The problem with some books for girls OR Series with Precocious, Quirky Girls as Main Characters

Series with girls as precocious main characters is an ever expanding category in the world of kid's books.  I just read and wrote my review for Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little in which I express my true feelings for books with precocious girls as main characters.  If you want the whole story, read my rant, but the bottom line is that I don't like them.  The are characters who get stories and attention for being kooky, quirky, obnoxious, difficult and/or messy.  While these are all valid, real life traits that, along with better character traits, deserve to be written about, I think that ultimately these books present these attention getting characteristics as perfectly normal and acceptable.  And this is valid as well.  However, as a kid and as an adult reader of kid's books, I prefer to read books about girls like Meg from A Wrinkle in Time, who was mousy and not so good at school and always getting in fights but has an out of this world encounter that requires her to move beyond these qualities and confront her fears and ideas about herself.  

These precocious girl books seem to exist mainly in the realm of 2nd - 4th grade reading level, maybe because these traits become unflattering in characters who are over 10 years old.  And, in all fairness, it would be very difficult to write a character like Meg Murray at a 2nd grade reading level.  I think it is just my nature to be suspicious of people and characters who can be described as spunky, sassy or misfits.  But, like I say in my rant, these books are not written for me and it is not my place to impose my tastes on others.  And, really, I can't think of anything so inherently wrong with these books that you should keep your daughters away from them.  They are, after all, several steps above the Hannah Montana chapter books currently taking up a whole shelf at the books store, followed by the High School Musical series that takes up half a shelf...

Most of these books weren't around when my daughter was at this reading level 8 years ago. Had they been, and had she wanted to read them, I would have let her - read a few.  


Jeremy said...

We've heavily mined all five of these quirk-girl series, first as read-alouds, and now as books my older daughter enjoys on her own. Not great literature, but fun and smart enough.

Tanya said...

Watch this post! I am finding more quirky girl series as I write. I may add to or re-write the whole thing...

christinemm said...

I love your thoughts. It seems you and I both analyze books and have high expectations of them.

Sadly some misinterpret this as being negative. Those usually won't take issue with some of the issues and characters in children's books.

I have a feeling these negative traits of girls does not go beyond age 10 as now that is the age that the girls start puberty and are then into attracing boys, being sexy, wearing the right clothes etc. etc. which would definatly not include negative traits like the ones you listed out. However being pretty and wearing designer clothes and being a 'mean girl' is something addressed in other books.

Some of the books published in YA for age 12 and up are being read by the younger real life girls which is sad.

I ranted and raved about the trash in some YA books for girls such as Rainbow Party, Gossip Girls and so on.



Mom Unplugged said...

I thought I was the only one who found Junie B. Jones and other "precocious" characters somewhat disturbing! I don't want my daughter modeling those behaviors or thinking that it is "cool" or "funny" to be a smart alec in that way.
That said, I must admit that I enjoyed Pippi Longstocking as a child and her behavior is not so socially acceptable either!

Big sigh, I (like you I think) am somewhat conflicted about this issue.

BTW - My daughter is going to do her next book report on Clementine.

Tanya said...

Yes, I am conflicted about these books. Fortunately, there are now enough of them that our daughters can read a few but, as mothers we can still draw the line at Junie B. Jones and not robbing them of too much reading material.... I have heard good things about "Piper Reed," and I love the Charlie & Lola books by Lauren Child, which I guess are now a tv show, so the Clarice Bean books can't be too bad. And, while I only read the first chapter of Clementine, Marla Frazee is one of my all time favorite illustrators, so the books can't be all bad!

Jeremy said...

We've struggled with some of these, because when my older daughter started seeking them out, she loved them -- the attitude, the irreverent precociousness -- it was right up her alley. And I had no interest in pre-reading much of it (or as read-alouds), so I let her be pretty independent with those choices and she really plowed through them for a while.

The problem was that we started having behavior trouble with her, and it was really weird because she's generally been a really polite, conscientious kid. Tons of attitude and faux-teenage angst. Of course adults (and especially parents) are mostly total morons in that world. It was not working.

So I suddenly realized that I had become an amateur expert in picture books, selecting the best ones, reading them to the kids and teaching them to choose wisely......but that I knew nothing about these lower-level chapter books. So I took it on as a project to learn them the same way I had done with picture books -- asking librarians for advice, paying more attention online, pre-reading (or at least skimming) most of what she was reading.

And so far it's been very rewarding to be more engaged -- I've enjoyed many of the books for my own reading, never mind as pre-reading! And the attitude issue melted away as soon as we got the garbage dumped.

Tanya said...

I am so glad to hear concrete evidence of what I kind of influence I suspected these books could have but was never 100% sure of. Because my daughter is 15 now, she was ahead of the precocious girls/Disney Princess curve and was not intrigued or influenced by them. However, I am disappointed as well. Eliminating these books from the bookshelves cuts out a lot of 2nd & 3rd grade reading level books for girls, however, I am trying to review as many quality books at this level as I can so parents know they have some options. Thanks for your input & experience on this topic!