A new picture book published on International Women’s Day, is bucking the princess theme and has opted instead to inspire young girls with a tale about a girl pilot called Jane who goes on a journey packed with travel and adventure.
'Pilot Jane and the Runaway Plane' features Pilot Jane, an airline captain, who travels the world with her best friend Rose, a high-speed passenger jet.
Jane and Rose fly passengers to Beijing, Alaska and Sydney. But when Rose falls ill from too much cake fuel, Jane is paired with 'lean, mean flying machine' Mighty Mitch, who dismissively says: “A girl pilot! Bother and drat! I’ll bet she’s slow – or a big scaredy-cat!”
He soon changes his opinion when they get caught in a storm and work as a team to “make it through this terrible weather”.
Its author Caroline Baxter says: “There’s a number of vital dynamics at play in the book and its story. Firstly, Jane satisfies a growing need for a smart, strong female role model who has real confidence in her own abilities. I want children to see a girl doing something a bit different, and know that they too can aspire to excel at the top of their game in a career that has traditionally been reserved for men. ‘Girl power’ is such a boundless thing.”
Her aim is also to “foster a thirst for travel and exploration in young readers. The book takes them to many places around the world where, for example, Jane surfs, does tai chi, practises her Chinese and even has tea with the Queen. Jane and Rose – and later her plane Mitch - also have to work in harmony, which instils the importance of teamwork”.
She adds: “In all, I wrote it to be an enjoyable, but also inspiring read that offers a positive message about what girls can achieve if they have some self-belief and don’t let others’ preconceptions stand in their way.”
Ms Baxter believes it is vital that girls have “positive role models and messages about girls in books, movies and culture generally”.
She says: “We need to give girls faith in their own abilities and reverse damaging gender stereotypes. Girls need to know we can be the stars of our own stories, the heroines, the rescuers, the cool kids, the fighters, the explorers, the pioneers, the experts, the leaders
“Move over princesses and pretty sidekicks. Your time is done!”
Professor Gemma Moss, head of the UCL Institute of Education's International Literacy Centre, recently told the BBC that books can help make it the norm for girls to perceive themselves as clever, daring and inventive.
She was commenting on a report by New York University which found girls begin to see themselves as less innately talented than boys do when they are just six years old.
The children in the study were told about a story with a ‘really, really smart’ character and asked if it was a boy or a girl. Both boys and girls tended to say the character would be a boy.
The huge disparity between the amount of strong male and female characters in books for young children has been evident for decades. In 2011, researchers from Florida State University found that out of nearly 6,000 children's books published between 1900 and 2000, on average only 7.5 per cent of them featured female animal protagonists.
Males were the central characters in 57 per cent of children's books published each year, with just 31 per cent having female central characters. Male animals are the main characters in 23 per cent of books per year, the study found, while female animals feature in only 7.5 per cent.
Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, voiced concerns that “the disproportionate numbers of males in central roles may encourage children to accept the invisibility of women and girls and to believe they are less important than men and boys, thereby reinforcing the gender system”.
She found it was most unequal in the middle of the century, with more male-dominated characters from 1930 to 1969, than those published in the first three decades of the century and in the later decades.
Pilot Jane and the Runaway Plane is illustrated by Izabela Ciesinska and published by Big Sunshine Books