In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chick Lit, part 1

Dear Annie,

I didn't realize you were such a Madeleine L'Engle fan.  A couple of people have told me they were disappointed in The Austin Chronicles, her realistic fiction series.  But I've never tried them myself.  I love A Wrinkle in Time, although, as with the Narnia books, I wish it didn't have that injection of religion in it.

Denise left a bunch of questions on your L'Engle post that I'd love to answer.  She wants
books that young adolescent girls can read who are interested in romance and relationships - who need to stop reading "chic" lit - Gossip Girl-like books - and who are smart enough to read more challenging ones. I can only think of Jane Austen but would like to recommend more modern literature.
For the Jane Austen sensibility, there's
I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith, author oddly enough of 101 Dalmatians (another interesting kids' book, for a different audience). She wrote it in 1948, and I usually describe it as Pride and Prejudice set in Depression-era England. The writing is wonderful, as illustrated by the book's first paragraph:
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cosy. I can't say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring -- I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen-house. Though even that isn't a very good poem. I have decided my poetry is so bad that I mustn't write any more of it.
The narrator's father is an impoverished writer who wrote one brilliant novel 20 years earlier and has done nothing since. The family, including 17 and 20 year-old daughters, are living a hand-to-mouth existence in a decaying castle in the country. Then two wealthy young American brothers buy the estate next door, and the comedy of manners begins. It's quite wonderful, but probably not the first step when one is trying to entice Gossip Girls fans.

My favorite recent entry in this category is
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart. I saw her speak once and she introduced herself saying, "I write feminist Chick Lit," which is quite an accurate description.  E. Lockhart, I discovered only last week, is a pen name.  Under her real name, Emily Jenkins, she's written several wonderful books for younger kids, including Toys Go Out, a great early chapter book blogged about here.

Disreputable History was a runner-up for the Printz Award (YA literature) and the National Book Award the year it came out.  It's about a girl who becomes noticeably more attractive between her freshman and sophomore years at an upper-crust boarding school.  Boys who ignored her the year before now pay lots of attention to her, but after a while she realizes they don't actually listen to her.  She also figures out that a centuries-old secret society is still in existence at this school, but that it remains all-male, even though the school is now coed. So she sets out to get revenge -- through staging some wonderfully outrageous pranks.  It's wildly funny.

Next time I'll talk more about other authors in this category.  There are many ways to avoid the really trashy stuff, some of it with slightly classier trash, but some of it better than that.

Stay tuned..




  1. I love this post, as well as the reader's question that prompted it. I am in a similar predicament with a much younger child. My kiddo, age 5, is inexplicably drawn to Tinker Bell. Do you (or other readers) have ideas for good fairy books that won't make a feminist mother cringe? I found her a beautifully illustrated book of classic fairy poems, but she's got a yen for a *story* with a fairy protagonist (preferably with lots of fantastic illustrations). Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide!

  2. Yay! Totally agree -- I adore both of these books. Such great suggestions! Can't wait to see what else you come up with...I think there's a ton of wonderful "feminist chick lit" out right now... :)

  3. @Jessica: Two possibilities come to mind. No Flying in the House, by Betty Brock, is a chapter book about a girl who discovers she's a fairy (she can kiss her own elbow). I remember loving it as a kid, but don't remember what age. Here's the IndieBound link:

    The fairy book that obsessed me as a kid was the Time-Life series on Fairies and Elves. More a bunch of myths and legends than a single story, but lavishly illustrated. I used to pore over it for hours. Here's the Alibris link (it's out of print, of course):

    I'm sure we'll be hitting fairies soon with Eleanor -- do let us know if you find more good books in this area!