Book Criteria – Bloomers Project
During the past several years of selecting appropriate books for the Amelia Bloomer Project of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association, members have determined that the four criteria are vital to the books selected:
1. Significant feminist content
2. Excellence in writing
3. Appealing format
4. Age appropriateness for young readers
The qualities for each will be taken in order.
Significant Feminist Content:
This may be the most difficult to determine because the definition of feminism is so simple: Feminism is the belief that women should be equal to men. Some feminists add to this by stating that feminism is the doctrine advocating social and political rights for women equal to men, including overthrowing institutions that oppress women, celebrating the creation of a female “counterculture,” or supporting the belief that women have a special relationship to nature and a responsibility to act as caretakers of the environment.
With the current trend of using strong female protagonists in fiction, a more specific explanation of feminism may be in order. Feminist books for young readers must move beyond merely “spunky” and “feisty” young women, beyond characters and people who fight to protect themselves without furthering rights for other women. Feminist books show women overcoming the obstacles of intersecting forces of race, gender, and class, actively shaping their destinies. They break bonds forced by society as they defy stereotypical expectations and show resilience in the face of societal strictures.
In addition, feminist books show women solving problems, gaining personal power, and empowering others. They celebrate girls and women as a vibrant, vital force in the world. These books explain that there is a gender issue; they don’t leave the reader to guess. A book with a strong female character that does not demonstrate that an inequality exists may not be a feminist book. Strong female characters may be plucky, perseverant, courageous, feisty, intelligent, spirited, resourceful, capable, and independent–but the book’s presentation may still not be feminist.
1. Does the book show an awareness of gender-based inequalities with action to change these inequalities?
2. Do girls and women take on nontraditional roles? If so, does the book point out that these roles are in opposition to society’s expectations, that the person is breaking new ground?
3. Do females blaze new trails for themselves and those who follow them? (Again, does the book point that out?)
4. Do females use power for purposeful action, empowering others?
5. Does the book reflect female opportunities (or the lack of them), inequalities, and non-traditional roles in the era in which the book is set?
6. Has the protagonist grown in a positive manner, or does she stay dependent on others?
7. Does the girl or woman in the book depend on men to support her, or does she gain power through personal effort?
8. Is the protagonist the active party, or does she simply react to situations?
9. Is the protagonist’s voice silenced? Does she become “squelched” between the beginning and the ending of the book? If so, does she ever regain her voice?
10. Do descriptions show the character of the person, or do they concentrate on attractive personal appearances?
11. Is there an emphasis on male activities, male photographs, etc.?
12. Is the word “feminism” used in the book? Is the approach positive to feminism?
Excellence in Writing:
Literary quality can be very subjective, yet it is vital to the success of the book. The book must appeal to young readers, but beyond that it must follow some criteria of good writing.
1. Is the characterization shown through action and dialog? Are the characterizations developed or flat?
2. Are the transitions strong? Are there holes in the plot? Does the ending satisfy?
3. Do all the scenes advance the plot? Is the plot overly predictable?
4. Is the book authentic and consistent–the setting, characters, the plot?
1. Is the information in the book accurate?
2. How timely is the book? Will it retain its timeliness?
3. Is there diversity of people in the illustrations?
4. Is the writing objective, or does the author provide subjects with feelings and attitudes that are not substantiated?
5. Is the supportive material (index, glossary, bibliography, resource lists, etc.) appropriate and up-to-date?
6. Is the author successful in limiting the scope of the subject?
7. Is the material presented in logical sequence?
Books in General:
1. Is the book didactic? Does it seem to teach rather than entertain?
2. How well is language used–metaphor, analogy, pacing, etc.?
1. Is the format non-confusing, with illustrations close to related text?
2. Are the illustrations posed? Do they support and/or extend the text?
3. Are the captions clear and accurate?
4. Is the design inviting? Does the appearance of the pages invite the reader into the book?
5. Is the book something that young people will want to read instead of a reference work?