There's been a lot of to do lately about the negative effects of gender labelling in children's books – things like the Sally Sparklebuns: Star Baker series for girls or the Barry Strongbones Football Academy books for boys. These things exist for a very good reason – kids lap 'em up and parents for the most part are happy to give them what they want as long as they're reading, to which I say, fair enough. I've been quite astonished by my own daughter's capacity for reading the never ending Rainbow Magic; a series of books which are seemingly created by a rather rudimentary piece of computer software into which you feed a) one of the top 100 girls names for that year b) a storyline even Enid Blyton would have balked at and c) a trite conclusion about true friendship being forever.
The big complaint about all this is that it enforces unhelpful gender stereotypes, particularly for girls who are apparently being encouraged to become fashion obsessed little fembots. People seem less concerned for some reason about boys being encouraged to play football, but there we go. So I thought we'd have a look at a new book by an author who has created a positive female role model that doesn't make boys want to bury their faces in mud or eat slugs or whatever it is their books are telling them to do.
Lately Lily is a new picture book by Micah Player, who you might remember did the illustrations for the American edition of the wonderful Binny for Short by Hilary McKay. Lily is a little girl defined not by her love of the colour pink – her wardrobe is too exquisitely varied for that – but by the countries she travels to. She is constantly on the road with her jet setting parents – a photographer and a writer for the 'world's best magazine'. Her horizons are completely open to new experiences. Anything is possible for this girl.
Lily can skateboard.
Captain her own ship.
Or even become President.
What attracted me to the book, even more that its positive message, was Player's sublime recreation of some of my favourited vintage illustrators. His first book Chloe Instead reminded me a lot of Mary Blair's Golden Book titles like 'I can Fly'. Here he's moved out into Blair's 'Small World', embracing her vivid colour palette as he goes. He's also drawing on Ludwig Bemelman's Parisian world of Madeline and M. Sasek whose sublime This Is… guides to the world are as fresh as the day they were published.
Lately Lily is also the star of her own app – which allows children to visit Paris with her (for free), as well as a clothing line and various card games. Lily is a (dread word) brand. But one Micah Player has done with with huge amount of style and imagination, proving that you can create a highly commercialised piece of art for young girls without submitting to the tyranny of the pink sparkle fairies.