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25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 2 Summer

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This post contains affiliate links

Ah, summer.  That golden time when the clock seems to slow, the morning brightens earlier, the night darkens later, and the day is filled with so much possibility we feel we might burst.  It is like that for littles, and it is like that for us as adults.  School gets a little lazier.  The rules ease up a bit.  There is fun to be had, and we are going to have it.

Learning about what makes summer Summer–which hemisphere it is visiting and what the sun and the earth are doing to cause it–is an eye-opener for most littles.  All they know is that suddenly it is warm enough to play outside every day, even in the rain, and the swimming pools are open, and popsicles are sweeter on the tongue when you’re sweating buckets.  A good lesson about summer might include what animals are lurking about that we don’t see in winter, what insects are taking our breath with their beauty or just flat annoying us, what the trees are doing to cause All That Green.  And of course, we must have books to help us celebrate.  Here’s a short list of books you can include to help your littles get the full effect of marvelous, magical summer.
Frog and Toad-The Complete Collection by Arnold Lobel

Thank you, Arnold Lobel.  These stories and their illustrations are so lyrical and daydream-inducing.  They make me want to be a toad.  They probably fostered my love of amphibians.  There are several stories here that encompass summer and will leave your littles hankering to get outside and explore.  Summer and The Garden spring immediately to mind.  If you have any of these books on hand, definitely add them to your lessons about summer.  They will show littles a bit of what summer is about, and the stories always drive home the value of true friendship.
Georgia Music by Helen V. Griffith

This book.  This one.  The watercolor illustrations capture a southern summer so gorgeously your little will get lost in them (and so will you).  The story, about a little girl who spends a summer in Georgia with her grandfather and learns the music of nature as well as the music he makes on his mouth organ, will melt your heart.  When her grandfather is forced by old age to move up north with the girl and her mother, he misses the Georgia music terribly.  So the little girl plays a mouth organ to recreate the sounds he misses and eases his heart.  Beautiful.  The bonus is the reminder to your child to listen to the crickets and the frogs and the birds and all the stunning music in her own backyard.

 

Summer Days and Nights by Wong Herbert Yee

This brightly-colored book tells of an entire summer day and night through the eyes of a little girl who is looking to entertain herself.  The gentle rhyme of the book adds to the lazy, summer-time feel.  She goes on a picnic, takes a swim, sips lemonade, and catches a butterfly.  She sees an owl and hears a frog.  There are lots of reminders about how cool it is to be outside in summer and what your little might run into if he gets out there.  Lots of fun.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I know, I recommend this book For Everything.  But come on, what better summer novel is there?  I mean, ever?  The scene where Atticus has to take care of the diseased dog pops into my head any time I hear the phrase ‘dog days.’  Jem and Scout playing with Dill in the backyard?  Um, hello!  Summer!  I’ve sung the praises of the many lessons of this book many times over, especially in my favorite characters posts, so all I’ll say here is that it is a truly amazing addition to any lesson plan, and it would certainly help put your littles in the summertime mood.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Hello, more frogs and toads.  And water rats and badgers and moles and a variety of other animals to befriend.  This book not only opens up the imagination to summer, it gives you a great jumping-off place for an animal study.  The whole world of the animals is centered around a river, which gives you an opening for a water study.  The story is magical–again about the value of friendship–but also funny and entertaining.  You can’t really go wrong with this gem.
Watership Down by Richard Adams

Another of my all-time faves, Watership Down is an engaging story about a group of rabbits who venture away from their warren to find a new home.  A good way to teach your kids about courage and doing what’s right as well as about loyalty, this book is one adventure after another.  It makes a wonderful read-aloud.  My Littles loved it from the first page to the last and still create games around the story (we read it together 3 years ago).  It gives an insightful look at both the habits of animals and human nature that will stay with your littles for a long time to come.  In fact, my entire extended family still says that someone has ‘gone tharn’ when they are shocked or frightened into stillness.  Read the book.  You’ll get it.

I just have to say here, that even if you aren’t studying summer, read all these books with your littles.  At least 4 of them make it on my top 20 list.  Maybe even top 10.  And you know as well as I do that my list of favorite books is probably thousands-long, so that is really saying something.

Love wins,

KT

If you’re looking for a way to add lit to lessons about donkeys and you missed that post, take a look at Day One.

25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 1 Donkeys

 

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Adding Literature to your daily lessons is super easy to do.  A good story can be such a marvelous addition to anything you’re teaching your littles about.  It doesn’t matter if you have primary, middle, or high school level littles, studies have shown that the brain doesn’t make too much differentiation between reading about an experience and Actually Experiencing it.  Which means that an interesting tale can help subject matter stick with your littles for the long haul.  Yet another excellent reason to encourage reading in your homeschool.

I’m starting out this series with donkeys for a variety of reasons, none of them having anything to do with how important donkeys are. 🙂  Mostly just because one of my all-time favorite picture books features a donkey, but also because in the freebies section of this site there’s a free Animal Study worksheet that will go well with these book suggestions.  So without further ado, here are some great books for your littles to read while they’re studying donkeys.

 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

I’ve mentioned William Steig before–he wrote one of my favorite chapter books for littles, Abel’s Island.  Sylvester’s story is very sweet and a good lesson about being careful what you wish for.  The drawings are simple and colorful and the writing is exemplary.  I have many fond memories of pulling this book off the shelf as a child and getting lost in its pages.  Perhaps it doesn’t really teach anything about donkeys.  Who cares?  It is a beautiful tale your littles will thoroughly enjoy, and it will remind them to be grateful for what they have.

 

  The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith

This is a great read-aloud for littles, with lots of wordplay and hilarity.  The watercolor pictures are soft and lovely, but the depictions of the donkey and the various things that make him wonky are hilarious.  The book comes with a free downloadable song of the story, so that’s something great to get stuck in your head. 🙂  It also provides a lesson on diversity and how being different is a quality we all have and that is not a bad thing.

Donkey-donkey by Roger Duvoisin

This is the story of a donkey who is embarrassed by his ears.  All the other farm animals have beautiful ears; why do his have to be so long?  He sets about following the advice of his animal friends in order to solve his problem (reminiscent of Leo the Lop by Stephen Cosgrove, another all-time fave of mine.  In fact, I have a lop-eared rabbit named Leo).  But when a little girl comes to the farm and admires the donkey’s long ears, he is given a new-found confidence.  The simple pen-and-ink drawings are entertaining and the lesson about loving yourself for who you are is priceless.

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

No way can we talk about donkeys here without mentioning Eeyore, the all-time best donkey ever.  Any of Milne’s collections will have him in them, but my favorite Eeyore story is in this one.  If you have littles that love the Disney version, go ahead and find a Disney picture book about Eeyore.  But if you really want to them to know this loveable guy, go for the original.  Lots of lessons here about learning to recognize when people love you and dropping the soul-sucking pessimism.  Plus, he’s just plain Funny!
Teeny Tiny Ernest by Laura T. Barnes

Here’s another tale about loving yourself for who you are (why are donkeys so good for that?!).  In this one, Ernest gets up to all kinds of hijinks while trying to impress his friends with his height.  Of course, he is not tall, so he doesn’t fool anybody.  Soon he realizes that he’s the only one who notices his size–all his friends like him for who he is, not what he looks like.  Another wonderful lesson, told in a fun, engaging way.  Ernest has a whole series of books, too, if your little falls in love with him like we have.
The Last Battle (Book 7 of The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis

This final chapter in the Narnia books stars Puzzle the donkey as one of the antagonists.  Puzzle is a bit dense but has a good heart.  He is the faithful sidekick of Shift, an ape who has it out for the Narnians.  Shift manipulates Puzzle into carrying out his orders, including risking his life to steal the skin of a lion from the Caldron Pool, then wearing it to imitate Aslan.  In the end, Puzzle does what is right and, after a short conversation with Aslan, is admitted into Aslan’s country.  As in all the Narnia books, there are lots of lessons here about how to be a good person, but particularly in Puzzle’s case, how to think for oneself and not allow peer pressure to influence decisions.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

This is one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays and Bottom, whose head gets transformed into that of a donkey’s by Puck, is the funniest character.  He is silly and foolish, and nothing about his antics ever really redeems him.  It makes this a great play with which to introduce your littles to Shakespeare.  Plus, I’m pretty sure you can get it for free on Kindle or you can read it online for free here.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

You can’t have a group of political farm animals without including a stubborn donkey.  In fact, Benjamin the Donkey is so stubborn he absolutely refuses to get excited about the rebellion.  He is the oldest animal on the farm and kind of an Eeyore with a brain.  Very cynical.  Because he is longer-lived than the other animals, he sees the rebellion and the new regime as passing fads.  He’s pretty sure he’s going to live to see what comes next, so he just can’t drum up any enthusiasm for all the plots and machinations.  He’s one of my favorite characters simply for his detached amusement about all the goings-on.

Pick one or more of these books to add to a class about donkeys and you’re sure to perk up your littles’ interest.  Even just reading excerpts from the chapter books or the play can give your child a little insight into what we humans think of the donkey’s character.  Silly, foolish, stubborn, fiercely loyal… Yeah, that describes our donkey, too. 🙂

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Love wins,

KT

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Dystopia

I’ve been on a real lit kick this week, I know, but I am, after all, the Lit Mama.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about summer reading and even though we’re spending our summer with the folks from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are so many options to choose from.

One of my favorite genres is YA Dystopia, mostly because I like reading about regular people who fight so “a man can stand up.”  But I’ve read Dystopia meant for all ages, so why YA?  Because the emotions in YA books are so much fresher and more raw than in books intended for adults.  Here you have this person who barely knows who he or she is and suddenly he/she has to save the world.  Well, why not?  What better way to get to know yourself? hahaaa  Besides, this is a summer reading list for your teen or tween, not for a Grown Up.  (Although you should definitely be the kind of grown-up who reads them, too.)  Also, the heroes are strong females as often as, if not more often than, males.  And we can always use more strong females to look up to.

Some of the greats

The very first Dystopian novel I ever remember reading was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Not really written for YA, though it is often included on lists.  I would recommend it for older teens because there is some pretty adult content.  This book, which I have read multiple times, is one of the greats.  It tells the story of Offred (Of-fred), who used to have a normal life with a husband and daughter and money of her own.  Until a totalitarian theocracy overthrows the U.S. government, subjugates all women, and turns their lives into a living hell of existing solely for the purpose of serving men.  The chilling thing about this story is that, of course, the protagonist’s name isn’t Really Offred.  It was changed when she was assigned to be the baby-maker for Commander Fred and his wife.  Because his wife is there to serve him in other capacities.  Offred is the brood mare.  Even scarier is the way the new government took power from women with a single swipe.  Offred goes to the store one day to buy something and her money card has been wiped clean.  She has no cash because people don’t use cash anymore.  It is her first clue that life is about to go terribly wrong.  I shudder when I think of it.  How many of us rely on our debit cards daily and therefore would be powerless if the government decided to shut them down and take our money?  Oh, the genius of Margaret Atwood.  It’s terrifying how quickly the government cuts women off from all independence and then sends them to camp to be indoctrinated. This book always reminds me to be careful of my own independence, to guard it with sharp teeth and claws.  Because I love my husband, but I am the subject of no man.

It was later, somehow, that I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I spoke about the protagonist,  Guy Montag, in my 20 Fave Male Characters for People Under 20.   In this novel, “firemen” who work for the government burn books in the name of public happiness.  Any book not approved by the government is against the law.  The firemen raid houses and burn the books, and sometimes the houses, and sometimes the perpetrators along with everything else.  Guy is thrown into shock and confusion when a woman chooses to burn with her books rather than live without them.  At the same time, he meets a teenage girl named Clarisse whose views about the world make him question the way of things even further.  So one night during a raid, he steals a book.  And the fit hits the shan.  The intriguing part of the plot is the way Bradbury shows–through Montag’s wife and her friends–that with the condemnation of books and ensuing reliance on technology and media, people have quit thinking for themselves.  They have no opinions, because they have nothing, really, to opine about.  Again, a delicious shudder runs through me.  Don’t give up your books.  Don’t stop thinking.  Don’t stop asking questions.  Don’t rely on television for our information because it doesn’t truly give you any.

What turned me on to the YA genre here in the last decade was, of course, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  In Colliins’ truly terrifying world, kids are enlisted from the 12 colonies left in the U.S. to participate in a yearly murder fest.  They go to an arena, 12 males and 12 females, and they basically fight to the death.  Only one person can win.  Katniss Everdeen ends up as part of the Games when her little sister gets picked to participate.  Without forethought, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  And turns this awful, Dystopian, totalitarian world on its head.  Kids killing each other for entertainment just so the government can prove who is in control?  Somebody better do something, is all I can say.  Talk about complacence.  There is so much depth in these novels that got chucked out for the movies.  I would like to put the people who made the films in their own Hunger Games.  How can you leave the heart out of a story and still call it good?  Ugh! Do Not judge this story based on the films.  Read the books.  They are truly brilliant.

I read Uglies by Scott Westerfield because my sister recommended it while I was reading The Hunger Games.  She, too, was a librarian at the time, though she has gone on to get her masters in speech pathology and now Rocks that biz.  Uglies is about Tally, a girl approaching her 16th birthday whose best friend, a boy named Peris, has already gotten an operation and moved to New Pretty Town.  New Pretty Town.  Meaning a town for new pretties where no one has any responsibilities or worries.  Because at 16, everyone in society gets an operation that turns them beautiful.  New bone structure, new skin, new… everything.  And Tally can’t wait to get her operation and join Peris.  But then she meets Shay, a girl her age who is everything Tally is not. Shay is happy with her status as an Ugly, doesn’t want the operation–in fact, she intends to run away before her birthday to join a rebellion.  On the day of Tally’s operation, she is enlisted by the government to track Shay down and lead the government to the rebellion headquarters.  If she doesn’t, the government will never let her become a Pretty.  What follows is Tally’s awakening to government control, how Pretties are kept complacent through their lack of responsibility, and how our differences are what make us beautiful, even without operations.  Definitely a good summer read for a young girl who loves adventure and maybe needs to be reminded that ugly is as ugly does.

One of my favorite Dystopian story lines is that of Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  This totalitarian government teaches that love is a disease, and there is a mandatory surgical cure performed on people when they turn 18.  Lena, the protagonist, has been just as brainwashed as everyone else by the government and believes wholeheartedly that love is a disease.  In terrible fear of catching it before her operation, she anticipates the cure with glee.  Until she meets Alex.  Alex lives outside society, has never been cured, and is part of a resistance that is not fooled by the government’s mind-control.  Of course Lena falls in love with him.  And it changes everything.  My only complaint about this series is that it has one of those mid-story changes where Lena becomes involved in a love triangle.  And I’m sorry, but if you fall in love so hard it literally changes your whole world, I just don’t think you’re going to fall that hard again any time soon.  I hate love triangles.  Writers, give us some credit.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi is the last book I’m going to talk about. Today. It is, perhaps, my favorite.  Aria lives in Reverie, a domed city which protects its citizens from Aether storms caused by catastrophic changes to Earth.  When a night of fun turns into a tragedy, Aria is banished from her home to the wastelands, where she will surely die.  In fact, if not for an Outsider named Perry, she most certainly would have died when an Aether storm popped up.  Perry is one of the people left on earth who don’t live in a dome, an Outsider, considered to be a cannibal or worse, but Aria has to rely on him to survive.  What follows is a beautiful love story and a fascinating toppling of yet another totalitarian government. The coolest part is how Perry and Aria both have these assumptions about the other based on where they lived.  As they get to know each other, they realize what we should all know.  People are people, no matter where they’re from, and we all have things in common and we all have the same joys and worries and fears.  And we’re all worthy.  And bad guys can be found just about anywhere. Good stuff.

If you have a little looking for a bit of excitement and romance this summer, or who is as fascinated by people who don’t allow the government to control them as I am, get him or her one of these books.  There are many others, but these are the ones I recommend first whenever anyone asks.  Do you have any favorites I didn’t list?  Let me know in the comments.

Love wins,

KT

20 Fave Female Characters for People Under 20

Let me preface this post by saying coming up with this list was Hard.  Harder, even, than choosing 101 books for Recommended Reading.  I have been reading (constantly) since I was 4, and I have met many interesting and awe-inspiring characters in all that time.  But I was thinking about the kinds of characters young girls can relate to and look up to, and hoping to give you a peek into the world of awesome characters so you can recommend them to your own littles.  Or enjoy them for yourself like I do.  I admitted in the comments of my last post that I am a huge fan of YA books right now and tend to read them for the most part these days.  The YA world has opened up to include so many genres.  When I was a kid YA meant romance stories or stories that taught you about your period or fluff like Sweet Valley High.  Remember that series? Blah.

vintage girl books

There are many more options these days and some of them are even appropriate for chucking the reading level.   Between those options and the plethora of children’s books out there, I’ve picked a list of twenty female characters for your girls (and boys) to fall in love with and admire.

1. Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott LittleWomen4

Jo is one of the most down-to-earth, nose-to-the-grindstone characters ever written.  Especially if your daughter has an interest in writing, this is a character she should read about.  Jo writes because she Has To, she doesn’t have a choice.  She doesn’t let the social norms of her time hold her back.  She knows what she is supposed to do in life and she does it.  The most interesting thing about Jo is how well she knows herself.  Instead of rushing into marriage with Laurie, the cute boy next door, she realizes she is meant for bigger things.  She knows she’s hurting him, but she turns him down.  Why?  Because that’s not where her heart is.  If you want someone to teach your littles how to be true to themselves, Jo’s your girl.

2. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Regardless of what we may feel about how the films turned out (angry and betrayed, anyone?), the book character of Katniss is strong and loyal and never gives up.  She Believes In Family.  When her little sis gets called up to participate in the Hunger Games, Katniss doesn’t hesitate to volunteer to take her place.  It puts her in bad situation that only spirals.  The Hunger Games is one of my favorite trilogies ever written because we watch this girl go from surviving to leading and even though others don’t always understand her motives, we as readers know they all stem from the same place–she loves her family and will do anything to protect them, even go to war.  What other reason could there be to cause so much ruckus?

3. Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Here’s a little girl who has lost everything–not that she really had anything to begin with.  Her neglectful parents have died in India and left her without a home.  The only place she has to go is her uncle’s mysterious manor in England.  Mary starts out a lonely, distant, off-putting brat and ends up opening her heart, finally, for the first time in her life, all because of a garden she finds locked up on the estate.  She makes friends.  She starts to Care.  If you want your children to see how different the world is when you care about people and are kind to them, this is the book.  Mary learns to think beyond herself and turns her tragedy into an epic of hope.  She is also the poster child for determination.  Turning that garden into something useful and appealing takes a lot of work and willpower.  I wish she’d come work on my garden.

4. Winnie Foster from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

Winnie has a very small world at the beginning of this book.  Her parents are more overprotective than I am.  She isn’t allowed out of her fenced yard, has never explored the woods just outside the gate, has never disobeyed the rules.  Until she decides to disobey the rules.  The adventure that follows teaches her more about herself than she could ever have learned had she continued to be obedient.  Winnie is brave.  She is fiercely loyal.   She puts herself out there for something she feels is right and saves the day.  If I ever get wrongfully imprisoned, I hope Winnie Foster is around.  Winnie could teach your littles a thing or two about how to handle new situations while keeping their heads.

5. Ramona Quimby from Beezus and Ramona (and other books) by Beverly Cleary

Let’s face it.  Ramona’s indomitable spirit lives in every single one of us. Sure, she’s obnoxious.  But the underlying reasons, laid out so well in Ramona the Pest, are completely understandable.  She’s young.  The youngest.  It’s hard sometimes to get attention and every child wants attention.  She also wants Every. Thing. To be fair.  So even though we know fairness sometimes can’t come into a situation (such as what she is allowed to do compared to what Beezus is allowed to do), we find ourselves cheering her on.  By the time Ramona reaches Age 8, she is starting to come to grips with her feelings about the world.  She realizes that while her family is not perfect, neither is she, and she starts to understand that sometimes things just aren’t going to be nice.  Ramona is awesome for belly laughs, but she also shows kids that they aren’t the only ones in the world with mixed feelings about how things work.

6. Laura Ingalls from the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ah, Laura.  My childhood hero and best-est book friend.  Not only did I enjoy the books, I never missed an episode of the television program based on them.  Laura was a feisty little scamp.  She taught me how to be a farmer.   I was a city girl back then with a longing for the country life I never wanted to admit to Anybody.  (Fortunately I grew out of that, or I wouldn’t have this incredible farm.)  She taught me how to get even with the evil Nellies of the world.  She taught me about honesty, appreciating what I have, and how awesome it is to be a teacher.  Her relationship with her father was so many light years away from my own that it gave me hope and showed me the kind of man I would look for when I grew up.  Sure, these books are great for teaching your littles about pioneer days.  But they’re also great for little girls starting to find their way in the world and needing someone to emulate.

7. Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I don’t know if it’s Alice so much as Carroll’s amazing skill with words that makes me include her in this list.  Alice is curious and impulsive and even though Carroll shows us through her changing size that she is too old for such childish adventures, she refuses to let go of them just yet.  How many of us have struggled to hold onto childhood in some way?  (One of the reasons I love having Littles is that they keep my imagination fresh and feeling young.)  Like Winnie Foster, Alice begins as a polite rule follower.  She is concerned for the approval of adults and works hard not to appear ignorant in front of them.  However, she is also pretty self-absorbed and tends to frighten or offend others without meaning to.  At least she always apologizes for it.  The cool thing about Alice is watching her find out who she really is through all her misadventures.  And Johnny Depp plays a dope Mad Hatter, so watch the film.

8. Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Now here’s a character I love to hate.  Veruca is the antithesis of what I want to be.  And yet, I love to read about her.  She makes me laugh; she’s so absurd.  Veruca is one in the list of characters who get punished by Willie Wonka because of their bad behavior.  In Veruca’s case, it is being spoiled and demanding and thinking she can get whatever she wants from whomever is around her that gets her tossed down a garbage chute.  She’s great for teaching your littles how Not To Behave.  And then there’s the overall theme about good behavior being rewarded while bad behavior is punished.  Win-win.

9. Nancy Drew from the Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene

I discovered Nancy Drew when I was 8 or 9, and even though I loved the mysteries, my favorite part was the glimpse I got into the teenage world.  Nancy and George and Bess had Boyfriends, something I couldn’t imagine having while at the same time couldn’t wait to experience.  Nice, polite, respectful boyfriends, too, who totally understood when the girls had to traipse off to unknown parts for a little crime-solving.  Also, Nancy Drew Used Her Brain without caring that it was the early 1980s when I was reading her and the women’s lib movement was still fresh enough that our mothers still encouraged us not to let boys know we were smarter than them, because boys didn’t like that.  I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I went through a period when I wanted to be a detective, and I think Nancy Drew contributed to that.  Strong, smart, brave, and sassy, Nancy Drew is an awesome character for little girls.

10. Princess Irene from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonaldprincess goblin

My mama brought me back a copy of this book from one of her trips to Canada for the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford.  It transported me.  It was perhaps my first full-length fairy tale/fantasy and Irene was one of the first true feminine heroes I read about.  She lived in a castle, and that was cool, but she was a regular girl and that was cooler.  And what girl wouldn’t like to have a melted star in each of her blue eyes?  (Or blue eyes, because ya know, mine are brown, and I think I would have rocked blue eyes with my dark hair. haha)  Polite, considerate, and truthful, Irene insists on keeping her promises (and we all know we shouldn’t make promises unless we intend to keep them).  Not only does Irene teach these attributes, her spiritual journey is full of allegory, making hers an even more pleasing adventure.  Thanks, Mama, for bringing her to me. 🙂

11. Ani from The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is one of my all-time favorite YA authors.  She is brilliant at imagery and pace.  The Goose Girl is, of course, based on the fairy tale, but there are such great additions that Hale was able to turn the setting into a trilogy that is pretty spectacular.  Ani can communicate with animals, a magical gift she is taught to control by her aunt.  When she grows up, Ani finds that people distrust her magic and her mother forces her to journey far from home in order to marry a foreign king.  As she travels, her lady-in-waiting, Selia, turns on her, using her escort’s distrust of Ani’s magic to supplant Ani with Selia.  So Ani has to end her journey like a peasant, ending up getting a job as the king’s goose girl while Selia pretends to be the princess come to marry the king.  Ani is kind, though, and generous, and strong, and eventually the king discovers her quite by accident and all comes right in the end.  If you’re looking for a way to give your daughter a fairy tale with a realistic heroine, you can’t go wrong with The Goose Girl.

12. Cassia from Matched by Ally Condie

My favorite thing about Cassia is her love and devotion to the written word.  She lives in a dystopian society where every single choice about her life is made by The Society.  Her job is chosen.  Even her spouse is chosen in a fancy ceremony.  But a mistake is made, and Cassia ends up having to choose between her best friend, Xander, and Ky, the boy who teaches her about words.  She is confused because The Society never makes mistakes, yet her feelings for Ky are insurmountable.  The beauty of that love is that it makes her question everything about The Society and how bad it really is to have all our choices taken from us.  Cassia’s willingness to follow her heart and trust her instincts is another way to show your littles how to be brave and stand up for what is right.  And it’s a rollicking adventure.

13. Leslie Burke from Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Who couldn’t love a girl who is artistic, creative, and imaginative and who loves both to read books And play outdoors?  Leslie Burke is one of my all-time faves because she believes in the magic of her imagination and because she knows what it means to be a true friend.  And she doesn’t watch television.  What’s not to love?!  Her death is heartrending, but it is also a good illustration of how friendship is a legacy that stays with us and gives our lives beauty.  Paterson wrote the story to help her own son deal with the death of a friend, so it is both poignant and sensitive.  And Leslie is unforgettable, even for us lowly readers.

14. Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White 

I know, there’s a bit of a theme here about girls who like words.  But Charlotte is one of the reasons I love spiders.  When we moved to the farm I told Martin I wanted Charlotte’s web with all the animals and he happily obliged me.  We’ve had pigs, geese, goats, cows, ducks, and even more (but thankfully no rats).  I even made a sign out of an old wreath and that fake spiderweb you can get around Halloween that said, “Some Pig.”  Because Charlotte rocks.  She’s intelligent.  She’s good with words.  She’s compassionate.  She’s strong.  She’s generous.  She becomes a mother.  Um… if your littles haven’t read this yet, read it to them now!

15. Abilene Tucker from Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Abilene is so awesome.  Her rough-and-tumble approach to life reminds me of myself in childhood.  So curious, so vibrant, so unwilling to let mysteries remain mysteries.  I didn’t read this book until a year or so ago, but Abilene quickly captured my heart.  She’s a good character for teaching your littles how to handle new situations and how to follow through with determination and heart.  Plus, this book is great when you’re studying either the Depression or WWI, as the story flips back and forth between the time periods.  And the writing is superb.

16. Grandma Dowdel from A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Oh, Grandma Dowdel.  You crazy old bat.  You made us laugh.  You made us cringe.  You were… one smart cookie with a lot to offer.  Since the story is told from the point of view of young Mary Alice (a supreme character in her own right), Grandma Dowdel is at first an awkward, embarrassing mystery.  The Littles and I were fortunate to have picked this book up before its prequel, A Long Way from Chicago, so we appreciated Grandma’s nuances without having already been introduced to her.  By the end of the book, Mary Alice has recognized the deep and abiding love that is inherent in Grandma Dowdel, and the reader has walked the zany, hilarious path to that conclusion with her.   I could read about Grandma Dowdel all day long.  What a cool old lady.  May I be that cool when it comes time for grandkids.

17. Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane is another tough bird.  After being sent off to a dreadful orphanage by her dreadful aunt, she survives to become a governess for the incomprehensible Mr. Rochester, perhaps the most romantic figure in literature, ever.  Of course, all the truly Gothic freakiness and mystery is part of the charm, but Jane’s spirit and her way of dealing with all the oddness thrown her way are the real stars.  Maybe save it for tween-teen girls, depends on your own feelings about the book, but Jane is definitely someone every girl should meet at some point while they’re still young enough to be influenced.

18. Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Scout… Proud spirit, defender of right, lover of Atticus and Jem.  Hands down the greatest female character ever written.  To read about the Worst Human Flaw Ever (prejudice) through the eyes of Scout is to truly see how preposterous prejudice is.  We all know that children aren’t born with prejudices.  Rather, they are taught that revolting emotion.  Beyond that, Scout is sassy, fun, and full of spirit.  There’s a reason Harper Lee only ever had to publish one book until this year.  And a reason I am counting the days till July 14th, when I can get hold of the new one…

19. Tally from Uglies by Scott Westerfield

The amazing thing about Tally is that she’s written by a dude.  That said, if you haven’t read The Uglies series, go do so.  It’s such a cool way to say that we shouldn’t be so focused on appearance, that sometimes our flaws are what make us beautiful, and what we look like is not nearly as important as who we are.  Tally is a thoughtful person who has her views on the world turned upside down by her new friend, Shay.  Tally has been waiting her whole life to turn 16 and get the operation that will make her a Pretty, but Shay doesn’t want to be made Pretty.  She wants more from life.  What follows is brilliant dystopian ruination in which, once more, we are made to realize that we really are better off having choices–both in what we do and how we look.  And Tally is one kick-butt heroine throughout the series.

20. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Hmm.  If you’ve read this book, you know how just thinking about it can overwhelm you.  Hazel is dying.  Of cancer.  And she is the wisest, funniest, snarkiest, most amazing creature.  She knows all about hope and the lack of it.  She falls in love anyway.  She says herself that she is a ticking time-bomb, set to crush everyone she lets in.  She lets Gus in anyway.  She Lives While She Can and that in itself is a lesson for all of us.  She is brave and strong and true.  Even my beautiful husband says Hazel’s story is the best love story he’s ever seen.  Sorry.  I can’t find enough words.  Read it.  Let your littles read it.  Especially if they know someone surviving cancer.

As I said, I had to leave characters off this list to narrow it down to 20.  Please feel free to add your own favorite female characters in the comments.  And tomorrow?  Well, tomorrow we’ll celebrate the boys.  In the meantime, any of the books on this list would make great summer reading.  So have fun.

Love wins,

KT