Girls’ Fiction

by f

I love children’s books. Even now, at twenty-three — almost twenty-four — I instinctively go to the kids’ section first. I can’t help it. Much of the best fiction is there, hidden between tales of boogers and underpants. You’ll find the evocative gems like Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and the beautiful When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

The Guardian’s Arlene Phillips writes (excellently) about the dearth of good fiction for young girls, blaming the lack thereof on the publishing industry’s habit of churning out packaged stories about ballerinas and “tutu triumph”.

When I grew up, I was surrounded by girly literature. Everything I encountered was about one of four topics: dance, horses, gymnastics or princesses. Everything! I felt left out, so I tried reading Misty of Chincoteague . That was a failure and I drooled all over the book by page sixty. Horses are eating and shitting machines. My emotionally abusive ex-best-friend was into horses.

I must also be one of the few girls I know who never dreamed of being a princess. What do you do as a princess? Pop out blue-blooded babies? Host coked-out orgies? Sit around and mildly patronize the arts? Feed the city indigent once a year? Give me a break. Aspiring to a life of idleness and indolence wasn’t attractive to me at a young age and it’s certainly not now.

(You’ve got me at the gymnastics. Tons of girls wanted to be gymnasts but, again, I never understood the appeal.)

There is fantastic fiction out there for young girls. I always gravitated to the historical, action/adventure, mythological (as opposed to fairy-tale), mystery, speculative, and stories about good friendships.

So I’m going to list my top ten favorite books growing up as a child. The list is arbitrary and by no means definitive. I didn’t have very high brow tastes when it came to my fiction. I read what worked for me.

Please contribute in the comments section and leave your own lists.

(I won’t write detailed reviews of each book because I might return and do that later as part of the bookclub that, erm, we never did get off the ground.)

My Top Ten: (note, I am not including Rebecca Stead’s excellent book because I did not read it as a child.

  1. Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson
  2. The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
  3. Mara, Daughter of the Nile; Eloise McGraw
  4. Tallahassee Higgins, by Mary Downing Hahn
  5. Silent to the Bone, by E. Konigsberg
  6. The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper
  7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling
  8. Holes, Louis Sachar
  9. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi
  10. The Case of the Baker Street Irregular, Robert Newman

I think the Giver by Lois Lowry would be no 0 — I’m sorry, I just don’t think that that book can be rated highly enough — and that an honorable mention should go to a Wrinkle in Time. While The Wrinkle in Time had its flaws, it still made for some transcendental thunderstorm-night reading.

4 Comments to “Girls’ Fiction”

  1. Agh, now I’m getting nostalgic.

    Silent To the Bone really is excellent, it’s skillfully written and I’m sure it’s given hope to many a young mind seeking stimulation. I was never enamored of The Giver, but maybe my whacked out teacher at the time had an influence on that.

    Like you, I’m finding that there’s a LOT of good fiction for kids. I think Young Adult is having a sort of renaissance now, and I love it.

    I also never ‘got’ horses or gymnastics. I took ballet so I liked ballet stories, but I had no ambition to be a starlet so I didn’t stick with those long. As for princesses, I lump myth and fairy tale in my mind, and I love them. Always have, probably always will. It’s the magic, I think.

    I honestly can’t remember most of what I read as a kid. I read anything and everything, I just wanted to be reading. I exhausted the library’s selection at each level before tentatively upgrading. Alas, that means a great deal of it was absolutely terrible.

    I read everything in the American Girl collection up to about 1998. Their quality varied by author. I was much more interested in the dolls, anyway. I think the Kirsten series was the best. I read The Babysitters Club, at least two hundred of them. Thanks to Claudia’s Room, I can now shudder at their hideous lack of quality. (Remember when fourteen seemed SO GROWN UP!?) I read a good deal of RL Stine before giving up. Horror/thriller just is not my genre. I did like the Animorphs books, but the woman churned them out like cheap assembly line cars and I could not keep up.

    My great love was Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet. Alana was my ultimate heroine. When I found those books, I knew I had finally found what I’d been looking for.

    Here’s a Top Ten list, but it’s going to be a mix of what I read Then and what I’ve read Since.

    1) Tamora Pierce, esp. Alanna and Rebecca Cooper
    2) Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson series
    3) The Klutz Books (Cat’s Cradle, etc. Epic. Too much fun. And not gender-segregated in the beginning.)
    4) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
    5) Roald Dahl’s The Witches and Matilda
    6) Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
    7) The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
    8) The Gentleman Outlaw and Me, Eli
    9) Island of the Blue Dolphins
    10) The Chronicles of Narnia, because that’s mandatory

    • Aaah! All wonderful books! (Why, oh WHY did I not include Roald Dahl! I loved his Matlida and BFG so much!) Some day we must do a comprehensive list of these or something. So many GOOD books!

  2. I have a few I feel would be good to mention! But, I rarely remember books by title or author for very long. 😦 No matter how good they are!

    Just Ella, Margaret Peterson Haddix
    Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine
    Fairest, Gail Carson Levine
    The Unicorn Queen, Josepha Sherman & Gwen Hanson
    The Raging Quiet, Sherryl Jordan
    If I Pay Thee Not In Gold, Piers Anthony & Josepha Sherman
    Child of Faerie, Child of Earth, Josepha Sherman
    Bardic Voices, Mercedes Lackey
    Demons Don’t Dream, Piers Anthony
    The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle

    Some of them aren’t the “awesomest.” For example, Child of Faerie, Child of Earth certainly has it’s issues. But, I still enjoyed it. :p

    These aren’t necessarily my top ten, they also aren’t necessarily NOT my top ten. They’re just the ones I remember off the top of my head. :p I suppose the fact that I remember them so well should say something, though. :p

  3. One of the first books that comes to mind is a book I read in about fourth grade, about a boy and a ferret. It was titled “Zucchini” and spoke to me, being a shy child who dreamt of finding a lonely animal to be my pet and best friend. As far as the literary aspect of it goes, I can’t say one way or the other–there was nothing memorable one way or the other in terms of literary merrit–which means it was good, solid fiction, aimed for children, by my standards. I’m not sure it was aimed at young girls, but it didn’t matter to me.
    I also deeply enjoyed Pollianna, because of the traveling/adventure aspect (not so much the impossibly cheerful titular character), and the abridged version of Les Miserables that my grandmother–the local librarian–let me read before everyone else was wonderful.
    I actually did not read at all as a very young child, out of lazyness and a preference for making up my own stories and merely admiring the pictures in the children’s books I came across. Words seemed terribly dull, compared to what I could come up with. That was, until I had to get serious about my reading skills in second grade. I started with a simple diet of Arnold and the Purple Crayon, and quickly moved on to more engaging fare like R L Stine, Galila Ron Feder, particularly her great, great series El Atzmi (one way to find this story is through IMDB, and if there are any links from there that are in English).

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