A Tuesday Ten: Speculative Middle Grade Characters: Ten Girls Every Reader Should Meet
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
This list is purely subjective of course. And it’s purely of the moment. I invite all my readers to add their own titles to this list. But I thought it’d be fun to introduce some of my favorite female protagonists over the years.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn (Puffin, c1945)
I’ll kick the list off with this red-haired gal from Sweden. Pippi is outrageous, wildly nonconformist and an affront to right thinking adults everywhere. This super-strong little girl is not only capable of living on her own with her horse and monkey, she insists on it. Watching Pippi interact with the more staid society around her leads to hilarious results. She really is one of the first female superheroes of literature. Re-reading this book with my son, as a parent I find myself wincing at many things in this story–but those are some of the very things that make the story so magical and delightful for children.
Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (HMH, c1990)
Cimorene is anything but a proper princess. She wants to learn how to cook, and do magic, and fight with a sword. But her parents simply want her to marry a very dull prince as a proper princess should. So Cimorene runs away and makes a deal with a dragon. She’ll be the dragon’s princess if the dragon will keep away the princes and let her do all the unproper stuff she wants. I added the Trina Schart Hyman cover here because it so beautifully captures the Cimorene (not sweet or elegant) and her relationship with the dragon. Lots of fun with fairytales turned on their heads. Check out the rest of the series if you enjoy this one!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W. W. Denslow (HarperCollins, c1900)
It’s easy to forget, given it’s age and weight as a classic that this story contains one of the more forthright and impressive adventurers who’s ever crossed into a fairyland. Farm girl Dorothy mostly takes things in stride–from her quest to find the wizard, to her show down with the witch, and to her final journey home again. Think about how rare this was at the time to have a girl in that role (and not a princess). Then realize that unlike the movie, Dorothy’s journey was no dream, and she’ll return to Oz many more times throughout her life on other adventures. Baum’s extended series of books set in Oz don’t always feature Dorothy, but she’s an enjoyable character when she does appear.
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Disney-Hyperion, c2007)
When the aliens invaded earth and Gratuity “Tip” Tucci’s mom is taken away aboard an alien ship, Tip is left on her own. So she does what any self-reliant tween does heads out to steal a hovercar and find her mother–oh, and maybe save Earth from yet another alien invasion in the process. A fun and funny narrator, Tip makes this story of aliens come to life with hilarious observations and crazy shenanigans. In the end it’s a darned good SF story too.
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Atheneum, 1983)
Anyone who knows me by now probably has some notion that this series is bound to land on a list like this. Seriously, Alanna changed my life. This twin who disguised herself as a boy to become a knight, then goes on to prove herself and become a champion to the kingdom, well, up until then I’d never seen a female character in a sword and sorcery story succeed as hero by being the warrior. Alanna is a stubborn, hot-tempered gal who wants things her way–even if that way is a challenge. Her struggles to both succeed as a fighter and to figure out how to accept herself formed the backbone of my fantasy reading as a tween.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, c2009)
Minli is a poor girl who works hard to survive each day with her family, but she loves her father’s fantastic stories that he shares with her. Stories of magic and adventure and strange places. When she sets a goldfish free, she doesn’t imagine it will send her on a quest far from home. Along the way she will meet and befriend different creatures, and have to use her wits to win. Combining ancient Chinese myths with a girl’s magical adventure story, this is a fantastic read aloud to share with your family.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, c1986)
I could hardly have this list without including Sophie. Poor, elder sister Sophie who is told her life will be the dullest since she is the eldest. A girl who is quiet and has mostly accepted her lot in life, until she is cursed. In a case of mistaken identity, Sophie is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman. Horrified by this, and not wanting to face her family, Sophie decides to seek out the nefarious wizard Howl. Being old gives Sophie a new latch on life, and she embraces the chance to be as stubborn and cantankerous as she wants. Sophie has a magic all her own, and with it she might cause the wizard Howl to lose his life . . . or might be his one chance at saving it.
Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins, 2015)
Alice Dare is being sent to Mars with a shipload of other children so that they may be kept safe and train to one day fight the aliens that have invaded Earth. When all the adults on Mars go missing, there’s soon trouble–and Alice and her friends find themselves on the run out in the not-so-friendly Martian terrain. Alice is wry and funny as she tells her story about how she and her friends wind up bringing about a peace with the alien invaders and saving both races from an even greater threat. Hilarious SF adventure with several great female characters to cheer on!
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, Expected Publication April 2015)
Corinne La Mer is a fearless and strong-hearted girl living on an island in the Caribbean. Unlike so many others, she’s not afraid to venture into the dark forest. At least she wasn’t until a Jumbie followed her out! Now that Jumbie has designs on her father and on the village, and Corinne must come to accept her own lineage and decide where her loyalties lie. In the end that decision is not so simple. This spooky fantasy tale won me over the first time I read it, I hope others will enjoy discovering Corinne much as I did.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (HarperTrophy, c2003)
If you’ve never encountered Tiffany Aching, I hope you will soon at your next opportunity. A girl of intelligence, determination and heart, Tiffany finds herself to be the hero of the story, even if others don’t want to acknowledge it. This is just the first book in an ongoing series about Tiffany and her journey from girlhood to womanhood and becoming a witch. Sir Terry handles it all brilliantly in my opinion. “Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”
So there you have it! Please share your favorites in the comments!
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on September 6, 2016, in General Posts, Lists and tagged Aliens, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, fantasy, kidlit, Lists, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Multicultural, Reading, reviews, Science Fiction, sequels, series, SF, Space Adventure, Tamora Pierce, Urban Fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.