I grew up in the Seventies, when children's literature knew nothing of gender equality. Reading one of my old Famous Five books to my eight-year old twin daughters recently, I was appalled by the sexist attitude which graced almost every page.
From the be-aproned Aunt Fanny who did all the cooking and cleaning, to grumpy Uncle Quentin, the clever scientist who never lifted a finger. And I could barely even utter the words when that sexist pig Julian insisted that Anne stay behind and clean the caravan rather than help trap the robbers with the boys.
However, once the red mist had faded, I used the book as an opportunity to explain to my girls that boys and girls are equal.
They can catch the robbers or be scientists or doctors, or florists or anything their heart desires. I don't want my daughters or my son growing up thinking that they are pigeonholed into certain careers purely because of their sex.
But gender stereotyping is not just found in books. Toy shops are the worst offenders and are filled with atrocities like pink Scrabble, princess Lego and even pink Nerf guns for girls with sparkly pink bullets and the description "who says you can't look fabulous while you launch a dart attack?" for crying out loud. It makes me furious.
While my girls are too young to read the 'Female Eunuch' or Caitlin Moran's 'How to be a Woman' (although both will be in their Christmas stockings the moment they turn 13) they can read Pearl Power, a brand new book by British pop artist, Mel Elliott, which promotes gender equality to kids.
I recently met with Mel to find out more about the book.
You're famous for your hip colouring books for adults (think Ryan Gosling and Benedict Cumberbatch) but as a pop artist, what made you decide to write a book about girl power?
My five-year old daughter Pearl. I don't what made her say it, or what she had seen, but Pearl said to me one day that she thought men were doctors and ladies were nurses and it got me really, really annoyed.
She must have picked it up from toys or children's advertising and TV shows and it made me realise that even in 2014, there's still lot of gender stereotyping that goes on and it's making girls feel like they can't achieve certain things simply because they are female.
I decided that I wanted to do something to change that stereotype and make little girls and boys realise from a very young age, that however different they are, they are equal.
What do you think about the children's books that are out there at the moment?
I think that there are some really lovely ones and also some quite dreadful ones too. We were given a lot for Pearl. Some are dull or just silly, while others are either badly written or badly illustrated. I think it's time for something new, something a little more modern, but which also portrays an important message.
Do you think there is still a real gender stereotype going on in children's books these days?
Yes, but I think it's changing for the better. There are now a lot of books with strong girl characters in them. I think what isn't changing is that the mums in the book tend to be traditional mums, they often don't work, it's the dads that go out to work and the mums are the homemakers. That's what needs to change.
In Pearl Power, they have to move because Pearl's mum has been made the boss. When they are moving boxes on to the removal lorry, it's her mum that's doing it. I just wanted her to come across as an independent character with a good job and someone who is happy to put boxes on lorries!
Do you think pre-school and primary kids understand feminism and gender equality?
Pearl does. But mainly because I've drilled it in to her. But obviously there was a time when she didn't because she said the doctor/nurse thing. I've made a real conscious effort to make her aware of what she's capable of and that she is just as able as any boy her age, and when she's older she can be an astronaut (actually, she does want to be an astronaut) or a scientist or a writer. Pearl does get it, but she also gets that sometimes things aren't always fair. But it is changing.
What does Pearl think about her alter ego?
She loves it. She is Pearl Power.
What's next for Pearl Power?
Pearl Power will initially be a series of five, I've got four more titles ready to go. They all have a gender equality thread running through them, but with another valuable message too, like be kind to animals or it's good to try new things. I would love Pearl Power to go the whole hog and become a cartoon. That's my dream.
Pearl Power signed copies are available for £7.99 from I Love Mel or via Amazon and Waterstones.
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