Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender

Stories for Free Children Collection

The children's book collection, Stories for Free Children, was started by Sarah Brown 19' and Andrea Wright '19 during their time as grad coordinators at the center. The collection was funded through the Sarah Doyle Center and through the support of donations from members of the Brown community.

In the 1960s small publishers like Feminist Press, The Women’s Political Caucus, Joyful World Press, Penelope and Lollipop Power published Stories for Free Children, works by diverse authors on a variety of topics, but with the common purpose of combating gender and racial stereotypes. Ms. Magazine followed suit, including a Story for Free Children in nearly every issue, beginning with their first issue in 1971 and continuing for several years. These works featured children of color, protagonists in non-gender conforming roles, and non-nuclear families. They did not shy away from serious subject matters like divorce, injustice, and loss.  

“ Children’s Literature is one of the most crucial sites for feminist education and critical consciousness, precisely because beliefs and identities are still being formed. ”

Bell Hooks Feminism is for Everybody

The Stories for Free Children at Sarah Doyle collection is named in recognition of these efforts to diversify the children’s literary canon. Here, Brown community parents will be able to borrow anti-racist, gender-inclusive, feminist children’s books that encourage kids to be brave, kind, and committed to social justice, peace, and the environment.

At their best, Stories for Free Children do something more than simply flip the script when culturally dominant values are exposed as unjust. As Margaret McDowell wrote of the original Stories For Free Children, “Social commentators and political theorists [. . .] have always assumed literature for children should reinforce conservative positions held by adults” [1]. A story for a free child is no less instructive but because it “encourages children to question the teachings of church, school, and law, as well as the personal relationships within their home, the aims of the writers of this new fiction are decidedly different from those of didactic writers for children throughout the centuries.” In short, a story presents not just an idea, but a way of approaching the world, so that “Children who would be ‘free,’ that is, open and empiric in mental outlook, will be encouraged to move from this simplified world in fiction to the more complex world of the society that has molded them and which they may in turn help to mold.” When an literary experience is truly new, McDowell continues, even the youngest readers, “can hardly help thinking about it.”

We hope this collection will give your child something to think about. As we collectively strive to raise children who not merely tolerant, but compassionate, who live not just without fear but in courage, we hope these stories help and that some of the words and images contained herein inspire your child to feel and be free. 

-Sarah Brown, Ph.D. '19

1.  McDowell, Margaret B. “New Didacticism: Stories for Free Children.” Language Arts, vol. 54, no. 1, 1977, pp. 41–85.

Additional Collections

Located in the main office, “Fearless Books” is a collection at the Sarah Doyle Center (SDC) in memory of Laura Julietta Hirschfeld Mulley (1976-2015), who worked as the Coordinator for the Sarah Doyle and LGBTQ Centers from 2009-2012.
Sarah Doyle Center student librarians curate the zine collection at the center and create related programs and events connected with the collection.