Archive | February, 2012

FINDING FEMALE IN MIDDLE GRADE FANTASY

28 Feb

Today on the blog I’ve got something a little different–and special! Laurisa White Reyes, author of THE ROCK OF IVANORE,  has stopped by talk about females in Middle Grade fantasy. She even provides us with a list of her favorite girl-centric fantasy books for kids–love it! Here’s a little more about Laurisa’s upcoming fantasy debut: 

The annual Great Quest is about to be announced in Quendel, a task that will determine the future of Marcus and the other boys from the village who are coming of age. The wizard Zyll commands them to find the Rock of Ivanore, but he doesn’t tell them what the Rock is exactly or where it can be found. Marcus must reach deep within himself to develop new powers of magic and find the strength to survive the wild lands and fierce enemies he encounters as he searches for the illusive Rock. If he succeeds, he will live a life of honor; if he fails, he will live a life of menial labor in shame. With more twists and turns than a labyrinth, and a story in which nothing is as it seems, this tale of deception and discovery keeps readers in suspense until the end.

 THE ROCK OF IVANORE goes on sale May 15, 2012. Read on for a fantastic, insightful post on the state of female writers and characters in the fantasy genre. 

In the realm of fantasy literature, male protagonists have traditionally reigned supreme. That could be because the vast majority of fantasy novels were written by men. Authors like Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll, Johnathan Swift, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein dominated the genre all the way up to the late twentieth century when a few women fantasy authors began to emerge, such as Madeline L’Engle, Tamora Pierce, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Then along came Harry Potter.

The Rowling Revolution

Today the name J.K. Rowling is synonymous with success.  There isn’t a person alive in western civilization that doesn’t know about Harry Potter and his now incredibly rich and famous creator. So it may be hard to believe that in 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in the United Kingdom (The Sorcerer’s Stone in the US), Joanne Rowley’s publishers were so concerned that boys might shy away from reading a book written by a woman that they insisted she use her initials. (Since she did not actually have a middle initial, she chose ‘K’ from her grandmother’s name Kathleen). And of course, it worked. The Harry Potter franchise is the best-selling book series in history, and is cherished by both male and female readers the world over.

Rowling may not have been the first woman fantasy author, but she did do something no one else had succeeded in doing – she made it cool for boys to read books with girl heroines. Yes, Harry Potter is a boy – but he wouldn’t be worth a nickel if it weren’t for his sidekick Hermoine Granger. Hermoine is certainly not the first female fantasy heroine, but until she showed up, girls mostly read about girls, and boys mostly read about boys. Even books where there were both male and female protagonists were most often read by girls. But Harry Potter bridged that gap somehow.

Hermoine is my favorite heroine of all time. She is spunky, smart, courageous – and feminine. She is not a girl trying to act like a boy. She is all girl, so girls relate to her, and boys fall in love with her. Rowling hit on a truly magical formula.

The Gender Gap in Middle Grade Fantasy

Despite the huge success of Rowling’s books, the gender gap really vanished? Among the current list of popular middle grade fantasy novels, there are very few female protagonists.  Consider the following titles: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan, The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud,  The Abhorson Trilogy by Garth Nix, His Dark Marterials by Robert Pullman, Eragon by Christopher Paolini, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer….see a pattern here?

Even fantasy books written by women have mostly male protagonists:  Rowan of Rin by Emily Rhodda, Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, The Spiderwicke Chronicles by Holly Black, Septimus Heap by Angie Sage, and The Unnamables by Ellen Booream. And among those books with females heroines, most are paired alongside boy heroes, such as A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett, Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Rick Riordan’s The Kane Chronicles, and of course, Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Writing for Boys

Traditionally, the fantasy genre is an effective lure to get boys to read. My own book, The Rock of Ivanore: Book 1 in The Celestine Chronicles (Tanglewood Press, May 2012) is a traditional fantasy adventure with a male protagonist. Marcus is an enchanter’s apprentice who tends to botch all his spells. But when he’s sent on a quest to find the Rock of Ivanore, he must search deep within himself to find the courage and the skills necessary to face the dangers and secrets he encounters along the way. I wrote The Rock of Ivanore because at the time, my then eight-year-old son was a reluctant reader. I understood firsthand how difficult it could be to get some boys to read, so I created a story that would capture the attention and imagination of these boys. Fortunately, I have daughters, too.

The second book in the series, The Last Enchanter (to be released in 2013) introduces Marcus’s female counterpart, Lael. Lael is a lot like Hermoine Granger in that she is resourceful, determined and all girl. She also happens to be very adept at her weapon of choice – a sling. When Marcus leaves their village in order to protect the man who raised him, Lael insists on tagging along. Years earlier her mother was sold as a slave, and Lael is determined to find and free her. My hope is that The Celestine Chronicles will appeal to both boy and girl readers.

Bridging the Gap Once and For All

But the question remains, will boys pick up a fantasy novel where the protagonist – the only protagonist – is a girl? I don’t know the answer, but maybe we’re getting there. Fifteen years post-Harry Potter, everyone knows J.K. Rowling is a woman and no one bats an eye at it. In fact, I think it is pretty safe to say that nowadays, kids (boys and girls) don’t care if a book is written by a man or a woman. And thanks to the proliferation of male/female co-protagonists, the gap between “boy books” and “girl books” is closing.

So maybe, just maybe, in the not-too-distant future it will be cool for boys to read fantasy stories starring females heroines. Here are a few current titles that just might help this prediction come true:

Tuesdays at The Castle by Jessica Day George

Dragonswood by Janet Lynn Carrey

The Chronicles of Aneador by Kristina Schram

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Books of Elsewhere by Jaqueline West

Saavy by Igrid Law


Learn more about Laurisa and THE ROCK OF IVANORE here!

Advertisements

Girl Adventurers I Love: The Ladies of WONDER

23 Feb

Wonder-bookThis post is a bit off the beaten path for me (and this blog). See, it’s not really about adventure in the traditional sense–but it is about Middle School which, come to think of it, is one of the most harrowing adventures any of us will ever have to face. 

The other reason this post is a tad different is because the main–and arguably coolest—character in WONDER is a ten-year-old boy, August–Auggie–who was born with a facial deformity. The story follows his first year in school as he learns to deal with the other kids’ reactions to his face. It’s wonderful and beautiful and sad, but–as cool as he is–I’m not going to talk about Auggie. Instead, I’m going to talk about the ladies of WONDER. So much of this story isn’t really about Auggie at all; it’s about the people around him, how he impacts their lives, how they interact with him and how his face causes them to consider the world a little differently.

There’s August’s older sister, Via, who’s both fiercely overprotective of her little brother, and scared that she’ll spend her entire life defined by him. And there’s Summer, Auggie’s school friend and the first person to sit next to him at lunch. And August’s mom, who bravely suggested her son go to school even though it terrified her, and Via’s friend, Miranda, who calls August her brother and buys him a space man helmet. 

Check out the trailer, below. And read about these amazing girl characters in WONDER. You’ll love it! 

Caroline Starr Rose, Author of MAY B, Talks Laura Ingalls Wilder and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN

21 Feb

My Book Today’s guest post is from Caroline Starr Rose, author of MAY B, which hit stores January 10th, 2012. Here’s a little more about the book: 

I’ve known it since last night:
It’s been too long to expect them to return.
Something’s happened.

May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

Today, Caroline writers about her favorite female character in literature, and where she got the inspiration for her fantastic main character, May Betterly. 

Also, can we all take a second to admire that cover? Beautiful! Now, without further ado, here’s Caroline: 

I have a lot of favorite heroines. Anyone know there’s a character out there that would have made a great friend, if she’d been real? That’s how I feel about Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. We would have swapped books and talked about school, but mainly, I think, we would have sat comfortably together in companionable silence because we’d get each other that way.

As far as a heroine who influenced my own protagonist, May Betterly, I have to go with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I grew up reading the Little House books and used Laura’s life as my touchstone — Laura did this or experienced that, knew this or was unfamiliar with that. I’d talk about her so often, that my mother was sure I was talking about someone in my class.

When I decided to write a middle-grade novel set on the frontier, I knew she’d be strong, like Laura.

May Betterly lives on the Kansas frontier and longs to someday be a teacher. Unfortunately, she finds school a challenge and isn’t always supported there (May is dyslexic, and while modern-day readers will be familiar with her struggles, May — and those around her — don’t understand). She’s pulled from school and hired out to a newly married couple from the East. The marriage is fragile, and when the unhappy bride runs off, her husband leaves to bring her home. They never return. May is left stranded for months, with dwindling food and winter coming on.
LHbookCover.jpg

In writing May B., I was curious how someone writes about solitude (answer: do not try this at home — it’s hard!). I also wanted to examine the idea of worth and what conclusions a child might draw about herself from the opinions of others. I knew, going in, that May was strong, was smart, was resourceful. But she didn’t know this. Trapped in a sod house all alone, she is able to face who she is and what she is truly capable of.

Even though she’s not real, I’m proud to know May Betterly (and I think Franice would have loved her, too).

Learn more about Caroline and MAY B here.

Girl Adventurers I Love: Merida, from Disney/Pixar’s BRAVE

17 Feb

Okay, so I realize that this movie hasn’t actually come out yet, but I can’t help it. I’m in love.

From the ponies to the crazy curly red hair, to the amahzing Scottish setting, to the bows and freaking arrows (!) I can’t think of anything that could get me more excited about Disney/Pixar’s BRAVE.

Oh, yeah. Except for maybe this trailer.

Adventuring princess? Sign. Me. Up.

BRAVE hits theaters June 22nd, but in the mean time you can learn more about it here.

Huntley Fitzpatrick’s Favorite Heroines

16 Feb

Today on the blog I’m happy announce that we have a wonderful guest post from Huntley Fitzpatrick, author of the forthcoming MY LIFE NEXT DOOR. I asked Huntley to tell me a little more about how female heroines shaped her life and here’s what she came up with: 

I was a shy kid.  I had a circle of friends in which I felt comfortable, a warm family, but in crowds I tended to try to disappear. My social philosophy was sort of like my dodgeball philosophy…I’d stand so far to the side that no one would notice me and throw a ball in my direction.

This is a safe way to live, but it doesn’t get you out in the world, or through a lot of the challenges that come your way.

So, by the time I was ten, I’d come up with another strategy….books…

I’d find brave, feisty heroines I loved, and when I found myself in an situation where I felt shy, I’d imagine what they would do. And then I’d do it.

This works amazingly well. You just need to suit the heroine to the situation.

For bravery and doing what needed to be done regardless of the consequences, I’d summon up a character: Caddie Woodlawn, the feisty tomboy from the unforgettable books by Carol Ryrie Brink.

Caddie was a red-headed tomboy who lived in Wisconsin in the 1860’s. She refused to be a girl, preferring instead to hang out with her brothers, endlessly topping them in their adventures. She was sassy, fearless, and forever in trouble.   She had a relish for life I found so inspiring. No matter how dire the situation, she came out ahead, triumphant, learning a bit, but still irreverent and intrepid.

Here’s a quote: “How far I’ve come! I’m the same girl and yet not the same. I wonder if it’s always like that? Folks keep growing from one person into another all their lives, and life is just a lot of everyday adventures. Well, whatever life is, I like it.”

When I ran into trouble, I’d think of Caddie, and remember whatever was happening was just another adventure.

Then, in situations where I had to just get through something extremely difficult, I’d think of Sara Crewe, the heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A LITTLE PRINCESS.

The title sounds cute, but the story is not. Sara starts out as the Girl Who Has Everything, then loses it all, her beloved father, her fortune, her status as the Popular Girl, her closet full of beautiful clothes, and most of her friends.

She not only survives this, she triumphs, and becomes a truer princess in hard times than she was in good times.

Most kids have a year or two where they just don’t fit. My two were seventh and eighth grade. I’d moved to a new school, gotten glasses, gained weight….the other kids in my grade, all of whom were probably struggling themselves, saw a weak spot and went for it. My locker got destroyed on a daily basis, pictures torn down, school books ripped, kids made comments when I walked down the hall. Going to school was torture.

Sara Crewe saved me.  Here’s the quote I never forgot.  “Somehow, something always happens just before things get to the very worst. It is as if Magic did it. If I could only just remember that always. The worse thing never quite comes.”

If you haven’t read Frances Hodgson Burnett or Carol Ryrie Brink, go find them. My book, MY LIFE NEXT DOOR, was actually inspired by another Frances Hodgson Burnett book, THE SECRET GARDEN. If you look closely, you’ll see why…the girl in my book is pampered and protected, and then she meets a boy who can charm animals, and has to keep the whole thing secret. My whole story started with wondering what would happen when Mary and Dickon grew up.

My advice to you comes from another wonderful childhood book, Roald Dahl’s MATILDA.

“Books taught Matilda the lesson good books teach: You are not alone.”

Learn more about Huntley here, and make sure to pick up a copy of her book MY LIFE NEXT DOOR this June!

My Favorite Girl Adventurers: Harriet the Spy

15 Feb

Harriet M. Welsh from Louise Fitzhugh’s classic HARRIET THE SPY, is one of my favorite girl characters in all of literature. Armed with only a notebook, she sets out to discover the darkest secrets of her own neighborhood. Along the way she causes a little bit of trouble…

I think I hold Harriet so close to my heart because, like me, she’s a writer. Even when I was young, I loved the idea that you could take on the world with a pen and a piece of paper. More importantly, perhaps, she taught me that words can cut deeper than any knife, and that even the best of spies need to be careful about how they handle the things that they discover.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

In honor of the big V-day, I present to you a field of beautiful flowers…

Okay, so maybe roses are the traditional Valentine’s Day blossom, but Lyssa, the main character in ZIP loves anything and everything yellow. In fact, she’d see a big field of yellow flowers like this as a very good sign.

So there you are. A lucky field of flowers to brighten your day.

Love,

Ellie