Yes, a girl CAN become a naturalist! (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly/ Semicolon review here.)
Yes, a girl CAN sell newspapers and even become a newspaper reporter! (Newsgirl by Liza Ketchum)
Yes, girls CAN fly airplanes and perform daring rescues! (Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari)
Yes, girls CAN play baseball! (The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mich Cochrane/ Semicolon review here.)
Yes, girls CAN rock out on the guitar and even write songs. (The Kind of Friends We used to Be by Frances O’Roark Dowell/ Semicolon review here.)
Yes, a girl, even a slave girl, can be a spy! (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson)
Have you got the message yet? Middle grade fiction authors believe in Girl Power! I read Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari and Newsgirl by LIza Ketchum back-to-back, and both of these middle grade fiction novels had strong female protagonists who were obviously meant to be role models for girls reading the books. In his Author’s Note at the end of Born to Fly, Mr. Ferrari says he wrote the WWII action adventure story especially for “a ten year old girl who wanted to fly a P-40 Warhawk and her brother said she couldn’t.” In the book eleven year old Bird not only gets to fly an airplane, she also rescues someone-who-shall-remain-nameless (because I don’t want to spoil the story) from assassination and saves her friend’s life, too. It’s an exciting story, mandatory for anyone, boy or girl, who’s interested in airplanes, flying, or World War II stories.
“Just ’cause I was a girl in 1941, don’t think I was some sissy. Shoot, I saw stuff that would’ve made that bully Farley Peck pee right through his pants. . . . Seeing me in my World War One pilot’s skullcap and goggles and my Huck Finn dungarees, you would’ve never guessed that someone with a neat name like Bird McGill was actually just an eleven-year-old girl. But I was. I worked the controls carefully, scanning the skies for bogies at twelve o’clock.”
Newsgirl by Liza Ketchum takes place a century earlier than Born to Fly, but it has the same theme: Girls Can! Amelia, her mother, and their friend Estelle have come all the way from the East Coast to San Francisco to start a new life. They have their personal effects, some dry goods to make ladies’ clothing to sell, and a small amount of money saved up to buy land on which to build themselves a house. When Amelia discovers that people will pay a whole dollar for a two month old newspaper from New York or New Jersey, she cuts her hair, dresses as a boy, and sets out to sell papers herself, even though San Francisco is a dangerous town for a girl all alone.
Newsgirl is all about the empowerment of girls and women, and about Amelia’s longing to know her father, someone her mother has never been willing to talk about or even acknowledge. Amelia’s desire for a father, or at least a father-figure, is resolved in the book, rather unrealistically, by a succession of male friends who are kind to Amelia and her mother and by Estelle, Amelia’s mother’s friend and partner in business and Amelia’s “second mother.” Still, the story is exciting and fun and full of good solid historical detail. Amelia gets to ride in a hot air balloon, pan for gold, witness a horrendous fire that burns down half of San Francisco, and help her family to survive.
So, if you’re looking for strong, independent heroines in a book with a good story line, check out Born To Fly or Newsgirl —or one of the books listed above. And welcome to Middle Grade Fiction where all the women (and girls) are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average!
By the way, don’t you love those covers? Both books are definitely in the running for my personal Best Cover in Middle Grade Fiction 2009 Award.
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One or more of these books is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.