Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pippi's little sisters

Fran Hawk, an author who writes about children's books for the Charleston Post and Courier, recently took note of a trend toward picture books with what she called "girls who are feisty, full of spirit, independent and strong-willed."

Her column cited several examples of these feisty girl characters, including the girls in Harriet's Had Enough! by Elissa Haden Guest, Beatrice Doesn't Want To by Laura Numeroff, and Martha Doesn't Say Sorry by Samantha Berger.

Hawk puts my own Maggie in this category, saying that she's one example of the kind of girl characters editors are looking for. She notes, "Sugar is off the table. Spice reigns supreme."

I'm glad Maggie comes across as spirited and independent, but I was also kind of surprised. She isn't nearly as outspoken as Harriet, Beatrice and Martha. She knows her own mind, but doesn't really make a lot of noise about it.

It's great that all kinds of girls show up in books for children. I can't help but notice, though, that in all three of the other examples cited here, the girls aren't human. What's more, another feisty girl who popped to my mind was Olivia -- another nonhuman girl character.

Perhaps it's just coincidence that these outsized girl characters are portrayed as animals. I hope so, anyway. I can think of a few other recent heroines who are both feisty and human: Fancy Nancy, Imogene of Imogene's Last Stand, Tess of Tess's Tree, Zoe Fleefenbacher. So I hope we've reached the point where we can allow real little girls to be spunky. Brash, even.

Because we've come a long way, baby. (If you're old enough to remember that awful advertising slogan, you know just how hard it was to get here.) Bring on the frogs and snails and puppy dog tails!