Monthly Archives: July 2012

Big Sister Reviews the Big Screen: Brave

Written by: Ana Mascagni

Like many Disney/Pixar films that came before, Brave is captivating, with gorgeous scenery, engaging characters, and humor that appeals to kids and adults alike. However, in one notable way, Brave enters uncharted territory as the first Disney/Pixar animated movie featuring a female protagonist.

The movie stars Merida, a strong-willed, independent red-haired girl who loves to practice archery and explore the woods in her native Scotland. Merida also happens to be a princess, and the film accompanies her struggles in reconciling the inherent social expectations that come with the title with her own dreams and interests. This manifests itself in conflicts between Merida and her mother, the Queen, who strives to shape Merida into a proper young lady. The situation becomes especially tense when the time comes for Merida’s bethrothal, when eligible noblemen from surrounding areas must complete athletic feats to win Merida’s hand. Merida rejects the idea that she must follow tradition and marry one of these men. I was moved when Merida enters the men’s archery competition herself, stating assertively, “I am Merida, and I’ll be shooting for my own hand.”

At Big Sister Association, we frequently think and talk about the messages that girls get from the media. Brave is refreshing in promoting a girl’s independence in thought and action, her ability to defy tradition, and her courage in determining her own fate, without a male partner. Of course, there is much work to be done in making sure that girls of diverse backgrounds are exposed to strong women in the media that look like them—Merida is White, wealthy, and with the unlikely physical proportions of most Disney princesses. I hope that positive critical response to Brave encourages production companies to continue creating children’s films depicting positive and courageous female role models, and I hope that films depicting strong women will include more diversity in race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, body shape, and sexual orientation.  In the meantime, I plan to support the movie by seeing it with the young girls in my life, and strongly recommend it for you to see with yours!

What are other children’s movies you’ve seen that contain positive messages about women? If you have seen Brave, what did you think?

Guest Post: Karen, a Big Sister Alumna

Big Sister Karen and her Little Sister Brianna

I was a Big Sister to Brianna for 5 years. It was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. You would never know we were forty years apart. Brianna and I were too busy having fun, trying new things, and learning as we went along.

We loved Halloween, washing cars (two hoses!), and baking – especially pink things. I taught her how to swim and how to sew, we practiced her reading, and joined a community track team. We were mesmerized by The Lion King, not The Nutcracker (“boring!”), and were inspired by Alvin Ailey Dance. I’ll never forget playing tennis on a hot day, then stopping for cold cherries – the first she’d ever eaten, and that was just one of our great days together.

She gave me a life outside my self, my first great taste of collard greens, the joy of hearing her read all the Disney fairy books and her pride when she finished the last one.

Mentoring happens! One child at a time.

Katy’s Top 5 Benefits of Being a Big Sister

Celtics Paul Pierce, Little Sister Victorya, and Big Sister Katy Shea

1. Stress Management

Zen state achieved after 20 minutes of coloring is equal to at least 5 Bikram Yoga Classes – is cheaper and resulting artwork makes for awesome hipster fridge decoration.

2. Artistic Development

Your drawing ability is, like, totally amazing. (Just go with it.)

3. Honest Fashion Advice

10-year-old girls will tell you if those jeans look good or not and what they think of your haircut. (And they will be right.)

4. Excuse to be a Girl Again

When was the last time you went roller skating in leg warmers, got your face painted with a unicorn, had a hot pink feather braided into your hair, and wore a candy necklace – all in the same day!

5. Perspective

You had a big crisis at work, crazy traffic on your commute, forgot about your dentist appointment…then your Little sees you and breaks away from her friends, runs to you and wraps her arms around your legs and asks you how you are, and the answer is suddenly: “Awesome. I’m awesome.”

Big Sister Reads’ Summer Book List

With the immense popularity of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, it’s become commonplace to find grown-ups shopping in the young adult section of the bookstore. This summer, participants in Big Sister Reads, a bi-monthly virtual book club, will be roaming the same section as they pick up their copy of Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Little Sisters age 13+ are invited to participate as well, as we read this Newbery Award-winning young adult novel about 13-year-old Sal, who embarks on a journey from Ohio to Idaho with her grandparents to trace the path of her missing mother. We are excited to read and discuss this book with both teens and adults throughout July and August.

For those of you who want to read more than one book this summer, here are some additional choices that are appropriate for young adults but enjoyed by readers of all ages.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This novel chronicles protagonist Francie Nolan’s coming of age at the turn of the twentieth century in the tenements of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Written with honesty and earnestness, Smith brings the Nolan family, and Brooklyn as it was 100 years ago, to life. This sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes uplifting classic of American literature is sure to strike a chord with readers of any age.  

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Bronte’s 1847 tour de force tells the story of Jane’s quest to find autonomy, love, and a fulfilling life. An orphaned girl, plain in looks and deficient in opportunity, Jane faces many challenges in the oppressive Victorian society of nineteenth century England. Radical for her time, Bronte’s heroine is filled with passion and yearning, and follows her own heart even as it leads her against societal norms.

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

This novel centers on 12-year-old Frankie, her 6-year-old cousin John Henry, and the family’s African American maid Berenice. Frankie, friendless and without a mother, longs to feel connected to something greater than herself and focuses her dreams on joining her brother and his bride-to-be on their honeymoon. This 1946 book renders adolescence with a sensitivity and honesty that still resonates with today’s readers.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

This 1918 book by the renowned American author Willa Cather is narrated by Jim Burden, an orphaned boy who is sent to live with his grandparents in Nebraska, where he develops an emotional attachment to neighbor Antonia Shimerda, a young Czech immigrant. This timeless story of hardship, love, friendship, and growing up is as relevant today as it was at its time of publishing.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lee’s only book was this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the children of a lawyer who defends a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman. Though its depiction of life in the American South in the 1930s is bleak at times, it is written with a warmth and humor that has engaged readers of all ages for decades.

How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez

This 1991 novel, which is written in reverse chronological order, tells the story of four sisters who leave the Dominican Republic and  start new lives in New York City. Consisting of fifteen interconnected short stories, this novel spans more than thirty years in the lives of the Garcia daughters. The themes, which include coming of age, personal identity, and assimilation to a new culture, are valid to readers young and old alike.

The next time that you head to the beach this summer, toss one of these books into your bag along with your flip flops and sunscreen. If your Little Sister is coming with you to the beach, don’t forget to bring a copy for her, too. Happy reading!