Pop-Culture | Posted by Becka W on 07/20/2011

Revisiting Eloise (At The Plaza, Of Course)

Eloise At The Plaza

Eloise At The Plaza

We all have a favorite children’s picture book – one we read over and over, or that our parents did funny voices for. After revisiting my childhood and experiences growing up through Harry Potter, I wanted to look to some of my earlier literary experiences.

When I was in my local bookstore last week, I perused through the Children’s section and picked up some books clearly aimed towards girls. One, the Girls’ Doodle Book, included pictures you could finish – mostly structured around things like butterflies, flowers, baking, and nesting. Boys, on the other hand, had a doodle book where they drew inventions, action scenes, machinery. The other was geared towards “tomboys”, showing that it’s OK to like worms and sports and hate wearing dresses – but in that book, the “girly-girl” was painted as a villain, while the boy and the tomboy, were fun and carefree. No children’s book is perfect, I know that. Our society’s gender stereotypes and expectations are so ingrained that it’s reasonable to expect them to leak through to children’s stories.

But it made me wonder about the lessons that my favorite picture books as a kid taught me. I plopped myself on my basement floor in front of my bookshelf of old picture books, and fell in love all over again with my favorite book and favorite children’s character: Eloise.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Eloise series, here’s a very quick synopsis of her origin story (via Salon):

Eloise, the beloved nuisance of the Plaza Hotel, was born when her creator, Kay Thompson, an actress, singer and vocal arranger, showed up for dance rehearsal 10 minutes late. “Who do you think you are?” demanded Robert Alton, MGM’s dance instructor. Thompson responded, “I am Eloise. I am 6.” Several years later Thompson teamed up with illustrator Hilary Knight, and in 1955 “Kay Thompson’s Eloise” was published.

Eloise lives at the Plaza, and is everyone’s favorite sassy 6 year old. She has a pot-belly, stringy blonde hair, and a pink ribbon. She is rawther important and she has a busy schedule of things she absolutely must do every day: she bothers the Desk Clerk, calls several people on the House Phones, takes the elevator up and down, and writes her name in magenta crayon all over one of the most famous hotels in New York. As a little kid, I used to pretend to be Eloise. I said things three times like her Nanny, and begged for a turtle to name Skipperdee. I relished in her active imagination (sawing her doll in half and then taking him to the hospital), her pride in what she can do, and her “rawther full” day where she adjusts thermostats, helps the switchboard officers, spies on Hotel Officers, and pretends she is an orphan to get a piece of melon. I took her motto of “getting bored is not allowed” and loved her proper English Nanny’s fondness for boxing.

My love for Eloise taught me to be smart and helpful, to keep my days busy, to never be bored with my life, and to be a little bit sassy. She wasn’t classically pretty, but she was rambunctious and beloved by all. I credit her with giving me the confidence to become who I wanted to be and busy myself doing what I wanted to do. Oooo I absolutely love Eloise!

I believe that a small element of Eloise should be placed in all of our children’s picture books today – an air of whimsy, or a love of adventures, or an excitement for each day’s activities. One of my favorite things about Eloise is that it was originally written for adults and doesn’t talk down to the reader. Some of the most successful Kid Lit has grown out of that intended for adults; in fact, the author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid had a piece on it in Time a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps that’s the lesson to be learned: in order to make strong, independent women – write for them.

What were your favorite picture books as kids? Did any of them set you down your path to becoming a feminist?

Becka also writes for her own blog, Becka Tells All.

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  • Renee @ at 11:09 am, July 20th, 2011

    Nope all of my books where either animal themed or folk stories (from all around the world)….my favorite book as a child Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham

  • Justin @ at 12:36 pm, July 20th, 2011

    I must say that through my years of being exposed to children’s books and actually having the opportunity to read children’s books to my daughter, I don’t think there has been much notion hinted towards the author trying to push any feminist ideals. Though I may have overlooked this thinking back, however from what I do remember children’s books are becoming I guess you could say more versatile for both male and females at a younger age.

  • Em @ at 1:06 pm, July 20th, 2011

    Does the Judy Moody series count? I was around 9 when I read those, so maybe it’s a little later than the age group we’re talking about here…

    That aside, she wasn’t following the “pretty princess who loves baking and fluffy kittens and prince charming” stereotype, she had lots of friends who were boys, wanted to be a doctor, never wore dresses (that I can remember) and wasn’t the “mean girl” in the story. I never read about her chasing after a boy, hating her hair/face/etc. or trying to fit any sort of “mold”, which really inspired me as a kid. She was adventureous and a really unique character, it’s be great to see more of that in a children’s book!

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 2:29 pm, July 20th, 2011

    I grew up with Dr. Seuss and Golden Books. I don’t remember ever loving a particular book or character any more than any other one.

  • Katherine C. @ at 5:31 pm, July 20th, 2011

    oooo I absolutely LOVE Eloise!

    And I loved this post. But one important thing you didn’t mention is the dark side of Eloise- the poor-little-rich-girl who barely knows her own mother. This, for me, seals the Eloise-as-heroine idea; she has a hint of very real vulnerability, and at the end of the day she is just a little kid.

    I had an awesome book called The Serpent Slayer, which as a beautifully illustrated collection of old feminist folktales from around the world- that was very formative. Some other favorites were The Voyage of the Basset, another beautifully illustrated book which is basically about the importance of imagination and mythology, and the Bee Man of Orn, which is about loving yourself for who you are. I also loved The Names Upon The Harp, a collection of Irish myths and legends, which was really more of a book for adults even though it was a picture book. It was very primal and sobering, and actually inspired a post I wrote for the fbomb about victimization.

  • Ruthie G @ at 7:27 pm, July 20th, 2011

    I’ve never hears of Eloise, but it sounds like a cool book.

    I loved the Maisie MacKenzie books by Aileen Paterson. They’re about a kitten (Maisie) who goes to live in Edinburgh with her granny while her dad goes off exploring (some times she gets to go with him, like the time they were captured by pirates). The stories all revolve around Maisie being young and curious and perhaps not the best at thinking things through, rather than being super girly. It is established that she hates having a bath and her fur combed. I still have a mug with an illustration on it.

  • New Post over at the F Bomb! « Becka Tells All @ at 9:44 pm, July 20th, 2011

    [...] About my favorite children’s book character – Eloise. Check it out here. [...]

  • icefox @ at 1:09 am, July 21st, 2011

    Oooh, I know what you mean with the whole “girly-girl bad, tomboy good” thing. It bothers me so much. When I was little, my favorite color was pink and I loved playing house. I also begged my dad to read me books on human anatomy and I loved dinosars- mostly pterodactyls. We can have it both ways, and there’s nothing wrong with either!

    On a more elated note, I’ve never read Eloise, but I’m sure I’d love it.

  • Alexa @ at 8:28 am, July 21st, 2011

    Eloise was my childhood best friend’s favorite, along with its accompanying movie. (I loved/still love Julie Andrews :) )

  • Alexa @ at 8:32 am, July 21st, 2011

    One of my favorites was the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series, which is humorous and spunky. It certainly shows that people shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what they want. One of the sequels features a female pig, too, so both of the traditional sexes get a chance ;)

  • Garen @ at 9:12 am, July 24th, 2011

    I totally agree with this article and the commenters; girly girls are always painted as irritating/stupid/useless, which is why:

    a) I had a huge problem with C.S Lewis’ portrayal of Susan Pevensie in The Last Battle even at the age of eleven (what on Earth is wrong with lipstick and stockings??)

    b) I and so many girls of my generation feel such affinity with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series; she is emotional and girly, yet she gets to be the brains of the whole operation and incredibly kick-ass. She breaks that trope of “girly = stupid and annoying / tomboyish = smart and cool”.

  • Renee @ at 11:08 am, July 24th, 2011

    @icefox you reminded me of the I Wonder Why?… science series I liked to read does anybody remember those…my favorite was “I wonder why the dodo is dead and other questions about extinct animals”

  • Welcome to Monday ~ 25 July 2011 | feminaust ~ a blog for australian feminism @ at 5:09 pm, July 24th, 2011

    [...] Revisiting our favourite childhood book: Eloise [...]

  • Nikedarc @ at 11:34 am, January 28th, 2013

    When I behaved like myself I was asked why I didn’t act like a girl, but when kept on behaving like ‘me’ I was asked why I wasn’t . Like if I am different, I have do I always have disagree with everyone?

  • Kate Dircksen @ at 4:59 pm, November 20th, 2013

    So how exactly does a snake try to eat an animal that is certainly bigger than it is head?

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