Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tween Books with Girl Characters - 4 Hearty Endorsements

Notice how I most definitely did not call this a list of Girl Books! There's been some great stuff in the blogosphere about the dangers of typecasting books and readers by gender, and I agree wholeheartedly.

That said, these will be easier sells to tween girls than to boys - just look at the dang covers!

Which brings us to Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls Book 1: Moving Day by Meg Cabot (Scholastic 2008). 9-year-old Allie's dilemma is one with which not all readers will sympathize (or at least not this reader, living as she does in a small, bland, mid-century house) - her family is moving from the suburbs to an old, three-story house in a more urban area. "12-foot-ceilings!" her mother gushes, but Allie is convinced the house is haunted by a disembodied zombie hand - it's just plain creepy. Leaving her friends and school behind is also not a happy prospect, even though her supposed best friend is less than ideal and her new school and neighbors seem great, so (in a dorky and predictable bit of plotting) Allie tries to sabotage the move. Doesn't work, naturally, and the reader will be glad, for Allie's next-door neighbor Erica is just her age and understands the important social niceties; when Allie tells her she'll be attending Erica's school, Erica "let out a polite scream to show she was excited..." Their following conversation leads to one of Allie's rules - "If someone is yelling from excitement, the polite thing to do is yell back." Allie has many more rules for living, and they're all conveniently listed in the back of the book. My only beef with this book is that the girl on the cover looks about 7 years old.

9-year-old Julia Gillian also keeps a list - a list of accomplishments. In Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowledge) by Alison McGhee (Scholastic, 2008), Julia Gillian spends a lot of time wandering around a 9-square-block area of Uptown Minneapolis with her large and extremely lovable dog Bigfoot. What else can she do? It's summer and her parents, both teachers, are trying to complete their master's degrees and thus spend all day indoors, surrounded by heaps of books. So Julia walks with Bigfoot and visits with assorted folks in her neighborhood - oh, and her Problem (because every main character must have one) is that she is scared to read a certain green book because there is an old dog in it that she is quite certain will die. So - not much thrill and action in this book, but huge amounts of quirkiness and charm. Julia wears her home-made raccoon mask (one of her accomplishments) in public, has a tendency to use mannered phrases like "indeed I do," and in general shows every sign of being the kind of geeky, odd child that is close to my heart. A certain 9-year-old niece of mine who happens to live in this very neighborhood will recognize many of the local restaurants and landmarks lovingly mentioned, and all readers will fall in love with Bigfoot the Dog. This is the first book by Alison McGhee, and hopefully there will be many more to come.

In A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (Harcourt, 2007), 10-year-old Zoe yearns to learn to play the piano, but instead is given a Perfectone D-60 organ with "luxuriously realistic walnut veneer!" and "ultra-gold speaker covers, now in fashion weaves!" - in other words, the dorkiest of instruments. Dodgedly, Zoe takes lessons and eventually masters her chosen piece ('Forever in Blue Jeans' by Neil Diamond) to play at the Perform-O-Rama (which is to organists what a recital is to pianists). The short chapters, Zoe's put-upon but hopeful tone, and her imperfect parents (her Mom loves her busy job and is thus somewhat distracted; her dad is agoraphobic and mostly stays at home and takes such mail-order classes as Patty Cake, Patty Cake: Make Some Cash) are some of the things I like about this book. There are Friend Issues, too, and they are realistic, poignant - and funny as hell. Another first author - woo!

And now for something completely different - Chris Riddell's Ottoline and the Yellow Cat (HarperCollins, 2007). Young Ottoline (who is perhaps 7? 8? Not that it makes the slightest difference in this particular tale) lives alone in an apartment, watched over by her friend and companion Mr. Munroe, while her parents gallivant around the world. No, this is nothing like Eloise. Although as richly and humorously illustated as the Eloise books, the similarities end there. Mr. Munroe is a small, mysterious bog creature from Norway who very reluctantly lets Ottoline brush his long and abundant hair when she needs comfort - they have a wonderfully sweet and understanding friendship. Together they solve a crime involving a cat burglar, rich ladies, and numerous lap dogs, and more adventures are in the works. A certain 13-year-old I know with sophisticated reading tastes found this book entrancing, and I think fanatic AND reluctant readers of both genders would love it as well. Truly odd and truly wonderful.


  1. Hi,

    I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at and my Books for Boys blog is at
    Ranked by Accelerated Reader

    Max Elliot Anderson

  2. Hi Max,
    Thanks - I'll check out your blog!