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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
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    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
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    October 14, 2013:
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    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

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    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
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    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
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    August 21, 2013:
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    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
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    August 6, 2013:
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    July 2, 2013:
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    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

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    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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Realistic Girls and Fantastic Boys? Middle Grade Fantasy, Realistic Fiction, and the Great Gender Divide

Book Lists, Historical Fiction, Parents, Teachers, Women and girls


One of the very first books my now eight year old daughter loved was called Ruby Bridges Goes to School. Even before she could read well, she would return again and again to this slim volume, turning the pages reverently, frowning at the hateful expressions of pro-segregation racists, smiling as she contemplated the bravery of this ‘real little girl.’

At the time, I thought that perhaps it was the similarity of their ages. Ruby was an entering first grader, as was my daughter. She was a girl of color, also like my child. But Ruby lived in such a different time, and struggled against such overt, violent racism. What did my daughter find so compelling about this book, that she preferred it to most others – including bookshelves full of fairy tales and princess stories?

Now, a few years and any number of books later, my big reader eight year old still gravitates to fiction and nonfiction exploring the lives of ‘real little girls.’ Unlike her older brother, who launched quickly from early chapter books into fantasy series like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, Septimus Heap, and the like, my daughter craves stories about realistic girl protagonists. I was at first a bit flabbergasted at her lack of attraction for fantasy – a genre her mother and brother both adore. In fact, my current middle grade novel is a fantasy adventure based on Indian folk-tales, and starring, you guessed it, a middle grade girl protagonist. So why doesn’t my daughter enjoy the genre I so love?

As a parent, pediatrician, and feminist activist, I’ve always struggled against the notion that there even is such a thing as a ‘girl book’ or a ‘boy book.’ In fact, my beliefs had been seemingly verified out by my son, who as readily consumes male protagonist fantasy as he does more ‘realistic’ stories with girl main characters such as the Ramona books or Little House on the Prairie series.

Yet, there is clearly a message being sent. And it’s through the eyes of my daughter that I am finally able to see it. With the notable exception of Harry Potter’s Hermione (whom my daughter loves), there are few central female characters in middle grade fantasy novels. If literature is a mirror – an opportunity to show children a reflection of their own lives and their own experiences (or approximations of their own lives and own experiences), then what is happening for my daughter is obvious. While she was able to see herself even in the struggles of a girl who lived in such a different time, like Ruby Bridges, she is unable to see herself in most of the the fantasy novels that populate the bookshelves in her house.

Even the names of each of her brother’s favorite series send out the message loud and clear – fantasy is a boy’s genre. Or at least a genre dominated by boy protagonists. And it’s certainly not because women aren’t writing fantasy. As this blog entitled Finding Female in Middle Grade Fantasy notes:


“Even fantasy books written by women have mostly male protagonists: Rowan of Rin by Emily Rhodda, Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black, Septimus Heap by Angie Sage, and The Unnamables by Ellen Booream. And among those books with females heroines, most are paired alongside boy heroes, such as A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett, Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Rick Riordan’s The Kane Chronicles, and of course, Rowling’s Harry Potter.”

Fantasy as a genre has perhaps been considered a vehicle to ‘get boys to read.’ Yet, without getting embroiled into a debate about whether the ‘reluctant boy reader’ notion is a myth, we as writers, publishers, parents and teachers have got to ask ourselves: what are the consequences of boxing female protagonists out of fantasy?

The problem can be examined from multiple angles. While both male and female authors are writing fantasy about primarily male protagonists, female protagonists dominate realistic fiction. Just consider, while both my son and daughter began their reading careers with The Magic Treehouse series (historical time travel fantasies with a boy and girl protagonist), my son soon graduated to The Time Warp TrioThe Bailey School Kids, and then rapidly to the fantasy series named above. My daughter, on the other hand, seemed to skip like a pebble against a lake from one to the other series of realistic novels with girl protagonists.

In approximate order, these books included: Ivy and Bean, Judy Moody, Amber Brown, Clementine... see a pattern? Each of these (wonderfully written) series were named for their girl protagonists. Even her most recent literary love affair – with Rebecca, Kit, Kanani, Lanie, McKenna – and all the other heroines of the American Girl series — follows this pattern.

Which has gotten me wondering (and worrying!): is the gendering of realistic vs. fantasy middle grade fiction simply playing into archaic gender roles? Ie. that girls should care about things like home life and friendships, while boys should be training to use magic, fight dragons, be secret agents, or discover treasure? Is our literature itself encouraging domesticity and relationships in female readers and imagination, bravery, and problem solving in boy readers?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not trying to suggest that friendship and home life aren’t important — for both boys and girls. Or that realistic fiction can’t model problem solving or other important skills. Or even that there aren’t some fantastic realistic fiction about boy protagonists (just think of Andrew Clemets’ great school stories). But rather, what worries me is that the predominance of fantasy books with boy protagonists and realistic books with girl protagonists is a troubling gender divide.

So in writing this blog, I’m making myself a pledge. To try to at least introduce my realistic fiction-loving daughter to some girl protagonist middle grade fantasy, a partial list below. (Some more great suggestions here and here). I’m thinking some of these fantasy heroines just may match up to the bravery of Ruby Bridges, the zaniness of Clementine or the pluck of American girl Kit Kittredge. The goal isn’t to steer my daughter away from realistic stories, but rather, open up for her the possibility of reading in multiple genres. Some of the books I’ve been thinking about include:


The Worst Witch Series by Jill Murphy


The Tiffany Aching Series by Terry Pratchett


The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente


The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

In the comments below, please suggest your favorite girl protagonist middle grade fantasy to add to the list!

Sayantani DasGupta is a lover of fantasy, but also of traditionally ‘domestic’ stories. Her ideal fantasy-realistic fiction might be a Jane Austen inspired remake of Lord of the Rings. Hey, you never know. It could happen.

 

37 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Jenn Reese  •  Jan 4, 2013 @10:37 am

    Great post! I recently did a guest spot on The Book Smugglers about some of my favorite “girl adventurers” (mostly in fantasy) from 2012 that you might find useful.

    http://thebooksmugglers.com/2012/12/smugglivus-2012-guest-author-jenn-reese.html

    I definitely want to see more girls starring in science fiction and fantasy adventures for middle grade readers!

  2. Mike Jung  •  Jan 4, 2013 @10:40 am

    Anne Nesbet’s THE CABINET OF EARTHS is a great one, as is Kate Milford’s THE BONESHAKER. And my all-time favorite middle grade protagonist just might be Robin LaFevers’s Theodosia Throckmorton – the THEODOSIA books are fabulous.

  3. Mike Jung  •  Jan 4, 2013 @10:43 am

    Oh, and of course there’s Jenn Reese’s ABOVE WORLD, featuring a girl protagonist who struggles with a tendency to rely on herself too much!

  4. Deva Fagan  •  Jan 4, 2013 @10:56 am

    One of my recent favorite girl protag middle grade fantasies is Stephanie Burgis’s Kat, Incorrigible, which is historical (Regency England) fantasy (the second in the trilogy is out too, and the third is coming later this year). As a kid myself, I loved Diane Duane’s contemporary fantasy (or sf, depending on how you look at it) Young Wizards series, starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard. There are multiple viewpoint characters but in the first two books it is equally divided between the boy and the girl. Deep Wizardry, the second book, is one of my all-time favorites.

    RJ Anderson’s fairy books, starting with Spell Hunter (or Knife, in the UK) are lovely and each feature a different young fairy girl. The third (sadly only pubbed in the UK) is a POC too.

    There’s also Ella, Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, a fairytale retelling, and Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy.

    Maybe Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes would work too? I loved it, though it’s a bit sad in places (aftermath of Katrina in NOLA). It’s more magical realism.

    I know there are others I am forgetting too — I think it is true that the “big name” MG fantasies do seem to feature boy protags, but there are plenty of girl fantasy heroes out there too. And there are a number of books labelled as YA that might work for younger readers. Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore and Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones books, for example. And I am pretty sure I first read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong and Dragonsinger when I was around 10-11.

    Satia Reply:

    @Deva Fagan, Thank you for mentioning McCaffrey’s Dragonsong and Dragonsinger books because I remember reading and adoring those right along with my Wizard of Oz books.

    I’d add some of the Discworld books to the above. Equal Rites has a young girl wanting to be a wizard in what is traditionally a male-only profession. Then there are several funny stories with the witches–Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick.

    Also, although the roles are more traditional/conservative, the Narnia books have strong female characters as well. Lucy, after all, is the one who finds her way into Narnia and later returns to the land.

    I’m sure I’ll think of others, as soon as I hit send, but there are so many suggested already that I may choose to just update my “to be read” reading list.

  5. Jenn Reese  •  Jan 4, 2013 @11:03 am

    Oh, and just last night I finished ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby which has a wonderful female protagonist named Solveig. It’s technically historical, but felt magical.

    And let’s not forget Trix from Deva Fagan’s CIRCUS GALACTICUS — definitely a great hero, too!

    The books with girl heroes I mention at Book Smugglers are:

    The Kat, Incorrigible series by Stephanie Burgis
    Claws by Mike and Rachel Grinti
    The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet
    Winterling by Sarah Prineas
    The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher (2013)

  6. Susan Meyer  •  Jan 4, 2013 @11:07 am

    I loved Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel books, about a girl who is able to hear the words of her cat and who has magical adventures, at that age. British books, I found in my childhood, had a lot more magic in them. California-writer Zilpha Keatley Snyder plays with the boundary between realism and magic in a number of her books and she is one of my all-time favorite writers. I loved The Changeling especially (about the relationship between two girls, one of whom may be magical) as well as The Witches of Worm. Another girl friendship book in which one girl seems to have magical powers that I loved is E. L. Konigsburg’s Jennifer Hecate Macbeth William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth.

  7. Sayantani  •  Jan 4, 2013 @11:24 am

    Thanks for these fantastic book titles – keep ‘em coming! :)
    And Jenn – thanks for the link to your fantastic post – love your references to Geena Davis’ organization — I so agree “if she can see it, she can be it!”

  8. Greg Leitich Smith  •  Jan 4, 2013 @11:24 am

    Anne Mccaffrey’s Harperhall Trilogy
    R.L. Lafever’s Theodosia series
    Nikki Loftin’s The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

  9. Bridget  •  Jan 4, 2013 @11:54 am

    It really hasn’t been my experience that MG fantasy is lacking in female protagonists. But here are a few of my favorite titles — some may straddle the line between MG and YA, so it’s up to you to decide if your daughter is ready for them :)

    Book of a Thousand Days, Princess Academy, and Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
    Ella Enchanted and Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
    Beauty by Robin McKinley

    There are also E.D. Baker’s books and (probably more YA here) Tamora Pierce’s books.

  10. L  •  Jan 4, 2013 @12:11 pm

    I second Greg’s Theodosia recommendation, the historical aspect may open her up to the fantastical.
    Jodi Lynn Anderson’s May Bird trilogy
    Adrienne Kress’ Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is a must. It starts of “real” yet odd, and then just becomes Wonderland-ish.
    Lian Tanner’s Keeper’s Trilogy.
    anything Frances Hardinge, but The Lost Conspiracy is a personal favorite.
    Horns & Wrinkles by John Helgerson.
    and Un Lun Dun by China Mieville is entrancingly bizarre.

  11. Jeff Dougan  •  Jan 4, 2013 @12:12 pm

    Anything by Tamora Pierce is middle-grade appropriate fantasy with strong female protagonists – to the point where I can’t recall a male protagonist in any of her books.

    Diana Wynne Jones also did some female-centric books, too.

  12. Margaret T.  •  Jan 4, 2013 @12:30 pm

    A wonderful early entrant (insofar as the reader being a newcomer to the world of Middle Grade books) series is Michael Buckley’s “The Sisters Grimm” (completed, books 1 – 9). Buckley treats protagonist sisters Sabrina and Daphne with utmost care, cleverness, and charisma, all while navigating the original texts of The Brothers Grimm and those of more recent fairy tale authors like Irving, Baum, and Barrie. Each book is done in the style of a different genre while maintaining the overall narrative arc and an engaging cast of new and familiar (though with welcome twists) characters.

  13. Shari  •  Jan 4, 2013 @12:44 pm

    I concur with the recommendations of Tamora Pierce (who does mostly female protagonist, YA fantasy) and Gail Carson Levine (who also has a large number of female protagonist YA and middle grade fantasies). Diana Wynne Jones has a mix of male and female protags.

    Cornelia Funke – Inkheart trilogy (the first book stands on its own, so you don’t have to do all three).
    Clare Dunkle – The Hollow Kingdom trilogy (also, the first book stands on its own), and By These Ten Bones
    Rapunzel’s Revenge by Hale (x3) – graphic novel
    Eiko Kadono – Kiki’s Delivery Service (works well as a middle grade reader)
    Neil Gaiman – Coraline
    Natalie Babbit – Tuck Everlasting (magic in a very real world setting, middle grade)
    Phillip Pullman – The Golden Compass

    May be a bit much for an 8 year old, but your mileage may vary
    Garth Nix – Sabriel
    Ysbeau Wilce – Flora Segunda
    Libba Bray – A Great and Terrible Beauty
    Robin McKinley – Spindle’s End

  14. Sayantani  •  Jan 4, 2013 @12:52 pm

    wow what a fantastic list — keep ‘em coming please and thanks to all these great ideas!
    So do people think this is a lack of proper MARKETING of girl protagonist fantasy, or what? I mean, if books are getting written but not into the hands of girls (as much as realistic stories are) why is that?

  15. Ms. Yingling  •  Jan 4, 2013 @1:02 pm

    Interesting thought. There are actually a lot of middle grade fantasy with female characters, especially time travel books. There are not, however, as many realistic books for boys as I would like to see. I am very torn about concentrating on books for boys, but it’s what I do now. You should think about joining up with our Guy Friday group! http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com/2013/01/guy-friday-war-and-dogs.html

  16. Heather  •  Jan 4, 2013 @1:05 pm

    Spindlers

  17. Cady  •  Jan 4, 2013 @1:28 pm

    Pretty much everything by Tamora Pierce. :) She’s written 20 or so fantasy books, all with strong female leads. Love her!

  18. Penelope  •  Jan 4, 2013 @1:28 pm

    Tamora Peirce’s “Song of the Lioness” & “Beka Cooper” series both are fantasy with strong female protagonists.

  19. Penelope  •  Jan 4, 2013 @2:15 pm

    I also recommend books by Patricia C. Wrede and Shannon Hale. “A Posse of Princesses” by Sherwood Smith was also very good despite the terrible title.

  20. Tyra  •  Jan 4, 2013 @4:14 pm

    I second the Shannon Hale recommendation, especially for a girl who already enjoys stories about girls and their friendships/interpersonal relationships, as Hale’s books have fantasy settings but are really stories about relationships that, for the most part, could very well play out in non-fantasy settings–those might be a great place to start because they bridge the genres well. Plus, they’re terrific.

  21. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Jan 4, 2013 @6:46 pm

    Fantastic recs, many thanks! About these princess-fantasy tales: I love Shannon Hale, but I have often wondered if my daughter’s craving for stories about ‘real little girls’ is a bit of a subconscious princess backlash. At a very young age, when she was enjoying, as society told her, lots of stories about princesses, she LOVED the story of Ruby Bridges. A little girl of color in the real world – decidedly NOT a princess, but a girl who lived in the world my daughter lives in. Clementine, Ivy &Bean, even the American girl protagonists, are also decidedly NOT princesses. Even thought sales don’t seem to support it, is equating girl fantasy to princesses creating a psychological ‘princess overload’? Something I’ve been thinking about (as I shop around a story about an ordinary girl who realizes she’s… yup, a princess…)

  22. de Pizan  •  Jan 4, 2013 @7:07 pm

    Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (really most of her books)
    most of Vivian Vande Velde, especially Magic can be Murder and Dragon’s Bait
    Dragon Adventures series and Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
    Dusssie by Nancy Springer (again, several of hers have female protags)
    some of the books in the Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris (those that have a female in the title)
    Zahrah the Windseeker and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
    Just Ella and sequel by Margaret Peterson Haddix
    Donna Jo Napoli is more YA, but I think some might be appropriate for MG as well
    Beauty by Robin McKinley
    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
    the Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher
    Virginia Hamilton has a few folktale collections with female protags
    Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse
    Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes

  23. Charlotte  •  Jan 4, 2013 @9:46 pm

    Two with great heroines that I didn’t see mentioned, that both my own boys loved, were Tuesdayds at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. And there’s Keeper of Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, another with a girl front and center, that was a huge hit with my nine year old.

  24. Charlotte  •  Jan 4, 2013 @9:46 pm

    One that I didn’t see mentioned, that both my own boys loved, were Tuesdayds at the Castle, by Jessica Day George. And there’s Keeper of Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, another with a girl front and center, that was a huge hit with my nine year old.

  25. Ellen Booraem  •  Jan 5, 2013 @11:25 am

    All three of Deva Fagan’s books have girl protagonists! And did anyone mention Robin McKinley? As others have said, it doesn’t get better than Diana Wynne Jones (especially the Howl books) and Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series and the Theodosia books.

    Blushingly, I will just mention that my last book, SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS, has a girl protagonist. Back to a boy for the one that’s coming out in August (TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD), only because the supernatural sidekick is a banshee (a girl) and there’s a little boy-meets-girl involved. The one I’m drafting now alternates between a boy and a girl, although I have to say the boy’s tale dominates so far–again, because of the circumstances of the story.

    Good for you to make us think about this and justify our choices!

  26. PragmaticMom  •  Jan 5, 2013 @12:01 pm

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
    The Witches Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan
    Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    Here’s a great one that is a little of both:
    The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech Has a lovely magical realism twist to the tightly twisting plot.

    Love your post. I have two daughters. The oldest loved action adventure fantasy series and read some realistic fiction. My middle loves Newbery winners which is much more realistic fiction than fantasy.

  27. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Jan 6, 2013 @8:33 am

    Thanks for all the great comments and thoughts! I’m realizing I should have also asked folks to list their favorite boy protagonist realistic fiction along with their girl protagonist fantasy! Such a wealth of knowledge here!

  28. Katie Schneider  •  Jan 6, 2013 @10:04 pm

    My daughter just recently mentioned liking Annie, the protagonist’s little sister in the My Side of the Mountain sequel, because she “can do real things.” I think there is something about basic competency that is appealing to her. Doing, making, having access to materials, knowing how things work. She did like Sophie (in the Howl books) , but doesn’t like fantasy as much as a rule – I wonder (for her) if it comes down to confrontation and working out power dynamics. My son is attracted to fantasy because he can identify being strong and powerful (Percy Jackson, Aragorn or Gandalf), but she is much more about relationships (how people get along).

  29. Dave  •  Jan 7, 2013 @8:25 am

    The Lily Quench series (Natalie Jane Prior)
    Alex and the Ironic Gentleman (although the sequel has a boy, this one does not)
    The Sisters Grimm
    Olivia Kidney

    I really do think girls are well represented in fantasy–at all age levels. My daughter has no problems finding heroines to cheer on.

    Thinking of great ‘realistic’ fiction for boys is harder. Boys like to focus on events — be them funny, wry, athletic or adventurous.

  30. Bev Patt  •  Jan 7, 2013 @8:26 am

    Watersmeet and The Centaur’s Daughter by Ellen Jensen Abbott – and there’s a third in the trilogy coming out in the next year. Awesome fantasy for ages 12 and up!

  31. Susan Lower  •  Jan 7, 2013 @8:12 pm

    My daughter really liked The Humming Room by Ellen Potter and she just finished The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton, which she thought was a fun story about a girl. My daughter didn’t like reading and struggled with reading until a few years ago we found the Katie Kazoo series and she couldn’t get enough of them. I believe the next series she’s starting is Klimo’s Dragon Keeper books.

    While on the other hand my son really likes the Magic Tree House books and Flat Stanley.

  32. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Jan 8, 2013 @7:46 am

    Wow! The knowledge and experience about kidlit on this site is truly humbling! You’ll be happy to hear, dear friends, that since writing this blog, “The Worst Witch” books have been a major success! I realized the Tiffany Aching series is probably a tad too old for her just now, so I’m reading the first! Onward with my genre challenging project at home! (I can’t wait to share with my kids/read these books myself!) You all are truly amazing.

  33. Hillary Homzie  •  Jan 8, 2013 @12:07 pm

    How about Well Wished by Franny Billingsly?

  34. Hillary Homzie  •  Jan 8, 2013 @12:08 pm

    Whoops, it’s Franny Billingsley.

  35. thinkbannedthoughts  •  Jan 9, 2013 @3:06 pm

    I loved Ruth Chew books as a young girl – magic and fantasy combine. Good for boys and girls as there is generally a brother and sister on the adventure.
    Edward Eager’s Half Magic followed the same pattern.
    Diane Duane’s Wizard series
    The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks was a childhood favorite
    Jane Yolan is another great author for girls as is Victoria Hanley (The Seer and the Sword, etc.)
    The Wrinkle in Time had a strong female protagonist, as did The Wizard of Oz books.
    I loved E. Nesbit as a girl as well.
    On the spooky side I LOVED Mary Downing Hahn as a child, and my 8 year old loves her now. All those ghost stories, and all with great female protagonists.
    Alice in Wonderland, of course.
    E.D. Baker has the Wide Awake Princess and a few other good strong female protaginist stories.
    My 8 year old daughter LOVES the Goddess Girls books as well as the Rainbow Magic Fairies (I abhor the rainbow fairies, but the goddess girls I wholeheartedly approve of.)
    The Cinder series in YA (Marissa Meyer), The Uglies (Scott Westerfeld), Matched (Ally Condie) and other distopian novels. In YA there’s also the Maggie Stiefvater books.
    As they get older – Anne Rice’s Witch series, Marrion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, Carol Berg has a few books with great female protagonists…
    I’m sure I could think of more. I’ll try to write up a post and ping back to this one to share.

  36. Late to the party, but love the topic!

    Seems to me all (but one) of the Black Stallion series and anything written by Jim Kjelgaard (Big Red, Stormy, Desert Dog) are boy-centered realistic fiction. There’s also a lot of the Marguerite Henry novels.

    My mom didn’t hold with much fantasy-fantasy, so I had combo stuff with talking animals or this near-spiritual human/animal bond (Miss Bianca, Babe the Gallant Pig, and the Boy-and-his ______ books that are a different sort of fantasy, portrayed as realism ;})

    Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is sort of a fantasy/”realistic” combo that I’ve found attractive to a number of boys and girls.

    My favorite girl-centered stories in MG were the Bracken Trilogy by Jeri Massi (The Bridge, Crown and Jewel, The Two Collars).

    I was more like you, in that I liked fantasy far more than “real life” (Little House on the Prairie and any Green Gables book after the first I just couldn’t get into). The Bracken trilogy was a wonderful crossover. It wasn’t magic, but it felt like magic, and had all the intrigue and arcane powers I loved from fantasy along with the implicit promise that these were things *I* might learn if I applied myself.

    Heady imagining, that.

    But, really the reason I wanted to comment was because this break down could be as much about personality as it is about gender (I will allow it is still about gender b/c there are clearly personality types that are more or less acceptable based on your gender.)

    I’m thinking primarily of the Myers-Briggs system (summary links in the menu bar at helmericks.net if you want more context), because there is a specific contrast/comparison between “sensors” and “intuitives.”

    Sensor-types are described as most-focused on details and the information they gather through their five senses, while intuative-types are described as those who gravitate toward the “big picture” and the other sources of information and understanding (imagination, logical/deductive leaps, etc.).

    In my experience a good story can catch anyone, but sensors (S) gravitate toward realistic fiction, and intuatives (N) to fantasy/scifi-ish elements.

    Statistically the population is made up of 25% N & 75% S, but writers, specifically fiction writers (I don’t have the precise number in front of me) reverse those numbers.

    My theory about the lack of “realistic” male fiction is that the boys just go read non-fiction if they don’t find what they want in fiction.

    If we want to play the sexist card, the most “acceptable” women, the stereotypical “together” female, is always an S. So is the “ideal” male, *but* in the other stereotypes, we’ve got benign males that are strong Ns (the “absent-minded professor” for example) when their female counterpart is not treated so kindly (the only opposite I can think of at the moment in Luna Lovegood, from the Harry Potter series).

    My point is, because I have this other vocabulary (S or N) I tend to look here before gender, because I think of how the fantasy of the perfect dog (say) fed my hunger for that kind of connection and adventure even without the female character or the (more) fantastic setting.

    I can’t say the absence of females didn’t affect me (the fish can’t tell you how wet the water is) but I know I eagerly imbibed the stories that were available and never felt deprived.