Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Where's our Harriet Potter?

My mother works at a library upstate. We talk frequently about books we've read, books we like, books we want to read. I was talking with her on the phone tonight, and she mentioned a conversation she had w/ a co-worker. When thinking of children's books with strong female characters, especially action-oriented books, it was tough to come up with a list. This is coming from LIBRARIANS, so if they're stumped, I don't know what it says about the state of publishing and the heroine.

Plenty of books had girls as protagonists, but most were set in inward-facing roles, coming of age stories, or humorous stories of day to day life/growing up. Lois Lowry's Anastasia books, Ellen Conford's Jenny Archer series, Megan McDonald's Judy Moody are all great. Believe me, I loved them! But where's the girl's equivlant of Harry Potter? (Hermoine- we love you. But you're a straight-laced goody goody. Who do we turn to when we want to manage some mischief?)

Lyra Silvertongue of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy is definitely our answer there. (Besides her, I can only come up with Harriet the Spy, The Blue Sword's Harry [a girl, thank you], and the indefatigable Sammy Keyes. Please please, add to this list.) She's intelligent, courageous, and incredibly quick-witted. Sure, she doesn't have a He Who Must Not Be Named to take on, but she makes do. Her antagonist? Just Metatron and a bunch of rebel angels.

One of the best additions to literature in the past decade, The Golden Compass, the first in author Phillip Pullman's trilogy, is coming to theatres this winter. If you liked Harry Potter, give Lyra a shot. She won't disappoint.

PS: The book is teaming with religious metaphor and philosophy, questioning the differences between personal spirituality and organized religion. Through the course of the trilogy, Lyra comes to symbolize a lot more than a plucky girl from Oxford. While appropriate for a YA audience, the book has plenty to chew on for adults, in a meatier way than a certain boy wizard. If that's not a ringing endorsement, let me put it this way: I willingly read it on a long car trip, knowing I was setting myself up for nausea and a splitting headache. Just couldn't put it down.

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