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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

 

 

 

 

20 Fave Male Characters for People Under 20

boy booksThis list was no easier to whittle down that yesterday’s list of 20 fave female characters.  But as the Lit Mama of three beautiful boys, I have to tell you some of my favorite male characters so you can introduce your littles to their incredible attributes.  So without further ado…

  1. Oliver Twist from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know that the Littles and I read the book this year and that I am a huge fan.  Oliver’s goodness, even in the face of so much treachery and filth and rottenness, is an amazing grace to watch.  Though not stupid, Oliver is believably naive.  It makes him more hopeful than he otherwise might be and I think goodness and the ability to keep hope are important in every situation we may ever find ourselves in.

2.  The bat-poet from The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell

Listen, if no one has ever turned you on to this gem, let me be the one.  Especially if you’re teaching your kids about poetry, this story is a winner.  The bat-poet is truly a bat who lives with a group of bats on a farm.  When cold weather comes and the rest of the bats move from the porch to the roof of the barn, the little brown bat-poet stays on the porch because he is afraid he will miss it if he moves.  He tries to get his friends to come back, but they refuse.  The little brown bat sleeps alone for a while, but soon he begins to wake up during the day because he is lonely.  He hears a mockingbird sing and tries to emulate him but he is unsuccessful.  So he decides to use words to capture what he sees and how he feels about the daytime.  His friends criticize his poem, so he tries to get daytime animals to be his audience.  He makes up poems about many different creatures until finally he takes inspiration from his own life and writes about a baby bat and his mother.  When he flies to the barn to share it with his friends, he finds them hibernating.  As he snuggles in with them, he begins to forget his poem.  What I love about The Bat-Poet is his willingness to experience what others of his kind reject.  He is shy and sensitive and willing to see what others might consider painful or difficult and put it into words.  And his sleepy forgetfulness at the end, when he is getting all warm and cozy and his life is going back to normal…  Well, that has its merits, too.  You can download a free pdf of the story here, but I recommend getting the book illustrated by the magnificent Maurice Sendak.  Because it’s a keeper.

3. Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I’m sure many of you are going, “Mr. Tumnus?! Really?!” Because there are so many characters to love in this book.  But this is My Favorite List, and Mr. Tumnus is my favorite character.  I like him because 1) he’s a faun, and that’s cool, and 2) he really is a good guy who doesn’t want to turn Lucy over to the White Witch.  He is inherently good though fear causes him to make bad choices.  Mr. Tumnus could make a good character study for your littles–what makes a good person do bad things?  Also, James McAvoy darn near made Tumnus hhhhot in the film.  You know, to counter all that winter.

4. Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

Eeyore melts my heart.  His steadfast belief that no one truly cares is both wistful and adorable.  Littles who often feel out of place can relate to Eeyore and his whole, “Thanks for noticing me,” attitude.  He’s a pretty pragmatic dude, too–when his house disappears, he doesn’t get mad or throw a tantrum.  He just happens to mention it to Christopher Robin the next time he sees him.  I love all the characters in the Pooh stories, but Eeyore is my absolute favorite.

5. Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

I don’t have any boys like Max, though Littlest comes closest simply because of his mischievous spirit.  For the most part my boys are well-behaved.  They never talk back or wish wolves would eat me up.  At least not to my face.  Nonetheless I always secretly wanted a little boy who caused such trouble.  Because Max has Such Fun when he’s being bad.  And some of the monsters are so cute I just want to hug them.  And in the end, Max realizes his behavior was wrong, so it all comes out okay.  Now, if only they hadn’t made that awful, depressing film….

6. Abel from Abel’s Island by William Steig

I still have my original copy of Abel’s Island.  And we used it when we read it last year.  And it was awesome.  Abel is a regular Robinson Crusoe, getting trapped on a desert island and surviving until he can get off.  We actually read Crusoe the year before we read Abel, which may be a bit backwards since Abel is so much easier a read.   Abel is a cheeky little mouse with lots of ideas of how to survive on his island. Like Crusoe, his main objective is to get home, and he gets his happily ever after in the end.

7. Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

If you don’t already know that Bilbo is one of my Favorite Characters Ever, this is your first visit to my blog.  🙂  Bilbo starts out a stubborn, timid rabbit and quickly becomes a valiant, daring hero.  Bilbo’s desire to save everyone at the end of the book and make things right shows his kind character and true heroism.  Sure, he might be the boss against trolls and gollums, but his real value?  Caring.  And that’s what we want our littles to learn.

8. Hazel from Watership Down by Richard Adams

I love, love, love Watership Down.  I love Hazel for being brave enough to take off into the unknown to save at least some of his warren from destruction.  But what I love most, of course, is his love for and support of his brother.  He never doubts Fiver, and never lets anyone else doubt for long. He is a strong and kind leader, and when held up against the leaders of the other warrens the rabbits encounter, his type of leadership is a stark contrast.  Hazel can teach your kids how to be wise and good and how to think things through to develop strategies for life.

9. Merlin from The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

If you’ve never really read anything about King Arthur or Merlin and you want a gorgeous, encompassing introduction, look no further.  I’ve already admitted I have over 100 books about the Arthurian legends.  Some are good, some are great, some are not.. so… good.  This book and the three that follow it are Excellent.  They are my very favorites and I have read them too many times to count.  Why?  Because they’re the only books in which Merlin is depicted as a real person.  This first one follows Merlin’s childhood, his introduction to his magic, his years of study, and his rise to a position in which he could help the future king.  I’m pretty sure Arthur isn’t even alive yet during this book.  It’s historically accurate as far as Britain’s enemies and the geography of the island during the time when Arthur is supposed to have lived.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  When I call it gorgeous, I mean the imagery will stay with you For. Ever.  And so will the main character.  In fact, you might just buy another hundred books looking for one that compares.

10. Will Tweedy from Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

I love southern novels.  I think To Kill a Mockingbird did that to me 30 or so years ago, but there you are.  Southern settings are incredible.  Will Tweedy is a resident of Cold Sassy, Georgia, so that earns him points right there.  He’s a curious, sometimes mischievous kid who regards his family with a certain measure of amusement and affection. He adores his grandpa, who certainly causes some scandal in the book.  In the form of marrying a Much Younger Woman.  Three weeks after his first wife dies.  Will’s not outraged like the rest of the town, though.  He tries to understand his grandpa’s new marriage.  And he eventually finds out that things aren’t always what they seem.  Will also has a couple of adventures of his own in the book that are pretty hilarious and/or shocking.  He’s a good character to teach your littles how to handle gossip and how not to pass judgment.

11. Sam Adams from Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes

Johnny Tremaine is hands-down the best Revolutionary War book for kids; that’s why everybody uses it.  Getting to see the real-life characters from a kid’s point of view makes the whole thing make more sense to littles.  Sam Adams is my favorite character because of the things he says in the book.  Obviously, he’s already a hero and one of the reasons us U.S. folk have a country.  He wrote the pamphlets that ignited the spark.  But when Adams stands in front of his fellow rebels and says, “…We fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.”  Ah!  I get goose bumps.  May we always fight so that a man (or woman) can stand up.  May that always be important to all of us.

12. Pip from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I think I’ve mentioned before that Great Expectations was my first Dickens ever. So Pip stays with me and has for a very long time since I was 12 when I first read his story (I’ve read it many times since. It rivals The Count of Monte Cristo for my All-Time Very-Top Favorite Book Ever). Pip is a kind, if bewildered, soul throughout the book. His inability to understand meanness when he sees it stays with him through adulthood, and I can definitely relate to that. He sees the good in people when they don’t really have any good. He feels for compassion for people when he maybe shouldn’t. He makes some mistakes, but for the most part he loves with his whole heart and treats others accordingly. Can you say good role model?

13. Jem from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Jem. When I first read about him he reminded me so much of my own older brother I wanted to cry. His steadfast strength, his friendship with Scout, his protectiveness of her… if you want your littles to learn how to treat their siblings, have them read about Jem and Scout.   Their stout love for each other and their father is one of the most inspiring relationships in literature. No wonder Harper Lee only needed to publish one book until this year (have I said that before?).

14. The Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I don’t know if it’s the Hatter so much as Carroll’s amazing skill with words… Just kidding. I’ve been passionately in love with the Mad Hatter since I was very small. He’s so… crazy.   Maybe it’s the way he pokes fun at adults with his actions. Because surely a tea party was confusing to little kids when they happened, and the Hatter’s tea party is one of the most confusing scenes in the book. I think a lot of it is his manner of speech—completely illogical in a comical way. And the fact that he doesn’t seem to have the right rules. Or any rules. When I was little, that was the most Awesome Thing Ever, and now that I’m grown, well, I’m still a fan. Oh, and Johnny Depp plays a dope Hatter, so watch the film.

15. Ged from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is another book of which I still have the copy I first read at 13 or 14.  Ged is a good example of a person coming into his own. From the beginning of this amazing trilogy he knows he has powers, but he has no idea what he’s getting into when he jets off to wizard school. It’s riveting to watch this good-hearted guy get himself out of scrapes that he never could have predicted. And he’s a good example of how to handle power while keeping your heart intact.

16. Tobias from Divergent by Veronica Roth

Tobias is, in my opinion, the best love-interest written in the last decade. There have been several big action/romance trilogies that have come out, but Tobias is the best character of those. Why? He has real depth. He is not only Tris’s love interest, he is a guy who survived childhood abuse, who has learned how to deal with the political machinations of the factions, who has Real Feelings about the world, not just about Tris. For me, learning about Tobias was as interesting as anything else that happened in Roth’s series. And the best part? His girl didn’t up and fall in love with someone else halfway through the story. I hate the love-triangle schtick. Ugh, if women were that mercurial, there wouldn’t be any marriages. Please, writers, give us some credit.

17. Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Everybody loves Tom Sawyer, right? That adventurous boy with a lot of snark that gets into trouble without batting an eye and gets back out of it like a boss. He is the ultimate Good Bad Boy. No wonder Becky Thatcher couldn’t stay away from him. What’s really cool about this character, though, is that he reminds Littles how fun life is without technology. Get out and play like Tom. Maybe don’t cause so much trouble, but cause a little trouble, if only in your imagination. Climb trees. Explore. That’s what Tom Sawyer teaches.

18. Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Oh, Guy.  How could you stand yourself, burning all those books?  It must have crushed your soul.  Watching Guy go from the big, mean Fireman to the Guy who loves books and questions everything is a true delight.  And Littles should learn to do that.  Question everything.  Get to the bottom of it.  Learn the truth. And listen:  This is from the Wikipedia article about the book– “Over the course of several decades, people embraced new media, sports, and a quickening pace of life. Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span while minority groups protested over the controversial, outdated content perceived to be found in books.”  (I don’t usually approve of Wikipedia, but it’s a perfect description.)  Don’t your littles deserve to learn that speeding up isn’t always a good thing?  I mean, before it’s too late.

19. Thomas from The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Thomas is a well thought-out character who starts out surprised and grows to be full of surprises.  He Uses His Brain when he’s in the maze instead of becoming the complacent citizen the other boys expect him to be.  No matter what he’s up against, he refuses to just take things as they come.  So admirable.  Plus, he tries to save everybody, much like Bilbo Baggins does in The Hobbit, even the people he doesn’t like.  How many people in the world are like that?  All of us should be.

20. Sirius Black from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban by J.K. Rowling

Now, I love Hagrid. But if I have to pick a fave from the Harry Potter series, it’s going to be Sirius. Maybe it’s because of his affect on Harry. But I think it’s his open heart that enfolds Harry from his introduction. His strength in standing by Harry’s side and supporting him. His feelings about the importance of Family. Plus, he was just cool. I admit, I spent the rest of the series hoping he would somehow come back so Harry would still have some family. I understand that Rowling wanted to make it as realistic as she could, and no one was safe, but Sirius’ death is the one I truly regret.

There you have them.  Twenty of the most awesome boys ever written.  Make sure your littles get to the know them all.  My life would not have been the same without them.  It would have been a lot more boring, too.

Again, if I’ve left your faves off the list, let me know in the comments.  In the meantime,

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.

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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

Littles’ Lit for 20th Century History

Yesterday I posted about some of the novels we’ve read to supplement our history lessons.  In response, my fellow awesome blogger, Anna Marie, asked what I would recommend for studies from WWI on.  So since I have been dreaming about tackling the 20th century for 2 years, I have plenty to recommend.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope FarmerCharlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

This absolutely amazing book tells the story of Charlotte, who goes to a new boarding school one night and wakes up the next day in the time of the first world war.  I read it a few years ago just for fun and immediately added it to my list of things for the Littles to read when we study WWI.  It’s wonderful for those everyday details about how life really happened during that time period.  I also recommend Searching for Silverheels by Jeannie Mobley, which provides a window into how the war affected immigrants in America, what patriotism meant, and even teaches about women’s suffrage.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon over ManifestLove. This. Book.  A brilliantly written novel that shows littles how the Great Depression broke families up with a tie-in to WWI.  You can’t really ask for a better novel to put your littles smack dab in the middle of the early 20th century.  I would also recommend Children of the Dust Bowl by Jerry Stanley.  It’s not fiction, but it is an interesting account of the school at Weedpatch Camp, a place in California to which Oklahomans migrated during this difficult period.  It is Filled with photographs of the time period and largely told in the words of the migrants.  Finally, of course, the Lit Mama recommends John Steinbeck’s awesome, incomparable The Grapes of Wrath.  A must-read when studying the Depression.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Oh.  This book.  I know it is also set during the depression, but it broaches a subject near and dear to my heart, the Worst Human Flaw Ever, prejudice.  And Scout has been my hero since I was a little girl, and Dill was my boyfriend, and my real-life brother was so like Jem it almost hurt.  Needless to say, it is on my list of top 5 favorite books Ever.  There is, of course, the delicate matter of the rape, but if you are uncomfortable, skip the descriptive sections.  I read this to the Littles 4 years ago for summer reading, and had many people look at me aghast.  Well, there are ways to get around the sketchy parts and still make the story enjoyable for kids.  All in all, the experience made me glad my parents never censored my reading choices!

Do Not Skip This One. 🙂

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck A Year Down Yonder

Get out of the Depression, KT! I can’t.  Too many excellent books set in the time period.  This one the Littles and I have read together three times.  Three.  All of us.  Because this is just a peak into life in the 1930s and how normal people kept on living through the tragedy of separated families and hard, hard times.  But it is an adventurous peek full of lovable characters and a million little things that make us laugh and cringe and wish we knew Grandma Dowdel because she is Awesome.

Number the Stars by Lowis Lowry

I became a Lowry fan with The Giver and she didn’t disappoint with this haunting tale of WWII Nazi occupation in Denmark.  It’s a great way for kids to see the emotions and dangers children faced during this horrific time.  Of course, The Diary of Anne Frank is a must-read about WWII, but I also highly recommend The Shadow Children by Steven Schnur, a story about the ghosts of the children involved in the tragedy at Mont Brulant haunting a young boy.  It’s a short book and a little dark by definition, but provides good insight into the horrors of the war.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

This is a seriously cool book about the racial tensions in the south in the 1960s.  It’s really funny and at the same time it’s an insightful look into how the civil rights movement affected families, especially African-Americans.  A super important read for all kids.  Also look at Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood (is that her real name?  What a cool name!).  It is a lyrical coming-of-age novel that focuses on the segregation of public swimming pools and the racial tensions of 1964.

I think I could go on with books about the 1960s like I did with books about the 1930s, but seriously, I am running out of time.  I hope this list inspires you to share wonderful fiction with your children as they learn history and that the reading instigates a million discussions about a million different things.   That is, after all, the best part.

Love wins,

KT