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If You Can’t Find Kid’s Books with Strong, Female Protagonists, You Aren’t Looking Very Hard

Every now and them I come across posts claiming that there is a dearth of kids’ books with strong female protagonists.  This is absurd.  If anything, there is a glut of kids’ books with strong female protagonists.  And to prove it, I have put together this list.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive.  Rather, it is meant to be representative of how many options there are of quality books with strong female role models for young readers.  I have subdivided the list by genre for the convenience of the reader.  Books or series that are split between a male and female protagonist are marked with an asterisk (*).  The emphasis is on series, but there is also a section of stand-alone novels that I particularly recommend.  When books fall into multiple categories, I’ve chosen the one I think fits best.  Without further ado:

Picture Books

  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Pinkalicious, by Victoria & Elizabeth Kann
  • Fancy Nancy, by Jane O’Connor
  • Eloise, by Kay Thompson
  • The Berenstain Bears*, by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • Mouse books* by Kevin Henkes

Early Readers

  • Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish
  • Annie and Snowball, by Cynthia Rylant

Classics

  • The Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maude Montgomery
  • Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren
  • Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers

Mysteries

  • Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
  • Cam Jansen, by David A. Adler
  • Trixie Belden, by Julie Campbell
  • The Boxcar Children*, by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • The Happy Hollisters*, by Jerry West

Realistic Fiction

  • Ramona Quimby, by Beverly Cleary
  • Babysitter’s Club, by Ann M. Martin
  • Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park
  • Judy Moody, by Megan McDonald
  • Amber Brown, by Paula Danziger
  • Billie B Brown, by Sally Rippin

Historical Fiction

  • American Girl, various authors
  • Dear America, various authors
  • Magic Tree House* (with fantasy elements), by Mary Pope Osburn

Fantasy

  • Tiffany Aching, by Terry Pratchett
  • His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman
  • Magic Tree House: Merlin Missions* (though some of these are also historical fiction), by Mary Pope Osburn
  • Animorphs*, by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant
  • Chronicles of Narnia*, by C.S. Lewis

Stand Alone Novels

  • Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
  • Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
  • Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
  • A Lion to Guard Us, by Clyde Robert Bulla
  • Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Matilda, by Roald Dahl
  • Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
  • Charlotte’s Web*, by E.B. White
  • Bridge to Terabithia*, by Katherine Paterson

That should be enough to get you started.  There are many, many other series out there, I’m sure, and, as earlier noted, I only listed stand-alone novels that I personally enjoyed and would recommend.  By the way, I’d love to see your recommendations in the comments!

 

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Stargirl Discussion Questions

Do you have a book club?  Are you reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli?  If so, I have the perfect post for you!  Here is a list of some questions you can ask your book club to get the discussion going:

What did you think of the book?  Likes/dislikes

How would your school/you have reacted in high school to someone like Stargirl?

What makes Stargirl strange?  What “rules” is she breaking?  What are the consequences of breaking rules in society?

Why did the students at Mica High start to love Stargirl?  Why did they start to hate her?

How does Leo change because of Stargirl?

Why does Leo ultimately choose the group instead of Stargirl?

What does this story say about individuality?

How are you like/unlike Stargirl?  (Where are you on the conformity-individualism continuum?)

What crazy non-conformist thing do you want to do but have been too embarrassed to try?

What did you think of the ending?  How would you change it?

Pride and Prejudice Discussion Questions

Have a book club?  Reading Pride and Prejudice and need some great thought-provoking discussion questions?  Look no further!  Here is a list to provide for all your discussion question needs!

What did you think of Pride and Prejudice?  What did you like/dislike?

Which character do you most sympathize with?

In 1814 Mary Russell Mitford wrote: “It is impossible not to feel in every line of Pride and Prejudice…the entire want of taste which could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy…. Darcy should have married Jane.”

  • Do you agree or disagree with Mitford?
  • Would you have liked the book as well if Jane were its heroine?

Lydia and Wickham pose a danger to the Bennet family as long as they are unmarried and unchecked. But as a married couple, with little improvement in their behavior, this danger vanishes.  In Pride and Prejudice marriage serves many functions. It is a romantic union, a financial merger, and a vehicle for social regulation. Scholar and writer Mary Poovey said that Austen’s goal “is to make propriety and romantic desire absolutely congruent.”

  • What kinds of marriages do we see in the novel?
  • Do we still see that in today’s society?
  • Was Charlotte Lucas right to marry Reverend Collins?

What social commentary do we see in Pride and Prejudice?

“One element, the initial mutual dislike of two people destined to love each other, has become a cliché of the Hollywood romance.”  What examples of this do you think are particularly memorable?

Did Elizabeth and Darcy change or was it just their perceptions that changed?

Wanted: Wife

If you like historical fiction kid lit, you should definitely check out Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan.

It’s a really cute book.  It’s the story of a little family, Jacob, and his two children, Anna and Caleb, in the late 19th century.  Their mother died when Caleb was born.  Jacob has put an ad in the newspaper for a new wife, and Sarah responds.  She comes to stay with the family for a month to see if she likes it.  The central question of the story is, will Sarah decide to stay?

I have my second graders create Jacob’s advertisement.  The results are pretty darn funny.  Here are some of the best ones:

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The Long Mars: A Review

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This book is the third in the Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.  It’s probably best to read the first two before reading this one, since there are a lot of references to earlier events.

If you come to this book through a love of Terry Pratchett, it’s important to know going in that this is a very different kind of book.  It has a few humorous moments, but definitely not the comedy of the Discworld books.  This is a decidedly serious book.  All the same, I must read this series as part of my obsession with all things Pratchett.  I don’t know how it compares with other books by Stephen Baxter, but I suppose I’ll get around to those sooner or later.

Some readers have criticized this series as boring and without much action.  It’s true that not a lot happens in this book.  It reminds me of early sci-fi novels, such as those by H.G. Wells.  Instead of being action-packed with exciting events, this book is more of an exploration of ideas.

The characters encounter all sorts of exotic environments and life forms in the exploration of the Long Earth and the Long Mars.  Those chapters are a thought experiment in the types of life that might be possible.  This book also explores what might happen if mankind continues to evolve.  What will those people be like?  How will the less-evolved people react to them?

All in all, I enjoyed the book, though it is a bit of a slow-starter.  But there is what seems to me a glaring oversight, and it really bugs me.

 

************** SPOILER ALERT**************

What really bothered me was the treatment of the “Next.” Everyone was arguing that they are a danger to humanity because of their high intellect. The danger isn’t from their intellect. It’s because they are psychopaths. They have no consciences. The five who murdered civilians in Happy Landings in a coup and murdered naval personnel on the Armstrong had no remorse for their actions. That is plenty of proof that the Next are indeed dangerous. But the human characters just argue about them like they’re harmless puppies that humanity hates just because they’re “different.”

It’s not like Pratchett to overlook something like that. He’s usually much more perceptive. So, I blame his coauthor.

The Book Was Better

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Of course most book-lovers know that the book is better than the movie.

To be fair, there is only so much you can put into a movie.  Movie-makers can show an entire scene in one amazing visual, but they can’t beat the amount of character development a book can have when the author can reveal all of a character’s innermost thoughts.  An author can also withhold information for a dramatic reveal later, when a movie can’t.

Occasionally, though, I must admit, the movie is better.  (Yes, blasphemy, I know.)  The list below has four categories, which are pretty self-explanatory.  I haven’t included any book for which I’ve only seen the movie or only read the book.  I also haven’t included any books that were made into musicals, since I love musicals regardless of how accurate an interpretation it might be of the book.  All are listed in no particular order, except for the order in which they occurred to me.

I may have missed some, so please point them out in the comments.

The Book Was Better

  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams – It was simply magical to hear “So, long, and thanks for all the fish” set to music.  The movie is funny and charming, and captures the spirit of Adams’ novel well.  The book is still better, but I’m glad that in the movie Arthur got a happy ending.
  • Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard – The 2000 movie with John Travolta was absolutely panned, and I’ve seen it on lists of all-time bad movies.  I liked it, but that’s just me.  The movie actually only covers about the first third of the book, which is quite a saga, and, I think, very interesting.
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – The 1966 movie was bland and lackluster, not doing justice to this excellent novel.
  • The Maze Runner, by James Dashner – I’d say this one’s close.  In both the movie and the novel, no one ever gives a straight answer, and information is given with an eye dropper, which is infuriating, but some things in the novel make more sense than they do in the movie.
  • The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau – The movie was a bit disappointing.  It didn’t capture the menace of the setting and the build up of excitement in the book.
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card – The book is brilliant and amazing.  No movie could hope to live up to it.  But the movie was all right.
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry – Thanks to the movie, I discovered that The Giver is actually the first of a series, which of course I purchased and devoured immediately upon seeing the display in a bookstore.  The movie is a solid adaptation, making changes for the sake of the movie but staying true to the spirit of the original (mostly).
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien – Peter Jackson did not need to stretch this out into three movies.  That was an unapologetic money grab.  (I still went to all three of them, of course.)
  • Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis – I get that movie makers want to create tension between the characters, but they went too far and didn’t remain true to the characters in the book.
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis – This movie did not stay true to the spirit of the book.  The scriptwriters obviously need to work on reading comprehension, because they changed the Island Where Dreams Come True into a sea serpent.
  • The Hunger Games, trilogy, by Suzanne Collins – All three books are solidly better than the movies, though I enjoyed both.  My main complaints are that the first movie spent too much time on world-building and not enough time on character-building, and the third book did not need to be two movies.
  • Harry Potter, series, by J.K. Rowling – The Harry Potter series was a phenomenon.  I, too, was caught up in it, and would obsessively read each new installment as soon as I could get my hands on it.
  • Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer – Yes, I’ve actually read this book.  And seen all the movies.  Honestly, the book really is better than the movie.  It’s not great literature, but I genuinely enjoyed it.
  • The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells – The book was 100,000% better than that bizarre travesty of a movie directed by Simon Wells (2002), whose last name didn’t help him make a better adaptation.
  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen – I’ve only seen the movie with Keira Knightley, and not the other film adaptations.  I actually like that movie, but, of course, the book is still better.  This movie is charming, but didn’t capture all the nuances of the characters and their development.
  • The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown – Awesome movie, even better book.
  • The Color of Magic and Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett- To be fair, these are made-for-t.v. movies, so we can’t hold them to the same standards.  These movies are cute but just okay as adaptations of the brilliant works of Terry Pratchett.

The Movie Was On-Par With the Book

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis – I’ve loved this series since I was a kid, but, I will admit, the movie did a good job.
  • The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern – er – William Goldman – You have to have a certain kind of sense of humor to enjoy the book.  If you really like Douglas Adams and Monty Python, give this novel a shot.
  • Insurgent, by Veronica Roth – The book and the movie are of about the same quality.

The Movie Was Better (sorry)

  • The Fellowship of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien – I’m going to get a lot of crap for this one.  But, honestly, Tolkien just takes so long to get anywhere.  It’s kind of tedious.  And, I have a confession to make that will probably have you demanding my nerd card: I only got about half-way through The Two Towers and I haven’t read Return of the King at all.  In my defense, I’ve read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.
  • Stardust, by Neil Gaiman – This one of of Gaiman’s weaker novels.  It’s whimsical and charming, but the movie makes it into a much more powerful story.
  • Divergent, by Veronica Roth – This one was close.  The movie just barely edges out the book.  The movie follows the book pretty closely, and the changes the movie made were for the better.
  • Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown – There’s a reason this book didn’t become well known until after Da Vinci Code.  It’s because this one kind of sucks.  It has these awful recurring dream segments that that have nothing to do with the rest of the story thankfully were not in the movie, and, overall, the writing isn’t as good.  The movie was better.  By quite a bit.

Both Were Terrible

  • Twilight series (everything after the first one) by Stephanie Meyer – okay, so I’ve only read through New Moon, but after that one I gave up and I can’t imagine it gets better.
  • Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini – I gave up after the second one.  It’s a poorly-written rehashing of Star Wars with Anne Mccaffrey’s dragon riders instead of Jedi.

So what do you think?  What’s better – the book or the movie?

One For the Money: A review

I just finished reading One For the Money by Janet Evanovich.  I give it three out of five stars.  I don’t think I’ll read any more of the series (there are several more books about the main character, Stephanie Plum), but since Evanovich is a popular author, I’m glad I tried it out.

I decided to read this book because I really liked the movie. The movie actually followed the story line pretty well. I like the chemistry between Stephanie and Morelli, which is present both in the book and the movie.

Stephanie Plum is native to New Jersey, lives in a crappy apartment, and is desperate for cash.  This leads her to her cousin Vinnie, who owns a bail bond business, asking him for a job.  She decides to embark on the adventure of being a bounty hunter, which is pretty hilarious, since her previous job was in lingerie.  She decides to go after Joseph Morelli, a vice cop accused of murder who failed to appear in court.  It also just so happens that she lost her virginity to him in high school.  I’ll leave the summary there, so as not to give any spoilers.

The book is fun, but there is a lot of swearing (some people don’t mind it, of course, but I do), and there are a few scenes in the book that are much more graphic than I was expecting (violence wise).

It’s a light and quick read (I read it in two days), and pretty compelling. It’s also, I must admit, a trashy sort of book. It’s very light on intellectual content, the main character dresses like a trashy teenager, and there’s lots of swearing. It is, however, very, very funny.