situations they will eventually be able to return to and give back to their communities in South Sudan. They believe that, should their voices someday be included in the governing of the new, independent South Sudan, there may be hope for a more peaceful future.

All proceeds from Lost Girl Found will go to africare.org, an organization whose goal is helping African populations build sustainable, healthy and productive communities.

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