A Conversation with Kathleen Odean

Why did you decide to write Great Books for Girls?

As a school librarian, I read to groups of children ages 3 to 11, help them find books to check out, and advise teachers and parents about books for children. I make it a priority to promote books that feature strong girls to try to offset the sexism that pervades our culture. Yet even for someone knowledgeable about children's literature, it's a challenge. One day a few years ago, a father came in asking for sports fiction about girls for his second-grade daughter. I couldn't think of any off the top of my head, and I realized there was no easy resource to turn to for an answer. So I decided to write one.

What about boys? Shouldn't they read these books too?

Absolutely! Since the school where I work has boys as well as girls, I have read many of these books to boys. I find that if a picture-story book is as much fun as The Adventures of Isabel or Chester's Way, boys as well as girls will enjoy it. The third graders at my school almost all love the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, while fifth graders easily get caught up in A Wrinkle in Time and The Adventures of Charlotte Doyle. It is true that many boys prefer exciting books over novels about problems or relationships. Those are exactly the kinds of books highlighted in this guide. They are fun to read, and they will help boys see that girls too are capable of adventure and heroism.

What kind of books did you look for to include in this guide?

I looked for female characters who are confident, capable, and intelligent. They could be fictional girls, women, or even talking animals, or real-life girls and women. I wanted characters who solve problems, face challenges, deal with conflicts, and go on quests. They are not waiting to be rescued, they are doing the rescuing. Nor are they waiting for a male to provide a happy ending: they are fashioning their own stories and their own endings. The biographies are about girls and women who made a difference through their accomplishments and adventures.

How did you select the books?

Some I knew from my fifteen years as a children's librarian. I talked to other librarians, teachers, children and parents to glean ideas. I checked reference books and journals, and browsed in libraries and bookstores. All the picture-story books I read to children at my school to "test" them, and I gave novels and biographies to older children to get their reactions. Of course I ended up reading hundreds of books that I didn't include in the guide.

Do you have ideas for girls who love Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty?

I have an entire chapter on folk and fairy tales which have the magic and the beautiful pictures many girls love, but which are about strong girls and women. In them, princesses go on quests to rescue princes; brave girls from all over the world fight monsters and dragons, and win.

Should we read our daughters only books about strong girls?

There are too many terrific books about boys and traditional girls to limit yourself to the books I list. No one should miss Frog and Toad, Winnie the Pooh, or the well-known fairy tales that are part of our culture. At the same time, it is important to seek out books that give children strong role models of girls and women to try to offset the sexism they see on television and videos.

What is your favorite book of all the ones listed?

Often before I start reading to children I find myself saying, "This is one of my favorite books." "You sure have a lot of favorite books," my students say, shaking their heads. It's true! I love many of the books that I describe in this guide. Some I have read aloud dozens of times and I continue to enjoy them. Others are wonderful novels I've read to myself more than once. You will see from the descriptions how great these books are.

How can we find the books listed in this guide?

The last chapter answers this question with ideas about using bookstores and libraries. All of the books listed are in print so they are available for purchase. I also list magazines that will help you keep up with children's book publishing.

some great books * book activities * how to empower your daughter

about the author * a conversation with the author

Great Books for Girls

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The Ballantine Publishing Group