A Tuesday Ten: Speculating on Spectacles . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
Here’s a tough one. Protagonists in fantasy or SF with glasses. They have to be wearing the glasses for real, not as a disguise that gets taken off at some point. And they can’t be given a “Cinderella” transformation into somebody cooler without glasses later on in the story. Why am I doing this list? Mostly because I’m one of those kids who grew up wearing glasses. And when the conversations go to talking about representation and how it matters, this is one of the ways it matters to me personally.
It’s hard to find glasses wearing characters taking center stage. Too often they’re relegated to the side-kick or brainy helper mode. The behind-the-scenes guy or gal. In rare circumstances they do get to play the protagonist, but too often those roles are stereo-typed. The protagonists are nerdy and clumsy or inept in some way. Or simply brainy and bookish and not considered traditionally attractive. It’s a tough message to break down. I’ve at least tried to find some representations amid the halls of speculative children’s books, but my options for this ten list were fairly slim.
The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (Scholastic, c1980)
My first book on this list is a science fictional title about a girl with telekinetic abilities and unusual silver eyes. Katie also is clearly described as wearing horn-rimmed glasses in the book. I’d always loved this book on so many levels, but I’m realizing now that in addition to everything else, there’s a significant excitement to the main character being a girl who wears glasses.
The BFG by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Puffin, c1982)
The book that prompted this list. See, I noticed the movie out and I realized I was trying very hard to determine if Sophie keeps her glasses through the whole movie. It seemed important to me. I know I loved the Quentin Blake illustration shown on the cover here, because there’s a blond girl in big glasses sitting fearlessly on the giant’s hand. Seriously, the kid in glasses gets to have the fantastical adventure and be brave and fearless!
A Wrinkle in the Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Yearling, c1962)
I had to go back and check for this one, but yup, Meg Murry wears glasses. It’s not evident on most of the covers (one of the reasons I chose this one) nor in the TV movie version, but it is the part of her description. Meg is the rather geeky girl that becomes the unlikely savior of her father and brother in an amazing trip across the universe via tesseract. Obviously one of my favorite books if you consider the name of this blog!
The Princess and the Frogs by Veronica Bartles, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Balzer & Bray, Expected Publication November 2016)
I love fractured fairy tales. And this picture book coming out in the fall provides a hilarious take on an old favorite. Our princess in this story wants a pet, not a prince. But every frog she finds inevitably turns into a prince when she kisses them, much to her frustration! On top of all that our princess wears glasses! I grinned when I saw the cover of this book because I have a young patron at my library (she’s 4) who got glasses in the last year and is so unsure about them. I can’t wait to tell her about this book!
Now You See It . .. by Vivian Vande Velde (HMH, c2004)
Wendy’s old glasses get broken, leaving her more blind than a bat. When she finds a pair of strange glasses that seem to help, she’s happy to have something that she can use. But these glasses see too well. They see things . . . that normally aren’t seen in the real world. These glasses have magic in them, and many creatures will do just about anything to gain possession of them! I can’t remember what happens with Wendy’s glasses at the end of the book, but this story not only has a glasses wearing protagonist, but makes the glasses the actual subject of the story!
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, c1997)
You might have noticed something about the previous five books on this list. They’re all female characters. It seems that while a protagonist with glasses is rare, a male protagonist with glasses is rarer still. Perhaps that’s one of the things that has so many kids responding to Harry. He’s an imperfect kid, with a scar and glasses–and yet he’s the hero of the whole story, the chosen one!
Shatterglass by Tamora Pierce (Scholastic, c2003)
I nearly forgot Tris! From the Circle of Magic Series, Tris is a main character in the first four books, and then in this title. But I chose this particular book and cover because it really shows an image of Tris, glasses, braided hair and all. Tris holds one of the more dangerous magics of her four friends, magic that works with the weather itself–wind, water, lightning. In this title she is far from home, helping to investigate a string of mysterious murders that have taken place in the city.
Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion, c2010)
This first person POV SF picture book shows us what happens when an ambitious science fair project goes amok! Our narrator has built a giant robot for the school science fair, but she fails to take into account that the giant robot might go on a rampage. Our inventor runs home and creates a giant robotic toad to take out her robot. But will that be the end of the trouble? Our trouble-magnet inventor here is very clearly a girl with glasses! Gotta love it!
Alistair and the Alien Invasion by Marilyn Sadler, illustrated by Roger Bollen (Simon & Schuster, c1994)
Alistair, boy genius, is the protagonist of several speculative picture books. In this one, Alistair has to save the Earth from invading aliens, but can he do that and get his science project done in time? Our glasses wearing protagonist is pretty unflappable even in the most outlandish of situations. He’ll figure a way through!
Melvin Beederman Superhero: The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich by Greg Trin, art by Rhode Montijo (Square Fish, c2006)
Melvin Beederman is a rather inept fellow, but he still saves the day–as long as bologna isn’t involved that is! This silly send up to traditional comic book heroes is a great transitional reader for youngsters looking for that superhero flair but not ready for most of the comic book stories just yet. For my purposes, he’s wearing glasses! Unlike superman who takes his glasses off when he’s in his superhero persona, Melvin keeps his frames on!
You’ll notice something else about this list. There isn’t a whole lot of diversity apparent in these characters. I couldn’t come up with a single book featuring a non-white protagonist with glasses that fit my parameters. (With the possible exception of Oh No! Since she might be–I haven’t found info saying one way or the other.). So here’s where I need my readers to help. Comment below with any additional titles! (Remember, they’ve got to be the protagonists of the story!) But I’d love to add to this list!
Update 6/6/16–I found one to add!
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass (Scholastic, 2014)
Bakari Katari Johnson is a shy kid who just found a ring with magical powers that everybody wants! Check it out–I found an African American protagonist in an MG fantasy story wearing glasses!
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on June 5, 2016, in General Posts and tagged Aliens, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, Diversity, fantasy, Genres, Invention, kidlit, Lists, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Picture Books, Psychic Powers, Reading, reviews, Science, Science Fiction, SF. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.