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Novels for High School Women's Studies

The following file offers suggestions for novels and other texts
appropriate for a high school women's studies course.  They
appeared on WMST-L in October 2002.  For additional WMST-L files
available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2002 06:57:36 -0700
From: Sara Parmenter <sparmen AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Need novel suggestion for high school women's studies
I teach Women's Studies in my high school English
department, and am looking for a new novel.  I've been
quite free to create my own curriculum for this
junior-senior level elective, but it is extremely
challenging: the school/community is very
conservative, largely middle class, often resistant to
feminism.  Many students read below grade level--some
of them reading at 6th grade or lower--and only 15% of
our students go on to college.  I need something
engaging, not too difficult, yet substantive and
meaningful.  Tall order, I know.  Any title
suggestions would be most welcome.  You may reply
privately to sparmen  AT  yahoo.com.
Thank you very much!
Sara Parmenter
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2002 18:24:31 EDT
From: Shelly Rafferty <Wrifraff AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: Need novel suggestion for high school women's studies
I strongly recommend "You Are the Rain" or "Fox Running" by RR Knudsen.
Though not explicitly lesbian, the relationships between women are depicted
against interesting "young people's" backdrops.
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 01:12:55 -0500
From: "Kathleen (Kate) Waits" <kwaits AT UTULSA.EDU>
Subject: Women's Studies Novel for high school students
Sara -

I have NO IDEA if this will fit the bill, but I wanted to apprise you
of: "Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey"  by Margaret Peterson
Haddix.  It is not overtly feminist, I guess, but it tells a very moving
story of an adolescent girl.and covers a number of women-related
themes.  Her father is abusive, her mother abandons the girl.  The girl
must care for herself and her little brother, with no money.  Plus she
is sexually harrassed at her fast food job.  The girl is very bright but
not a student and definitely has an "attitude." Both the girl and her
story are very "real."

The book 's told in journal form.  The girl has to write a journal for
English, but the teacher assures her that she won't read any entries
that are marked "DON'T READ."  The girl starts to spill out her life in
the journal entries.  It is easy reading and I think might really
capture your students and lead to some excellent discussions.

If this isn't what you had in mind, or to get more ideas, may I suggest:
"Great Books for Girls: More Than 600 Books to Inspire Today's Girls and
Tomorrow's Women"  by Kathleen Odean.  This covers a wide variety of
ages and subjects (not just fiction) but I thought the synopses and
recommendations were EXCELLENT.  This book is like talking to a terrific
libriarian (which is what Odean is), and Odean's selections definitely
have a feminist overtone.  Odean is also the author of "Great Books for
Boys," and even the "Boys" book features a number of titles with strong
female protagonists.  Particularly relevant to your concerns is that
Odean lists certain books as appropriate for "reluctant readers" - i.e.,
books that have have a limited vocabulary, but subject matter that
doesn't strike older kids as "babyish."

Good luck!

Kate Waits
U. of Tulsa College of Law


Kathleen (Kate) Waits
Coordinator, Women's Studies Program
University of Tulsa

Associate Professor
University of Tulsa College of Law
3120 East 4th Place
Tulsa, Oklahoma  74104-2499

E-mail: kwaits  AT  utulsa.edu

Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 10:37:32 -0400
From: J Biddle <jbiddle2 AT cox.net>
Subject: Re: Need novel suggestion for HS women's studies
Greetings Sara!

I like a book called "Catherine, Called Birdy", by Karen Cushman.

    * Paperback: 224 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.52 x 7.58 x 5.24
    * Publisher: HarperTrophy; ISBN: 0064405842; Reprint edition (May 1995)

I like this particular book because, even though it takes place in
Medieval England, the main character, Catherine, aka Birdy, has
20th/21st century ideas, ideas that fit a contemporary girl's
experiences, and which can be used as examples to compare/contrast to
the issues that you would likely want to discuss in your present day
class. You'll also find some concrete examples of how gender/sex
determined one's fate in that time period.

I don't think that there's a whole lot in this book that would "offend"
a conservative, middle class community (at least as I look at it this
book...then again, you can't make everyone happy...).  The book is a
tool--you're going to teach your students about how to apply/interpret
that tool.

I think that you can find numerous "feminist' themes in this book--it's
just a matter of reading, and identifying the themes, issues,
applications of the idea of "feminism".

Also--this book is packed with historical details (of daily life), most
of which are conveyed in some very very subtle ways. Although this book
is intended for a young market, there's a lot more in it than would be
found in a superficial glance at its description. I think that such a
book would fit your need for something that's engaging, not too
difficult (to read), and is still substantive, and meaningful.

And besides, you can have fun with this book in your classroom. You can
role play, you can dress up, you can teach stratification, gender roles,
and any other number of ideas.

(I've recommended this book to my daughters' teachers when they were in
5th Grade, as is one of my daughters this year, for use in their social
studies curriculum, which covers medieval times. I think that this book
is very useful at higher levels as well.)


Joan I. Biddle Ph.D.
LTC, USAR (ret)
jbiddle2  AT  cox.net
jbiddle  AT  straxmobile.com
joan.biddle  AT  us.army.mil
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 11:06:00 -0400
From: "Barbara R. Bergmann" <bbergman AT WAM.UMD.EDU>
Subject: Re: Women's Studies material for high school students
It would be interesting to explore the possibility of a women's study
text or anthology that would be suitable for high school students. A
text might have material on 19th century feminists, women heroes
(Harriet Tubman), disabilities women have faced in getting jobs and
education, women's situation in Europe (where child care and health care
are provided free, paid for by taxes), Muslim countries, Japan, China,
the extent to which women have entered various professions, women in the
law, medicine, engineering, business hierarchy, skilled trades, etc.,
etc. Anybody interested?

Barbara R. Bergmann    bbergman  AT  wam.umd.edu
Professor Emerita of Economics,
American University and University of Maryland
Mail to: 5430 41 Place NW, DC 20015
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 16:05:21 EDT
From: Claire Kirch <ClaireinDuluth AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: Need novel suggestion for high school women's studies
How about POPE JOAN by Donna Woolfolk Cross (published by Ballantine)? This
novel was inspired by the legend of Pope Joan, a woman who, disguised as a
man, became Pope for two years in the 9th century. Cross has written a
fabulous novel about the kind of person Joan may have been, and the life she
might have led. It deals with lots of issues that could ignite discussion in
a high school course, such as the status of women in medieval Europe and the
status of women in different parts of the world now, the importance of
education in creating opportunities for women, women and religion, and so on.
POPE JOAN is also a fast-paced, action-packed read, which would keep the
interest of high school readers.
I love this book.

Claire Kirch
Duluth, Minnesota
ClaireinDuluth  AT  aol.com
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002 19:50:07 -0400
From: Jennifer Musial <jmusial AT BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: HS Women's Studies Text suggestion
I read a great book a few years ago that would be great for a younger

Marlene Nourbese Philip, _Harriet's Daughter_.  Toronto: Women's Press,
1988. (4th printing 1993).

Ms. Philip wrote this book because she found there were no books for a young
girls that reflected her own daughter (who is West Indian-Tobago-Canadian)
so this book is aimed at a young audience. This book is a great teaching
tool as well because it provides a jumping off point for talking about the
underground railway and other historical events (the lead character Margaret
plays the "underground railway" game with her friends and takes on the
persona Harriet for Harriet Tubman who she views as a strong black

>From the inside cover:  this book "deals with issues of immigration, exile,
language and generataional conflicts faced by young adults in a multi-racial

>From back cover: "Marlene Nourbese Philip explores the friendship of two
young black girls and throws into sharp reliefe the wider issues of culture
and identity so relevant to teenagers of all races and colours".

Can't recommend this book enough!

Jennifer Musial
American Culture Studies Program
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43402
Woman is ...  swinging down the street feeling good and smiling at people
and being hassled like a piece of meat...
(_Sisterhood is Powerful_ ed. Robin Morgan)

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