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Girls Like Adventure Stories Too

by Miriam Downey 30. May 2012 14:31

My sister and I are writing down three stories that have been in our family for about 100  years. One is about our grandmother and an adventure she had with some pigs when she was five years old. She told this story many times in our childhood, complete with authentic pig noises. We were only vaguely aware of another family story until we recently uncovered the obituary of our great, great grandmother. In the obituary, the story was told about our ancestor meeting up with the outlaw Jesse James on the day that Jesse James and his gang robbed the bank in Northfield, Minnesota.

These family stories caused me to start thinking about girls and adventure stories. My guess is that girls like to read about girls having adventures as much as they like to read about boys having adventures. Today I would like to share with you some stories about remarkable girls and their adventures, both fictional and true.

Jeanne Craighead George, who died this month, was a naturalist and author who wrote fiction and non-fiction books about nature. Her fiction book series, Julie of the Wolves, Julie, and Julie's Wolf Pack tells about the adventures of Julie, a 13-year-old Eskimo girl. In Julie of the Wolves, she gets lost on the tundra and is protected by a pack of wolves. The book won the Newbery Medal in 1973. The third book in the series, Julie's Wolf Pack, tells the story from the perspective of the wolves and is very exciting. I would recommend it for girls in grades 4-6. Her other famous story is My Side of the Mountain, an adventure about a boy named Sam who lives by himself in a tree house in the Catskill Mountains. It was a Newbery Honor Book.

Here is a list of adventure books with heroines and the recommended age levels.

Grades K-2

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. Parallel adventure stories of a little girl and a baby bear picking blueberries in Maine.

Brave Irene by William Steig. Irene is the dressmaker's daughter, and she has to deliver a ball gown in a fierce snowstorm.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Available online.Twelve little girls have madcap adventures in Paris.

Miss Rumphuis by Barbara Cooney. Miss Rumphius spent her life trying to make the world more beautiful. She traveled and had many adventures.

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaac. A wonderful tall tale in which Angelica saves a pioneer town.

Grades 3-5

 The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Two girls, interested in ancient Egypt, invent a game that leads them to a criminal investigation.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit. Available online. Five English children (three boys and two girls) have adventures regarding a mysterious creature with the power to grant wishes.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Two children hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet wants to be a writer, she has adventures as she watches people and takes notes. The notebook falls into the wrong hands.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. Karana is a Native American girl who spends 18 years alone on a rocky island off the coast of California. Based on a true story.

Grades 6-8

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. In 1832, Charlotte Doyle age 13 was sent across the ocean on her own. She gets involved in a mutiny and a murder.

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson. A young Mongolian girl treks across the Gobi Desert and then along the Great Wall of China.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Salamanca heads on a spiritual quest from Ohio to Idaho to search for her mother.

The White Stallion by Elizabeth Shub. Gretchen and her old mare find themselves in the midst of a band of wild horses. Thrilling.

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. A young African girl escapes an arranged marriage by following the Musengezi River in a canoe. She has one adventure after another.

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy by L. A. Meyer. First of a series of books about a girl on a British warship.

Grades 9-12

Pirates! The True and Remarkable Adventures of Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kington, Female Pirates by Celia Rees. The true story of two young women who became pirates to escape arranged marriages.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. A young Ojibwa woman lives on an island in Lake Superior in 1847.

The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern. A biography of a woman who disguised herself as a man and joined the Continental army during the Revolution.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. The first of a series about Lyra who sets out to protect her friends and other kidnapped children from a sinister plot.

The Bean Tree by Barbara Kingsolver. Taylor makes her way West with an abandoned baby girl.

Some True Adventure Stories for Teenage Girls:

Race Across Alaska: First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story by Libby Riddles. Story of the remarkable woman who won the Iditarod race.

The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke. One woman's adventurous trek through Tibet to capture a panda-alive.

No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War by Anita Lobel. A piercing account of surviving the Holocaust by a famous children's author and illustrator.

Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamiton. Could you return to the water after losing an arm in a shark attack? Hamilton did.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung. How a young girl survived Cambodia's Pol Pot regime.

Have fun, all you adventurers out there!

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Wild Things: A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

by Miriam Downey 11. May 2012 08:46

I started writing a blog posting about adventure books, but it will have to be postponed because I want to pay tribute to my all-time favorite children's book, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

Maurice Sendak died on May 8 at age 83. His influence on children's literature is immeasurable, primarily because of his groundbreaking picture book, Where the Wild Things Are. I don't believe it would be an overstatement to say that Where the Wild Things Are may be the most influential picture book of the 20th century. So influential, I might add, that I have a grandson named Max after the hero of the book.

Max is a naughty boy, gets mad at his mother, and is sent to bed without any supper. And like the hero of Greek mythology he sets sail:

       "Through night and day

         and in and out of weeks

         and almost over a year

         to where the wild things are."

My favorite line in the book is "Let the wild rumpus start." I think of that line every time all my grandchildren arrive at the house and every time we have a party. My other favorite line comes at the beginning of the book when Max begins his mischief, and his mother reprimands him. He gets so mad he tells his mother, "I'll eat you up!" which is the reason he is sent to his room.

Before Max, most picture book children were well-behaved little things, and picture books told stories with morals, and nothing bad ever happened. Where the Wild Things Are tells the story of the interior life of an angry little boy and how he deals with that anger. I believe that is why children identify so strongly with Max. He can get really angry, but he finds ways in his imagination to deal with that anger. Kids get the moral of that story ... we can learn to deal with anger in an interior way and return to the real world calmed and reflective. Where the Wild Things Are opened a floodgate of picture books which dealt with children's anger and all the other things that children face--death, fear of abandonment or not fitting in, as well as all the other childhood experiences, including the rich imaginary experiences so similar to Max's.

I watched my year-old granddaughter get really mad at dinner a couple of nights ago. Her father pulled her out of the high chair and carried her into the living room to cool off. Her fit subsided, and she returned to finish her dinner ... "and it was still warm."

I can't say that I recommend all of Maurice Sendak's books. I do like Chicken Soup with Rice, The Nutshell Library, and In the Night Kitchen, although I do have to mention that the little boy is naked in In the Night Kitchen. Maurice Sendak also illustrated many books by other authors including, Little Bear by Minarik and A Hole is to Dig by Kraus.

The New York Times quotes a letter that Maurice Sendak received from an 8-year-old: "Dear Mr. Sendak, How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there."

In honor of Maurice Sendak, why don't you pull out your copy of Where the Wild Things Are or borrow one from the library? Have your children read it, and then write a story or essay about anger, or imagination, or "wild things" or whatever comes into their heads. It would be a fitting tribute to a great children's author and a great American book.

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