Sunday, January 13, 2008

Books and Authors for Girls

Perhaps I shouldn't segregate books by sex, but let's face it, some books are more appealing to boys and some books are more appealing to girls. As I discussed earlier, there are many more young adult books directed at girls opposed to boys. My own personal library reflects that and to be honest, they're still pretty good books. The boys in my class complain that these books have female narrators, talk about feelings too much, and discuss dating and relationships to excess. Boys just aren't typically into that sort of stuff. On the other hand, these same books also deal with character development through internal and external struggles. The good writers make their books both smart and funny as well as worth discussing in class. I'm not going to spend any more time discussing the whole boys versus girls dynamic in literacy at the moment. Instead I'm going to jump in with my own personal suggestions of authors that girls may enjoy.

Joan Bauer
Bauer tops my list not due to any alphabetical reasons but because she's a fine author. There's no good reason that I should enjoy her writing. The endings tend to always be happy and the action is always pretty lowkey. However, Bauer knows how to write and write well. Her dialog is sharp and crisp and there is always an element of self-deprecating humor interjected throughout. Her narrators are self-aware and intelligent, but still undeveloped enough to where you can see some definite growth throughout the books. I would especially recommend her books Squashed, Hope was Here, and Rules of the Road.

Laura Halse Anderson
Anderson is another top-notch author who writes books intended for girls. Her books stray to a more dark and foreboding place. Most of her characters are hurt or broken in some way that really affects how they narrate and perceive the world. Eventually they usually come through the adversity, but it's a hard and difficult road to get there. Anderson pulls no punches which is something that I enjoy. My students also seem to appreciate this as well. I loaned out a copy of her book Speak a few months ago and it's still making its rounds throughout the class. Almost all of the girls have read it. Anderson does historical fiction and contemporary fiction, though she seems to be stronger in the modern era. I would recommend her books Speak, Prom, and Fever 1793.

Louise Rennison
Rennison is a British author who primarily writes about the chaotic and silly life of Georgina Nicolson in her Confessions of Georgina Nicolson series. To be honest, these books don't quite have the literary merit that Anderson's or Bauer's books do, but they're entertaining. Rennison's writing is funny, inappropriate, and strange. I wouldn't ever teach her books in class, but I'd gladly loan out her books to my students. One nice thing about Rennison is that she doesn't stray away from any topic. If a teenage girl is potentially going to encounter it, she'll write about it. This may make parents and other educators a little leery about suggesting the book, but I'm all for it.

Ann Brashares
If you're familiar with Brashares, it's most likely due to her ever popular book turned movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Since I saw that pretty much every one of my female students was reading or had read the book, I decided to see what the big fuss was all about. I discreetly picked up a copy of the book and read it in secret under a blanket with a flashlight so as to lessen the chance that anyone might see me. What I found as I read the book was an entertaining story about four friends who can all fit their butts into a single pair of pants. Some of the characters were developed better than others in my opinion and at times it was difficult to follow all four story arcs but it still ended up being a good read. None of the characters were perfect and they all had a very distinct personality as well. Brashares is great a creating character and I can see why the series is so popular with girls. It echoes those feelings of dare I say sisterhood that many girls and women feel in regards to their friends. I say that as a man though, so take it with a grain of XY salt.

Marjane Satrapi
I'm somewhat torn about including Satrapi on the list. She's a graphic novelist who has created the critically acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis. On one hand I feel as if she is writing with a female audience in mind, but on the author hand it seems to be so much broader than that. I've never actually shared the graphic novel with any other student so I don't know how they'd react. Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis details her life growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. Some of the themes are universal for any teenager or young girl, but others are a bit more limited to her particular situation.

Jane Austen
For your older girls who have developed into more mature readers, Austen may be an author to point them to. Her books are smart and insightful and funny if you can get the humor. Most of them have to do with courtship and various other dramas. I am not a huge fan of Austen, but I recognize that many older readers do enjoy her writing and books. Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility should all be suggested.

Jerry Spinelli
I know I included Spinelli in my other list, but I think he deserves a nod on this one as well. Stargirl and Love, Stargirl, are books that anyone can enjoy but girls seem to relate better to the struggles that Stargirl and Leo are going through. I didn't actually like the Stargirl character until the sequel, which I believe is a better book. In the sequel Love, Stargirl, the character is more fully realized and honest. My complaint about the first book was that Stargirl was a pretty flat character throughout most of the book, but the sequel starts to take off all the bells, whistles, and gimics and you can still see that she's a unique person behind it all.

Beatrice Sparks
Ok, even though she isn't coming forward to claim many of her books, it is more likely that Sparks wrote Go Ask Alice. She is the sole copyright owner of it afterall. Anyway, her books tend to deal with all the dark things in life: drugs, sex, and abuse. For these reasons, many parents get squeamish about her books, but for the same reasons, many students get interested to read them. Potential anti-drug propaganda aside, students seem to enjoy her books.

Nicholas Sparks
Sigh. I haven't read any of his books, but I understand the basic premise. The girls in my classes all love him, so I'll eventually have to read something of his.

Paul Zindel
I'm ending my list with Zindel because two of his books The Pigman and the Pigman's Legacy have both a female and male narrator. Both the voices are fairly balanced and it has a little something for everyone. His books might be a little dated by today's standards, but they deal with the timeless issues of growing up and perhaps growing up too fast. This was a book that both my boys and girls seemed to enjoy fairly well and I'd suggest it to either sex.

There are many other books and authors out there but these are just a few that I have encountered and thought to suggest. I'll probably write a post about books for your growing reader. You know the type, the one who wants to move out of the young adult section and into the world of adult fiction. That can be a difficult transition if there's nobody to guide those choices.


Abbie said...

Joel--I have a family friend who reads your blog and wanted me to share this with you--her name is Ro in case she ever leaves an comment:

Anyway---if you could pass this on to him if you want to---I use a 9 squared tic-tac-toe kinda board paper---In each of the 9 squares are different kind of assignments on the same topic. The students need to choose 3 in a row like tic-tac-toe. He was looking how to fit in other kinds of learning styles. Maybe one could be dress up like a character and say a 3 minute report, draw what it may have looked like in a Romeo or Juliet scene, make up a new poem about the story, audio/video a news report about the ending etc.

Amanda said...

I've read all of Nicholas Sparks' books so if you want recommendations, let me know :)

Chris said...

The 100 books every child should read. Although it's a bit arbitrary (like any top-n list) it seems like there's some good stuff there.

Joel said...

I left off Nicky Sparks on purpose... I just couldn't in good conscious suggest him.

Thanks for the list Chris. I'll be suggesting a few of those to students. Some I already have.