Friday Fluff: Kiddie lit

In honor of Pippi: who were your kid’s-book role models growing up? Who made you feel like you could do anything? Do you remember fat or unconventional-looking protagonists whose non-beautiful looks were portrayed in a positive (or at least neutral) light?

On the flip side, who disappointed or hurt you? There’s some discussion on Manolo for the Big Girl right now about the book Me and Fat Glenda, in which the protagonist apparently loses weight and suddenly becomes attractive. Personally I remember feeling bitterly let down by Meg Murry, who suddenly became stunningly gorgeous and shed all her endearing and identifiable teenage awkwardness. (Mad love to Madeleine L’Engle, of course, but that always struck a sour note with me.)

147 thoughts on “Friday Fluff: Kiddie lit

  1. I had a deep love for Anne from the Anne of Green Gables series when I was a younger. My mom introduced me to the series when I was 10 or so saying “Read this. She’s just like you.”

    And we did have an alarmingly large amount in common. Especially our tendency to over-romanticize the mundane, and to be completely surprised and upset by the fact that our brilliant plans often go very wrong due to this over-romanticization.

  2. I was way into Ramona Quimby. I was her polar opposite – shy and introverted, but MAN did she make me try to be a bit more precocious. My car is named Ramona in her honor. :)

  3. Misty of Chincoteague and The Black Stallion. When I was a kid I liked horses far better than I liked people.

    In fact, I just walked over to my bookshelves to look at the books I kept from my childhood. Yup, almost 100% horse books. Sure, some of them had female protagonists, but it’s the horses I remember.

  4. I had trouble with Anne of Green Gables. Where “had trouble” means “cried ceaselessly at the end where she started being less whimsical and more grown-up.”

    I did have a dream that the Anne books were taken over by an anti-obesity initiative. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

    There was a new Anne of Green Gables book, which was about how after the diamond mine was discovered in Avonlea and all the residents got a share of the profits, life got really easy. Anne ate a lot of fancy cakes and put on some weight, and then got upset about it and took up swimming. The book was one of several books that were written at the behest of some anti-childhood-obesity initiative, where beloved children’s book characters were to be portrayed as getting upset or neurotic about their weight. The idea was that they would model these behaviors for children. I was really struck by how many Anne books I’d missed, since I had no idea there was a diamond mine in the first place.

  5. Judy Blume’s “Blubber” wasn’t bad (though I didn’t relate to her on that level, being skinny – I just knew what it was like to be an outcast and even when you change the thing you think they hate about you, that makes no difference); “The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” was a really cool book about a fat girl in junior high but I haven’t read it in years.

    My heroines were Jo (Little Women), Polly (the Five Little Peppers and How They Grew), Laura Ingalls (from the books, not the show please), Sara Crewe and Becky from A Little Princess, things like that. Oh…and Jane Purdy from “Fifteen” by Beverly Cleary – though now she seems awfully silly, looking back lol. I still read those books on something like a rotating cycle. Well, those and others. Anne of Green Gables would have been one, but I never got that book until long after the series with Colleen Dewhurst and Megan Follows – fortunately they did a darn good job on that production and I was able to enjoy the book very much. The sequels did start to bore me during like the first, so I don’t know that I’ll ever go through the whole series – it was her as a kid that was so charming – all her foibles and errors.

  6. Oh, Jo, totally! And your mention of Sara Crewe reminds me — isn’t it nice that Mary from The Secret Garden gets plumper as she gets happier and healthier? (Also, god that’s such a great book. I have a feeling this thread is going to make me really overexcited. You should see me when I get around kids of a certain age who like to read. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone and their mom wants to be a children’s librarian and the competition is fierce, I would totally want to be a children’s librarian.)

  7. HARRIET M. WELSCH

    I liked some girly-girl books, but I always had a very strong attachment to female characters who dressed (and acted) like boys. I mostly dressed like a boy as a kid, because I could not bring myself to believe in boobs until I got older.

    filljonk, that is the most effed up dream I’ve heard in a long time. And my dad told me some crazy dreams when he had bolts surgically drilled into his skull, so I should know.

  8. Sara Crewe, also. I got a doll that looked like her for my tenth birthday, and I was wild with delight!

  9. I remember being very pleased to read the Witch World books by Andre Norton and finding heroines who weren’t pretty, but brave and courageous. Pippi was another favorite, mostly because she washed her floor with sponges on her feet and lived without a parent. I also loved the Mallory Tower books, which were about an English girls’ school. Haven’t thought about those in a long time. The Secret Garden and Sara Crewe were also favorites of mine. Again, I think the heroines of those two were plain girls who had character. When I was a bit older Jane Eyre appealed to me, she was just so spunky a kid.

    I was deep into animal books though, Zara, My Friend Foxy, the Black Stallion books, Marguarite Henry’s books (particularly King of the Wind), the Silver Brumby books.

  10. Oh and for some reason I always like Emily of New Moon more than Anne of Green Gables. Spunk again I think. I still remember her refusal to have her hair cut, intimidating the adults.

  11. My country’s kiddie lit was plagued (for lack of a better word) by Astrid Lindgren books. I guess the commies didn’t find them particularly subversive ;o) I read and loved Pippi, I read and loved the Children from Bullerby, I read and loved Ronia the robber’s daughter, but I read and ADORED Karlsson-From-The-Roof. This little guy’s fat, mischievous, hilariously convinced he’s the best at everything, lives on the roof (hence the name) and when he pushes a button on his belly, a propeller on his back allows him to fly. I mean, what’s not to like?

  12. Oh I forgot a big one – Esther Hautzig from “The Endless Steppe” – an autobiographical story of her exile from Poland into Siberia. What they endured! Reading it now, though, she really gets on my nerves for some reason. And I always hated that the mother would refuse food (though they were starving) when someone would offer it to them.

  13. Oh! Fatty!

    Allow me to explain: UK children of a certain age – perhaps more the generation before me, but I had older parents so my reading matter as a child was skewed accordingly – were brought up on the world of Enid Blyton. For older kids, she wrote whole series of books about groups of friends who solved mysteries and the like. The Famous Five and the Secret Seven are the best known, but there was another group called the Five Find-Outers. And Fatty was their ringleader. His name was Frederick Algernon Trotteville, but he was also fat, hence the nickname – but it was never intended as an insult. He was generous (he had rich parents), brainy, and a master of disguise to the extent that he could pass himself off as an adult even to the local policeman (who was completely incompetent, and the kids were always solving crimes that he’d failed to make any progress on). I know he was a boy, but it’s interesting to remember a fat character who was simply fat without also being made out to be greedy, lazy, stupid and all the rest of that crap.

    I did have female literary role models, though; I was into the World’s End books by Monica Dickens – that was about a family of kids taking over an old pub and turning it into a home for neglected animals. I kind of wanted to be with Carrie, the horsey one, although I grew out of the horsey phase once it became clear I could never afford one!

    Oh, and a book that I find most British people have never heard of – Daddy-Long-Legs. I inherited a copy from a great-aunt, don’t ask me how, and I identified with Judy Abbott – having that regimented upbringing, then going off to college and discovering that there was a whole other world out there. I lost the original copy, then found another one in a thrift store, and have held onto it for dear life.

  14. I loved Anne of Green Gables until she started growing up. And also I really like the American Girll Doll books, (for a much younger crowd) for the most part I recall those books as having somewhat rebellious and good hearted main characters. I really liked them. (Plus I am so into historical fiction.)

    Also, I read this series which I would almost garauntee no one has ever heard of, it was called The Meadow Brook Girls, and it was clearly from my grandmother’s childhood. It was about a troup of what were essentially girl scouts/campfire girls and the various treks they went on. I just found some of them on the Gutenberg project. I might take my copies from home and type them up to add them because it is a really great historical series. And there was another series I got from her about Jane Allen a young woman from the wild west who went to a girls “college” on the east coast.

    I also have all of the original nancy drew books, but to be honest, they are super boring and I only got through the first 5.

    I also loved horses, so I was really into Black Beauty and The Saddle club.

  15. Basically I was rabid for anything by Diana Wynne Jones, I thought they were amazing, I still do, all of her female characters are wonderful and stubborn and strong minded. (though having re-read charmed life following my discovery of fat acceptance, I don’t know how I feel about the two fat children not being allowed marmalade at breakfast, not that banning it works, and the comment by Roger’s father in The Pinhoe Egg that ‘he could do with the exercise’ . Having said that fat and plain Millie is an (ex) goddess and one of the most powerful people in the world. Mmm.

    I also loved The Worst Witch books, The Naughtiest Girl at School (my early left-ist leanings towards a socialist society, perhaps?) and the Tintin books (which have pretty much no female characters and definitely no role models, but I thought I was going to be an investigative reporter like him when I grew up).

  16. I liked Beatrice from the Ramona books, since I was also a sensible older sister. And E.L. Konigsburg’s main characters — I wanted to be Claudia in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I obviously very strongly identified as a big sister!) and Elizabeth from Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William Mckinley, and Me, Elizabeth. And Louise from Katherine Patterson’s Jacob Have I Loved (yet another sister role…. I never noticed that about myself; huh).

    And the eldest sister in Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. My word.

  17. Meant to add: All of the characters I liked were the smart, sensible, eldest-child types. They made me feel like I wasn’t just boring, that instead I had a role to play in adventures, too.

  18. AnnieMcPhee – I too loved “Cat Ate My Gymsuit”, but did you know there was a sequel where the protagonist lost the weight and was now skinny? (“There’s a Bat in Bunk Four”). Very disappointing.

    I guess Jo from “Little Women” was one, and Laura from the Little House books. And Eowyn from Lord of the Rings. When she says, “I am no man!” and kills the Witch King, it’s such a kick-ass moment.

  19. Oh yes! Noel Streatfield was wonderful. Did you watch the BBC adaptation of Ballet Shoes over christmas? I used to love the Painted Garden, the plain untalented sister gets to be the movie star, hurray!

  20. I read Ballet Shoes till it fell apart but it mostly just made me upset, because I really wanted to be an actress at the time but was convinced I couldn’t hack it. And I certainly couldn’t have gone to a school for it. Damn but my hangups have been consistent. I should go to therapy.

  21. I adored Trixie Belden. I inherited my mom’s Trixie books. Also her Cherry Ames books as well, but didn’t like those very much (Cherry Ames Student Nurse, bleah).

    I also read Nancy Drew, the Wizard of Oz (the whole series), Little House on the Prairie (series), ALL of Marguerite Henry’s books, the Black Stallion books, and Jim Kjelgaard’s dog books like Desert Dog.

    I have about four different copies of Black Beauty, and cried every time I read it still. The movie also made me cry.

    When I was in Junior High, Anne McCafferey’s Dragonsinger books saved my life. I swear, they did.

  22. Anne of Green Gables, Mary from The Secret Garden, and Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia.

    When I got older, my heroine was Dian Fossey of Gorillas in the Mist fame.

  23. Anne of Green Gables; Pippi; and Harriet the Spy. I carried my Harriet the Spy book with me everywhere and re-read it weekly. I still have the same copy. It’s ripped and worn and covered in ink stains. I’ve been wanting a Pippi and a Harriet tattoo for years.

  24. Did you watch the BBC adaptation of Ballet Shoes over christmas?

    No! I didn’t know about it! Drat.

    I hadn’t actually thought about that book in a while, and I too suspect that my copy is mostly in pieces at this point. I should go get a new one.

  25. OMG. Children’s literature! My favourite topic.
    I was a slave to the formulaic series. I wanted to be every character from the Baby-Sitters Club at varying stages. Elizabeth Wakefield (the “good” twin in the Sweet Valley series). Pippi Longstocking. Beezus from the Beverly Cleary books.
    Definitely Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and the Story Girl.
    Argh, I’m blanking, but I read SO MANY BOOKS as a kid.

  26. Laura Ingalls, most definitely! She was the queen of body image issues, too–small and chubby, “built like a little French horse” her Pa would say, constantly comparing herself to her gorgeously thin and blonde sister even as a young girl and resenting the comparison deeply.

    The one thing about herself that she liked was her hair. She even had a moment when she was admiring it in the mirror and then caught herself being vain and scolded herself for that moment of wickedness.

    One of my favorite moments in the books is after she’s engaged to Almanzo and Mary is back home on a school break, and the two sisters are having a discussion on one of their walks. Laura admits to being jealous of Mary as a child, and Mary admits to having been obnoxiously perfect to show up her little sister!

    Oh, and when Ma is riding her about wearing her corset, because otherwise she’ll never have the waist that a man could span with his hands, Laura points out to her that Pa can’t do that to her anymore but he still seems to like her! Ma scolds her for being saucy, but still smiles a bit.

    Other non-Little House books that I loved that happened to show girls being chubby as being healthy and good are Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott (as Rose recovers from her depression from losing her parents and “blooms” under her uncle’s rather unorthodox parenting style, she has to let her dresses out and exchange the stifling-but-fashionable ones for play clothes that let her body move) and Heidi (Clara puts on weight in the mountains and eats with enjoyment instead of rejecting her food).

  27. The Witches of Karres was a huge favorite, and stands up well to me being 30 instead of 12. The Baen Free Library has copies of some of the author’s other books, but not that one.

    Lots of other SFF books were favorites. I didn’t particularly enjoy typical YA books, since I liked to *do* things, and in YA in the 1980s, girls didn’t. Unless they rode horses. My partner calls me a gearhead *g* and in SFF it was ok and normal to be female and a mechanically inclined geek.

  28. The inimitable Marcie, from “The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” — I always wished I could have come up with that excuse myself.

    Bada** Emma, from “Nobody’s Family is Going to Change” — from which, as a preteen, I first absorbed the profundity of what Emma referred to as the hurdy-gurdy of “They’re not going to change, I have to change; they’re not going to change, I have to change”.

    And from which I really learned: Even (sometimes especially) if they look like you, they are going to get in your way.

    Are you going to let them impede your progress, are you going to negotiate the “walkaround” on the same road, or, if they still insist on trying to stop you, are you going to go ahead and knock them down??

    Good times. :D

  29. Torrilin, I remember reading a book as a kid in the late-70s which title I cannot remember for the life of me, and it might have been an older book from the 50s/60s (it had that rather timeless “post WWII sometime” air about it with a lack of historical detail to pin it down).

    Either way, it was a great book about a teenaged girl who decided on a lark to enter a short-story contest just because she liked to write, but found herself winning first place, a series of flying lessons. When her name is announced as the winner, everyone is rather shocked because the winner isn’t of the expected gender, but they gave her the prize anyway and she really gets into it and ends up with her pilot’s license at the end of the book.

    I wish I could remember the title, because it was very good, and I’d like to read it again and see when it was actually written to see if I’m right and it dates from several years before I read it.

  30. My mom was a librarian… I grew up in the library! I liked Emily of New Moon better than Anne of Green Gables, and I thought Nancy Drew was great but didn’t much care for Trixie Beldon!

    But… to this day… I’m still affected by “The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” and “There’s A Bat in Bunk Four” (or was it Five?). I remember reading the scene in “Bat” where the main character and her new boyfriend are going to buy “I <3 NY” tee shirts. She grabs for a large one and the vendor says to her, no, you need a small shirt, not large. When she looks surprised, the vendor says something to the effect of, “I’ll bet you used to be fat… you don’t even know your own size anymore…” And I recall being very bothered by that exchange… probably partly because I was one of those tweens who blossomed earlier than my peers. It made me ashamed of my own large tee shirts and made me feel like I had to be skinny to have a boyfriend…

    But I also read and loved the “Wrinkle In Time” / “Swiftly Tilting Planet” / “Wind in the Door” trilogy… Meg rocked my world, glasses and temper and all.

    And then there was “Second Star to the Right” and “Best Little Girl in the World”… sadly because I could relate to the main characters…

    And I can’t forget about Judy Blume, “Just As Long As We’re Together.” The main character in that one gains weight when her parents get a divorce and she turns to food for comfort. I recall a scene where she’s eating peanut butter out of the jar and complaining because her father’s girlfriend keeps it in the fridge… and where her mom buys her a new swimsuit and comments that her old one probably wouldn’t fit her anymore. My girlfriends and I passed this one back and forth and back and forth… I think we could all relate to the characters somehow. Ah, good ol’ Judy Blume.

    I recently picked up a copy of Caddie Woodlawn at the thrift store. I don’t remember much about it except that I liked it. I’m going to start it soon… just as soon as I finish the new Alice Sebold…

  31. Another Trixie Belden fan here. I loved the rural setting and the fact that Trixie wasn’t a rich city girl. I loved Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys.

    Horror of horrors, I also enjoyed the Sweet Valley High series. My favorite character was Enid Rollins, because I could identify with her more. She wasn’t rich, or snobby, and although she was pretty and intelligent, Jessica and her stuck-up bitch friends couldn’t stand her, because she wasn’t into fashion or boys or makeup, and she wasn’t superficial.

    One of my favorite SVH books in the series featured a girl named Lynne who discovered she could sing, and with Elizabeth’s encouragement, sent in a tape of herself to the school’s rock band. The lead singer, Guy, fell in love with her voice, and then her, without seeing her. Lynne was afraid to reveal herself, afraid he’d reject her because of her looks (she wasn’t fat, but she wasn’t a big beauty and prefered sweatshirts and jeans – nothing wrong with that!). In the end, Guy didn’t care who she looked like and they got together.

    SVH also had the resident fattie in Lois Waller (being fat, she didn’t get a pretty name) and she was always teased for her weight. I think she was the only fat chick in the school. Because when you live in a California beach town, there isn’t supposed to be any fatties. I don’t think Lois was even really that fat—she probably was a size 14 at the most. As I recall, she never got a major story in the SVH books, but she was the main character in the middle school series, where Elizabeth befriends her and encourages her to lose weight. (groan). Again, Lois really wasn’t fat, she probably was a size 10 or 12. So the series had its good and bad moments, with the worst being those Special Editions where they tried to make the Wakefield twins Nancy Drew clones. The series lost steam after its college edition, and I started reading Fear Street by R.L. Stine (who named a character after me because I wrote him nice fan letters) and Christopher Pike.

  32. There was a new Anne of Green Gables book, which was about how after the diamond mine was discovered in Avonlea and all the residents got a share of the profits, life got really easy. Anne ate a lot of fancy cakes and put on some weight, and then got upset about it and took up swimming. The book was one of several books that were written at the behest of some anti-childhood-obesity initiative, where beloved children’s book characters were to be portrayed as getting upset or neurotic about their weight. The idea was that they would model these behaviors for children. I was really struck by how many Anne books I’d missed, since I had no idea there was a diamond mine in the first place.

    Certainly don’t remember any diamond mines in Avonlea.

    Sounds like Mrs. Rachel Lynde made a deal with Tannis of the Flats (“Further Chronicles”)?

    Or perhaps that Sarah Crewe and Anne are running buddies. :D

    Reading that, I’m feeling a little less “Did that really happen” about my own dream a couple of nights ago. I dreamed I was invited to Prince’s birthday party (you know what those rumors are like), and we all wore leather straps.

    Lots of straps, but nothing else. Oook!

  33. Jane Eyre!!! Jane Eyre!!!

    also, as many have said, Mary from the Secret Garden, and Laura from the LIttle House books. I love this topic!

  34. Harriet the Spy! I credit that book as planting the voyeuristic seed that led into me becoming a reporter.

    As for who hurt me… I dunno. I pretty much escaped into books as a kid, so books were always a welcome retreat for me, regardless of the characters.

  35. Heroine: Rhiannon, from the “Lost Years of Merlin” series by T.A. Baron. She’s an amazing character, not least because at times she makes the young merlin look exactly like the fool he sometimes is, and I love that their relationship is not a romantic love story.

    Worst book/character: “Life in the Fat Lane” by Cherie Bennett. The only book I’ve ever thrown in the trash. (I would have burned it if I’d had a good way to do so – just my copy, that is) It’s about this girl who has some sort of medical issue that causes her to gain 100 lbs, and about how horrible her life is as a result – including scenes like the TRAUMA of walking into *gasp* LANE BRYANT! (Yes, mentioned by name, and I haven’t been able to look at a Lane Bryant the same way ever since). I can’t remember why I picked this book up, much less bought it. I think it was because something about the cover blurb made me think it was a journey of self-acceptance in some way. WRONG. Sure, by the end of the book **spoiler** she’s come to terms with her fat – but only because they’ve discovered some way to treat the disease that caused her to gain the weight in the first place, and the number on the scale starts going back down.

    UGH. WORST BOOK EVER. And the worst part is, for people who didn’t grow up with those experiences, I could see it being the “wear a fat suit for a week” sort of thing – they read the book and they think they understand what it’s like to be in that situation, and then ask why we can’t accept ourselves as we are. Because it’s NOT THE SAME THING, that’s why!

    *cough* erm, anyhow, moral of the story: read TA Barron, not Cherie Bennett.

  36. One more I thought of… I read “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” every summer from age 12 through college. One summer, a roommate and I read it to each other, one chapter out loud every night. I loved Francie’s spunk.

    I just hopped over to http://www.paperbackswap.com and ordered a few of the books in this thread… I want to re-read them all!

  37. I actually got to meet Paula Danziger at a children’s books conference in the fall of 2000, not long before she passed away. She herself, for whatever it’s worth, was no-kidding-around fat (not just a little chubby like Marcy in The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, which was a favorite of mine when I was about 12), and dressed in grand, dramatic style. If I’d had the nerve, I would have asked her why she never wrote a protagonist who was anywhere near her size. I don’t know what went on in her secret heart, but she didn’t seem to be apologetic for a single ounce of her (I’m guesstimating) 300-pound body.

  38. I went through a Little House books phase, and, when a was a little bit older, a Nancy Drew phase (“tomboy” George was my favorite). I have fond memories of my friends and I spending summer afternoons searching for “clues” (no crimes, except in our imaginations). When I hit puberty, I fell in love with the Judy Blume books, especially Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, Deenie and the read-in-secret Forever (it was about s-e-x!).

  39. As a child, nearly all of the books I read were about animals. It wasn’t until middle school that I started reading many books centering around humans, though I pretty much only read, and still read, fantasy and sci-fi, so it’s definitely not all humans.

    But yeah, the fantasy books I read had many strong female characters, which rocked – Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley wrote some great books for middle school girls with sweeping imaginations who won’t let things like gender roles get in their way. Well, Robin McKinley can definitely be read by adults, too; I was a few years ahead of the average reading level.

    Oh, and I have to agree with you, FJ – what is the deal with Meg Murry being not at all dorky when she grows up? I may be far more socially adept now, and sexy and personable, but I’m still a dork.

  40. Oh, but Life In The Fat Lane (yes, I read it) is practically a NAAFA acceptance-fest compared to that horrible book that formed so many of my teenaged attitudes about weight, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack. Oh, the horror. The “those poor fat people all have serious mental problems that make them stuff themselves” stereotypes, page after page after page. And I bought into every one.

    At least LITFL made some nods toward the idea that not every fat woman felt the same way the protagonist did and gave some hints that fat-acceptance seeds were being sowed in her brain, even if they were slow to take, and also hinted very strongly that not all fatties were out of control crazy bingers and that it was okay for fat women to eat real food, OMG. (And remember, the girl was a teenaged beauty contestant and had a serious chunk of her identity wrapped up in her appearance, as did her parents; serious culture shock there, more so than for a “regular” girl who gains a lot of weight.)

    But I do prefer The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler. Yeah, at the end of the book the protagonist does start working out and there’s a hint she might be a little smaller, but the YAY part is that she not only refuses to make a big deal about her weight, but that she refuses to ever discuss it with her parents. HAES message all the way.

    Also great: Chris Lynch’s Slot Machine and Extreme Elvin, both of which feature a very likable fat protagonist who does NOT lose weight. In the latter, he even crushes on a young fat chick, who enjoys her food and doesn’t apologize for her size. Highly recommended.

    As a little girl, I did like Margaret of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret very much, for her willingness to question everything.

  41. Actually, Lois was featured in Sweet Valley High… and it’s probably the reason I’m still so damned insecure today.

    Lois decides to lose weigth because everyone makes fun of her, so she begins running around the race track before school starts in the morning and all the jocks line up to watch her run and make fun of her. She also only ate a boiled egg for lunch and almost vomitted at the sight of a chocolate bar that Jessica offered to her.

    But in the end, after she lost all her weight and got a new hairstyle and clothes she became beautiful and suddenly everyone appreciated her.

    I think the fact that I read Sweet Valley High so much damaged me. Because to this very day I remember that both the twins were perfect size 6’s, and that Lila screamed whenever Bruce hinted that she was over 120 pounds (apparently she was NO WHERE NEAR THAT)… and this is all of the characters being over 5’7.

  42. Meowser, I think what I hated about LITFL was that for me it was basically one long list of “things you should feel ashamed about if you’re fat” – things that it had never occurred to me to feel ashamed about before. And I think that I picked up on some of the emotions of the mother, who if I remember right was absolutely devastated by this. Since I read it during a period when my mom was ever-so-gently pushing diets on me, I think there was a bit of wondering whether she felt the same way about me. That sort of thing is what was so damaging to me about the book. It wasn’t so much what it said about fat people in general, but what it teaches about how one should feel about becoming/being fat or being around someone who is.

    I haven’t read DHSS, but I’ll make sure to avoid it if I ever see it again.

  43. PenguinLady: “AnnieMcPhee – I too loved “Cat Ate My Gymsuit”, but did you know there was a sequel where the protagonist lost the weight and was now skinny? (”There’s a Bat in Bunk Four”). Very disappointing.”

    Wow, no I had no idea! I loved that book so much, how did I miss a sequel? Out of curiosity, did she lose the weight by sprouting up in height (which sometimes that’s what really happens – even at 13 you can have “baby fat” and sprout up and find yourself suddenly “normal”) or did she diet? Ugh. If it just happened, it mightn’t be so bad…well damn, you learn something every day.

    I’m wondering now if I wasn’t confusing “Blubber” with “Me and Fat Glenda” – in the book I’m thinking of (Judy Blume, I’m sure) the girl also loses the weight but that doesn’t stop the bullies…and THAT is realistic. Then she gets dressed up in a Halloween costume and no one recognizes her until later “Hey it’s Fat Linda/Fat Glenda (?) only she isn’t fat anymore.” Well, anyway I liked both those books and maybe they’re very similar.

    I guess I didn’t mention Meg from Madeleine L’Engle because…frankly I never fell in love with the characters very much – it was the plot that intrigued me so much. I thought the characters were all so very unrealistic – well except the witches, who rocked.

    Meowser, that’s awesome you got to meet the Cat Ate My Gymsuit author – not too surprising she was fat, considering she wrote the character so true-to-life. Very interesting.

  44. Totally every Nancy Drew I could lay my hands on (kind of appalling to read now, though!), some Trixie Belden, and every Louis Sachar book I could find (man, I want to reread those now!). That was followed by an intense Agatha Christie phase (hee) in 6th grade, lots of Tolkien between 6th and 7th, and then Anne McCaffrey through the rest of middle school. I had an invisible dragon and everything.

  45. Sorry for yet another post, but I’m noticing some of the conversation about fat and these books, and the thing was I can remember precious few times when being “plump” wasn’t considered a measure of health and strength. Even when Laura compared herself to the “willowy” Nellie Oleson, it was clear that Nellie was trying to project the image of one who could afford to be idle, stay out of the sun, not have to work – to be able to be weak and underfed and gaunt. Skinny Anne of Green Gables used to wish for dimpled elbows instead of her wiry, skinny form. When Jo takes Beth to the seaside, she promises to get her “rosy and plump again.” Likewise with Clara in Heidi.

    Fat was always associated with health and strength, with a good appetite (which also signifies health), if not with the peasantry, who couldn’t afford to be weak and emaciated because they had to work.

    Heck, have you ever seen the meals the Amish can pack down in a sitting? Hehe those people can EAT. They need their strength for the lifestyle they lead, and no one seems to worry if someone gets plump – if someone were too thin they’d probably try to fatten them up a bit – which was the whole point to getting your health back.

    See…I’m not fat, I’m healthy :) REALLY healthy lol.

  46. I, like apparently everyone else, harbored (and harbor still!) a deep love for Anne Shirley. Jo March, Sara Crew, Meg Murray, Ramona, and Harriet-the-Spy… I was a reader, so I loved them all.

    Here’s some I haven’t seen yet – Dakin, from The Farthest Away Mountain, and Billie from The Talking Earth. Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins. Jessie and Violet from The Boxcar Children. I think there was just something about kids away from adults, who were surviving in the woods alone.

  47. Alas, I didn’t see the HAES message in The Earth, My Butt, etc.. I found the ending incredibly glib, simplistic, and sanctimonious. It’s that same old “diets don’t work, just eat healthily and get lots of exercise! Ta-da, it’s a lifestyle change, not a diet!”

    My least favorite ever, though, was a picture book about a fat dog. So the owner buys him a treadmill, and the dog takes walks on the treadmill, and becomes attractive to the other dogs. I mean, it’s a dog! Don’t show the dog on the treadmill! Show the dog joyously chasing after squirrels and leaping at frisbees, ferchristsake.

    Fat Kid Rules The World is a good one. I liked that it didn’t make the protagonist’s weight into such a HUGE issue. It’s about punk music and two messed-up people who just happen to love it. One thing I like is that the entire thrust of the book is this punk aesthetic, it may not be pretty but it’s yours and it’s honest and therefore it has value, and if other people don’t like it so what? It’s a size acceptance message, but it’s an EVERYTHING acceptance message.

  48. Funny, Gretchen, I thought the mom in LITFL, although she was certainly very controlling about her daughter’s appearance and quite distressed about it as “pageant moms” tend to be, was most depressed (to the point of attempting suicide) because her husband was cheating on her and eventually moved in with his mistress, not because her daughter had gotten fat. At first the girl thinks her dad is cheating because of her weight, but later on it’s established that he started cheating way before she gained weight. There’s definitely an element of “everything I ever believed before about how perfect my family is, is a lie.” But it’s interesting that you had never thought about those things before that book, because I thought about them all the time. I suppose it does merit some sort of trigger warning, then.

  49. Ohh, yest Tamora Pierce is great. I love her latest one, Terrier (Beka?). Yes, I still read YA fiction, I admit it. Robin McKinley is wonderful too. I also like Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecelia is a great romp set in an alternate Regency period with magic. Marielon the Magician (spelling may not be accurate) has the most wonderful ending too, wrapping up a bunch of threads in a marvelous comedy. It’s set in the same world I think, with a young girl dressing as a boy street urchin.

    I wanted to mention Heidi too, where a young girl goes to the mountains to fatten up and get healthy on exercise and goats’ milk. It made me wish I actually liked goat’s milk, but I’ve tried it several times and I don’t. Sigh.

  50. When I was in first grade I bought Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Understood Betsy and literally read it to pieces (and how happy was I to find out when I Googled it just now that it’s public domain and I can read it online whenever I want). Betsy starts out overprotected and pale and thin and ends up “big and tall and fat” (and much healthier and happier) after going to live in the country.

    Other favorites: Jo, Anne, Pippi, Trixie Belden (though I will always remember the passage where Trixie’s mom decides that now that Trixie is…13? 14? it’s time to get her her first girdle — I can’t remember if they end up buying one or not), many of Anne McCaffrey’s characters but especially Menolly, and Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, who rocked even though the books were mostly boy-heavy.

    This is such a fun topic — now I want to go back and read my favorites again.

  51. For me, totally Nancy Drew (I loved that Bess wasn’t skinny, and was always the flirty one; I was always sad when they would do the “I’m so fat” “No, you’re not!” routine with her character….ugh). L’Engle, despite making every grown woman hot, is awesome, and I adored Meg and Vicky and Poly (Suzy can bite me).

    Lots of SF&F (like a good little geek): Vesper Holly (from one of Lloyd Alexander’s lesser-known series), who was badass; some (but not all) of Mercedes Lackey’s heroines; some (but not all) of Anne McCaffrey’s stuff (the whole Ship series, with its shellpersons, had some interesting body image stuff going on). And how about Honor freakin’ Harrington?! I am all about ass-kicking smart chicks.

  52. I remember Fatty from the Five Find-Outers! I don’t remember it being a completely positive portrayal, mostly because I have the impression that his friends only begrudgingly accepted him because he was so ridiculously brilliant at everything. He had to earn his keep in a way. Then again, that might have been the way I felt about him; I’m not sure. I’d be interested in rereading it to see how much was me and how much was the author (I think my parents still have copies).

    Has anyone ever read “Fattypuffs and Thinnifers”? It was originally a French book for children by Andre Maurois, but it has been translated. It’s the story of two twins, one skinny, one fat, and one day they accidentally end up in the underground world of Fattypuffs and Thinnifers. They get separated according to their size, and each go and live with the two countries for a while. It is full of stereotypes (the Fattipuffs “live to eat” and the Thinnifers “eat to live”), but neither side comes off worse than the other. It was more an exploration of extremes. The two countries eventually go to war, and it has a happy ending with each side recognizing the good traits of the other.

    My role model as a kid was George from the Famous Five (also Enid Blyton). George was actually Georgina, but she hated being a girl and used to pretend to be a boy all the time, and was pretty aggressive about it. She also had a really bad temper and used to scowl a lot. Now that I think about it, I wonder how much that influenced my way of dealing with sexism as a kid (“become” a boy and dismiss “girly” things).

  53. I absolutely adored Ruby Ferguson’s pony books starring Jill Crewe. They’re brilliant and stand the test of time quite well. Jill is an extraordinarily well-written character and is clever and witty yet full of all-too-human foibles and Ferguson is very, very talented at writing “learns from mistakes” situations without being preachy or patronising. Jill’s mother is a war widow who writes children’s books which Jill dismisses as “twee and sappy” (a dig at Enid Blyton), but admires her greatly for being an author; nearly all the characters are female and interesting – when there are boys in the story, they’re not stereotyped either and definitely not love interests, just friends and equals. Ferguson is also realistic about just how much hard work ponies really are.

    I think they’re dismissed as “just” pony books, but they are some of the most incredibly well-written books ever, and I’ve always held them up as the standard by which all other children’s literature should be judged.

    And there are three fat characters, triplet daughters of a famous showjumper Jill amires greatly, who are a bit spoiled but generally good-natured, all of whom learn to ride and one of whom becomes quite a good serious rider. I don’t think they were ever insulted for being fat, the eye-rolling regarding them was all about their “Daddy’s-little-girl-ness”.

    These books, along with the similar ones by the Pullein-Thompson sisters, were my great childhood loves and they were always an escape and a promise that things might actually get better.

  54. Oh, man, I can’t believe I forgot about Dinky! She rocked soooo hard. What I loved most about her was that whether in a “fat phase” or a “thin phase”, you were going to get it from her straight.

    Raw Truth at Every Size.

    Meowser, I’m envious that you got to meet Ms. Danziger. I grew up in one of the towns she wrote about (“Divorce Express”).

    I am in complete denial about the fact that she’s no longer with us. I don’t even remember getting news that she passed.

  55. Misty of Chincoteague, all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, the dog books by Albert Payson Terhune, and all of the books with Billy the Mink and the other animals by Thornton Burgess (can you tell I liked animals better than people?). I did read a lot of Louisa May Alcott, especially Little Women and Little Men which I read numerous times. Those authors made a huge impression on me, since I can remember their names and it’s been 40 to 45 years since I’ve read any of their books.

  56. Ha, I see I was not alone in loving Sara Crewe, Emily of New Moon and George from the Famous Five – because I was a bookworm and a loner with one hell of a temper. I also liked to read the beginning of Jane Eyre, up until she grew up and got boring! ;)

    I wish I could think of more characters I loved, but unfortunately, around the age of ten I started reading Point Horror and Sweet Valley High, and I can’t remember a thing about them!

    Oh, and fillyjonk:

    And your mention of Sara Crewe reminds me — isn’t it nice that Mary from The Secret Garden gets plumper as she gets happier and healthier?

    Yes, yes, yes! And I love how Mary and Colin gain appetites and start really enjoying food as they get more fresh air and exercise. It’s true of A Little Princess as well, that food is always wholesome and positive and comforting, and giving food to other people was a sign love and compassion (rather than trying to sabotage them *rolls eyes*). It’s one of the things I really love about old-fashioned children’s books.

  57. Nancy Drew, JoBethAmyMeg, and the Oz books, yes.

    But what I really kept reading over and over were “The Princess and the Goblin” (elementary school) and the Richard Halliburton travel books (jr. high).

  58. Several people upthread mentioned Robin McKinley. The Hero and the Crown has been one of my favorite books since I was 9. Aerin is awkward, ugly, and didn’t inherit the “gifts” that are suppose to come with being a member of the royal family. Yet she not only saves the kingdom (twice!) and gets the guy(s!), but she pretty much upends gender politics.

    Harry, in The Blue Sword, is good too, but my heart will always belong to The Hero and the Crown. (Actually, come to think of it, all of Robin McKinley’s books have kick-ass heriones of various stripes.)

    I loved to read as a kid (still do), and I was pretty good at knowing what was trash and filtering out the junk. I didn’t get really pissed off at a book until reading “chick lit” as an adult. I seriously disliked Jemima J and Jennifer Weiner’s first book, the name of which escapes me.

  59. It could be I’m misremembering about the parents; it’s been a long time since I’ve read it, and I certainly don’t desire to do so again! But yes, it definitely gave me some new things to feel ashamed about, in addition to reinforcing some I already had.

  60. I don’t remember looking up to any of the characters I knew as a kid. I read an awful, awful lot, but I remember the children in them being my friends, not my role models.
    I do come of a very odd family, though, and didn’t read many real-world books (I favoured fantasy and running-away-to-the-circus) so it may simply have been that I didn’t identify enough with the protagonists to look up to them. It’s hard to want to be like someone when you know you’ll never be in a situation that calls for it.

  61. I can’t believe I forgot to mention Matilda. Matilda was my hero. I loved her problem solving skills and, well, basically everything about her.

    Whenever I read the part about her mastering moving stuff with her mind I would have to stop reading the book and try to do it. I would concentrate so intensely and be sure it was about to work.

    But it never did.

    Matilda is my favourite Dahl character ever.

    I can’t think of any characters I really disliked as a kid, though I’m sure there were some, but there is a book.

    Has anyone ever read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I’m sure that, by the end or something, it gets totally beautiful and awesome. But I remember as a kid finding that book so completely frustrating. It came in a collection of classic literature, all of which I loved, except for that one. I would try to read it, get halfway through, and still be wondering where the plot was, get distracted by some more exciting book and then forget it, only to attempt to read it again 6 months later to the same end.

    Over and over. I probably tried to read that book like 15 times before I finally gave up completely.

    I’m still mad at that book for being a classic that, as far as I could tell, was about absolutely nothing, but which I felt obligated to read anyway.

    Maybe if I tried to read it now it would be better. Who knows?

  62. Loved:

    Nancy Drew (http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/) (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NancyDrewSleuths/)–good community of adults who love Nancy!

    Trixie Belden (http://www.keeline.com/Trixie_Belden.pdf)

    Anne of Green Gables and all of the LM Montgomery books (including her adult book, The Blue Castle)

    Cat Ate My Gymsuit
    Madeline L’Engle books
    Little Women (loved Jo!)
    Little House on the Prairie series
    Witch of Blackbird pond
    Lord of the Rings

    Modern books: Inkheart series by Cordelia Funke, The Tale of Despereaux, Harry Potter

  63. I remembered another one; how about Telezy Amberdon. Those books were just re-released a couple years ago and I got them for my husband because he enjoyed The Witches of Karres so much. He looked a bit baffled at first when he opened the present, until I gently pointed out it was the same author. Brilliant, psionically talented teenage heroine with a strong personality. My nine-year old boy loves the books.

    Also, for a mature teen and with a fairly fierce dose of feminism, the Mavin Manyshaped books by Sheri Tepper are great. There’s rape and death and other ugly things addressed; so they aren’t for the faint of heart. Great books though. They’re set in the same world as Necromancer Nine etc.

  64. Meg Murray, totally. The best. I actually loved that she got mature and self-confident, it gave me something to hope for. I never read them as her becoming more beautiful as much as her becoming more self-assured and loving herself.

    I still read all my Little House books. They’re perfect when I need some comfort reading. Laura all the way, baby. She had a harder life than she let on, too. I’ve read a couple of biographies that fleshed it out, and she withstood some tough stuff.

    Trixie Belden I could never decide on. Sometimes she’d be cool, but then she’d get around Jim and start acting all girly and dependent.

    And it was high school when I read it, but I liked Nora in A Doll’s House, because at the end she screwed up her courage and left.

  65. I liked the Sally Watson books (Jade, Mistress Malapert, etc.) but my all-time favorite character was Alice. I’ve probably read the Alice books 200 times – easily.

    Of course, I’m old. :roll:

  66. Oh my goodness. I have just suffered from a crushing sadness! The book I was going to share as my inspiration was not the loving and fat accepting book I remembered (it is VERY short so I just found and re-read it)

    I am talking about the Stephen Cosgrove book “Catundra” which is about a fat cat. In my MIND I remembered this cat being so miserable while fat that she diets; but it doesn’t make her any happier until a little mole reminds her that it is not her appearance that makes her happiness a reality… but nope. It turns out the mole had her run alot and barely eat until she was thin and all the other creatures magically loved her. The end. *sobs* No WONDER I grew up hating my fat so completely!!!

    Anyways I will add my votes in for Little Princess and Secret Garden girls. Also, the True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle! Loved!!! :D

  67. My favourite books as a kid tended to be whichever ones I could lay hands on. I read through the “Billabong” series by Mary Grant Bruce (Life in a rural sheep station in Victoria from the early 1900s to about the 1920s); devoured every Trixie Belden I could get my hands on (usually on summer holidays – I’d go through my cousin’s collection); got introduced to Paula Danziger by my Canadian aunt (“The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” – I later read “There’s a Bat in Bunk Five” and the impression I got was that Marcie hadn’t so much become skinny as dropped down to a more “normal” weight); devoured every fantasy series I could get hold of (CS Lewis, Lloyd Alexander); and worked my way through the contents of the local library, the school library, and the Perth city library. My parents introduced me to Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragon” books (my favourite character was Lessa – Menolly struck me as a bit of a wimp); Robert A Heinlein (my favourite was “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” – I liked Mike the computer); and Piers Anthony (I was never really satisfied by his female characters – they all seemed a bit too stereotypical). My mother got a whole heap of Sue Barton books from a friend, and I ploughed through them as well (nursing as romanticised calling for the middle-classes – something I was never really interested in, despite the family having nurses all over the place). I found the Bagthorpes books through libraries (I liked Jack, and I rather liked his dilemma of having to live with a rather over-enthusiastic family), and also got introduced to Tamora Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” books. Mum had some of the Witch World books (only two of them, a couple of anthologies of shorter stories) and I read those repeatedly. My favourites were in “Spell of the Witch World” – Dragon Scale Silver and Amber out of Quayth. In high school, I made my way through Judy Blume, Paul Zindel and other “teen” authors, as well as Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” series, and more Tamora Pierce. I also read a lot of Enid Blyton, had a copy of “Ballet Shoes” I wore out with reading, and occasionally tried to work my way through “Lord of the Rings” (without success – that had to wait until I’d seen the movie of “Fellowship of the Ring” about six times and knew to skip through to Bree for the interesting bits).

    Like Froth, to me the characters were friends, not role models. I think I knew too much of the difference between fiction and real life even then. But I liked characters who were capable of thinking as well as of acting. I liked the ones who were flawed and human, rather than perfect ideals (Anne Shirley annoyed me – she was too good), and I was never fond of characters who were stupid purely for plot reasons. I read a lot of Extruded Fantasy Product, and learned what I did and didn’t like about the genre, worked my way through a lot of “girl’s books” and found what I did and didn’t like about those (quick summary: anything which expected me to be weak, silly and dependent was crap). I even read a few Mills & Boon romances to find out what all the fuss was about (and for the life of me I still don’t know).

    I also read a lot of non-fiction – mythologies, ghost stories, anatomy and physiology books, my mother’s midwifery and nursing textbooks, some of my Dad’s books about theology… I think the general thing to note was that in those pre-internet access days, if it had text, I read it – everything from the labels on the jars right the way up to the dictionary.

  68. car, I still read all my Little House books pretty regularly too. In fact, they’re beat up enough that I might need a new set soon. I too have read the biographical stuff and yeah, it was even harder than it sounds. I still never fail to laugh at the thought of Pa swimming 8 miles to a daily job – it’s just so…well damn. Or “Pa wasn’t well enough to work, so he cut willow branches and made a rocking chair.” Sounds like work to me. Or “Then Pa went off to chop down some more trees.” Something that takes modern men an entire day and sometimes more to do. The man was an animal. And Laura worked like a dray horse lol. (Never did stop resenting her having to wear a corset out in the blazing sun stomping hay, but I did appreciate that she refused to wear them at night – even when Ma told her she should – because they were so awful.)

  69. “I read an awful, awful lot, but I remember the children in them being my friends, not my role models.”

    That’s it in a nutshell. Books and the characters in them are my friends, and that’s why I reread so many of them. :)

  70. I remember one summer I read Little House on Rocky Ridge. It wasn’t the original series. Before that though I hardly read books at all. I read the book all the way through and it took a long time. When I got to the end though. I started reading it again. I think I read it about three times that summer before I went looking for the next book in the series.

    I never thought of any of the characters in books as my heroes or even my friends. When I read I don’t see words at all I see pictures like a movie. I’ll also add in my own characters, who are always much cooler than I would be in real life, but in the world of the book I am them and damn do I kick ass! I remember always imagining that I was traveling along with rose in that first book, seeing all the things she saw, like I was looking over her shoulder.

    lately though I’ve been adding myself into the harry potter books as I read them. The really powerfully brilliant girl who no one really noticed until I become amazingly important…and then I go back to the real story.

  71. I actually loved that she got mature and self-confident, it gave me something to hope for. I never read them as her becoming more beautiful as much as her becoming more self-assured and loving herself.

    People tend not to read past the trilogy (and rightly so), but in the later L’Engle books, Meg is hanging around with what seems like a dozen kids while the men do all the science. In Wrinkle in Time, Meg’s mother, Mrs. Murray, managed to be a mom and a scientist, but this didn’t seem to be possible for Meg – there’s no sign left of the math whiz she used to be. (The Arm of the Starfish is particularly frustrating in this respect.)

  72. oh, children’s/young adult lit! yay!

    I too saw (and still do see) book characters as people I wanted to be friends with, and not very clearly people I wanted to be like, but I can certainly remember having some favorites. I read a lot of Nancy Drew in elementary school. I loved Meg Murray, and for awhile read just about everything by Madeline L’Engel I could put my hands on. I haven’t read the LIttle House on the Prairie books in a very long time, and I think when I was very little I never made it past the book where she meets Almanzo, but I loved the first few.

    I can remember reading a number of books about fat girls that I really liked, one was The Cat Ate my Gymsuit. There was another that I loved, but forgot the title and never did find it again.

    I identified with Elnora Comstock of A Girl of the Limberlost, feeling really out-of-place with people, but loving learning and nature.

    Who else? Menolly of the Dragonsinger books, the American Girl books (my favorites were Samantha and Molly), Cimorene of Dealing with Dragons. A few books I loved that don’t think are very widely known are A Witch of Blackbird Pond, and The Farthest-Away Mountain, which is by the woman who wrote The Indian in the Cupboard.

    oh, and Gwinna. I looooooved Gwinna. I hope I still have it somewhere.

  73. The Paperbag Princess – Robert Munsch – was my role model (in fact I have her tattooed on my back)
    She was absolutley great at telling kids to give the finger to the patriachal need for girls to be pretty.

  74. It’s out of print, but “Dinah and the Green Fat Kingdom” by Isabelle Holland – can’t remember if I read it as a kid or as a Children’s Librarian, but, gods above, I identified with it, got pissed off for the character and cried for & with her. The customer review is a pretty good synopsis of the major plot, but part of the story is that Dinah writes stories about the green fat kingdom and one very funny one about defecting from the United States because they outlawed fat. I had a paperback copy that got messed up and *had* to get another one.

    I loved the Little House books too, Enid Blyton, Trixie Belden – have always been (& still am) a voracious reader.

  75. You guys have already named a few of my favorites! The Dark is Rising was awesome, as were The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. And I too read entirely too much Nancy Drew and, I think, literally everything that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote. I don’t remember too much about it, but I distinctly recall really enjoying Caddie Woodlawn.

    I started reading ‘grownup’ books at a fairly young age, and my favorite author was, and still is, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels (same person!). I especially loved her Amelia Peabody mystery series; said protagonist is a short, plumpish female archaeologist in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s with a really hot husband and a steel-reinforced parasol to beat villains with. :) As for her other books, her main characters are always female and come in an impressive range of ages and body types.

    Fear Street by R.L. Stine (who named a character after me because I wrote him nice fan letters)

    Seriously?!? I definitely read all of those! *head explodes*

  76. As a child, I knew of only one book with an heroine I could truly identify with: Suzuki Beane by Sandra Scoppettone, illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh. Not only was Suzuki from the same milleu as I — although in New York rather than the West Coast — but she was strong and smart and I loved the plain, plump, scraggly, messy way she looked in the illustrations. I looked like that often, and because it was in black and white I could imagine her with my brown skin too. And, like Suzuki, I had square friends my parents refused to understand or tolerate. I didn’t run away, though. I used to wish I had, but I never did.

    As an adult, I ran into Daniel Pinkwater’s books, and oh, how I wished they’d been around when I was a kid! Especially The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, and I wouldn’t have known who to identify with more — the fat hero who snuck out (snarked out) to go to the local repertory movie house every night, or the skinny, wild-haired, rude punk girl who turned out, in passing, to have gone to more movies — and loved her music LOUD.

    I loved horse books as a girl, too, especially the ones by Patsey Gray and Dorothy Lyons, both of whom are mostly out of print these days. I know the ones I still cherish the most are — Patsey Gray’s Show Ring Rogue with its disabled, depressed heroine, and the broken horse she comes to understand and love and eventually wins for herself; and Dorothy Lyons’s Bright Wampum, about a girl, an Appaloosa horse, an archaeological mystery, and crooked rodeo on the California coast in the 1930s … among other things. I think it’s the only story I’ve read that ever mentioned that Highway 1 was built with prison labor and at terrible cost — and it’s *definitely* the only one I read as a kid in which the heroine wanted, like me, to become an archaeologist!

  77. I think she was a TV character before the books came out, but Marmalade Atkins. has to be here.
    Little My from the Moomins.
    Violet Elizabeth Bott, who knew how to get what she wanted.
    Aravis from The Horse And His Boy, possibly the only female CS Lewis character not to be a big wet haddock.
    Ransome, Simms and Jeffries from The Fox Busters.
    The heroine of Ogden Nash’s “The adventures of Isabel”, who ate a bear.
    Oh, and Eeyore. I know he’s a he, but he’s brilliant.

  78. alison, i was going to say scout finch too! i remember as a kid keeping count of how many times i read that book. the last number i recall was 13. lost track after that.

    i also really like shabanu, from shabanu and haveli. those books both blew my 12-year-old mind.

    and:
    laura from little house on the prairie
    mary from the secret garden (my mom helped me plant my own “secret garden” in the backyard, hidden back behind some really big trees. i was 8. it was so cool.)

    i also LOVED sarah, plain and tall. part of my love for that book was that i grew up by the ocean, but had never been to the midwest, so i felt like i was sarah (funny, since she was an adult character).

    i loved reading as a kid. i faded out of it from about 9th to 11th grade, but then i had an amazing english teacher senior year who succeeded in brainwashing me that reading was in fact cool.

  79. PS: the boxcar children! i can’t believe i forgot. i envied the situation more so than the characters. i was and still am someone who romanticizes survival stories. plus, boxcar children #1 was all about nesting in an abandoned boxcar in the woods, so the whole thing was like reading about playing house.

  80. A few notes on the adult Meg Murray.

    In “A House Like A Lotus” there’s an interesting observation about how Meg wanted to focus on her kids because she’d felt her mother hadn’t focused on her as much. If not a rebellion against her mother, it was at least an overreaction. Also that Meg was frustrated and bored with her life, with not having time to finish her PhD, with only helping Calvin with math instead of doing her own stuff. This is reinforced in An Acceptable Time by Meg’s mother.

    And in the late 90s, I was able to hear Ms L’Engle speak at a writer’s conference and she said that she was thinking it was time for Meg to have her own adventures now, and that Ms L’Engle had started writing about that. Of course Ms L’Engle was in ill health and passed away in 2007, so it remains to be seen if enough was on paper to be finished, and if Ms L’Engle’s heirs would want it to be finished at this point….

  81. Oh, another thing I love about the Moomins: the parents just assume that the “kids” (some of whom are their children, and some of whom are accumulated family-we-choose) are competent. They get lost, or wander off on hair-raising adventures, and the parents will say philosophically “Ah well, she always could look after herself. We’ll see her again eventually”, or words to that effect.

  82. I guess what I was getting at was that Ms L’Engle did not see Meg’s story as “done” in Arm of the Starfish or A House Like A Lotus. That Meg would move on and do other things. :)

    I also wonder how much of Meg’s stuck-home-with-the-kids was meant to parallel the 10 years L’Engle and her husband (actor Hugh Franklin) lived in Conn. with their small children and ran the local general store. She’s said that she didn’t sell anything during those 10 years, and often felt then that her writing was a waste of time. Eventually they moved back to New York so Franklin could go back into acting on Broadway and, eventually, the soap All My Children.

    Ms L’Engle also said that one of the books she wrote during those 10 years, which did eventually sell…was A Wrinkle In Time. And once it won the Newberry, there wasn’t much question of Ms L’Engle not being able to sell some of her other books.

    Anyway, sorry if the blather is too off-topic!

  83. Mary in The Secret Garden – another great example of a little girl getting bigger and rounder and stronger, and all of that being written as a positive thing.

  84. Sara Crewe, Emily Starr (far more so than Anne), Rose! Yes! I’d forgotten about Eight Cousins. Jo, and to a lesser extent Meg March. Meg Murray, though I only read the quartet (I include Many Waters). Perhaps because I just saw the movie (and wept all over again) but Leslie Burke, from bridge to Terebithia was brilliant. And Anna, from Mister God, this is Anna. But both of them are written in that sort of flawless, shining light kind of way that you can get away with when your protaganist is going to die young.

    I don’t remember Laura Ingalls being short or chubby or comparing badly to Mary- I remember her being Pa’s favourite, goes to show what mattered to me.

    My little one isn’t in to ‘lit’ yet, but we LOVE the Backyardigans around here. Of the 5 kids, two are clearly (to my eyes) animated larger than the others (yes, the hippo and the moose) but they all dance and play through every episode. And the Moose has some serious strength moves in his solos. And at the end of every show they all go off for the same snack- and what snacks! There’s nothing those kids won’t eat.

  85. Thanks, penguinlady, for pointing out “There’s a Bat in Bunk Five.” There’s also a sequel to “Me and Fat Glenda,” which oddly enough, I saw the other day – “Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade.” I’d had to go back and read it completely, but I believe Glenda, fat and all, is one of a group of several girlfriends. Or maybe she gets skinny. My memory is crap.

    EL Konigsburg is terrific, as is Ellen Raskin (“The Westing Game,” “The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)”) Those books were kind of twisted and a bit dark for kids. I loved them.

    Boxcar Children, yay! Exactly why I loved that book, too! ;-)

  86. I am 58, older than many of you, so when I was actually a kid, there seemed to be fewer good books. I did love the Louisa May Alcott books & read The Five Little Peppers. I read a lot of children’s/YA books now, probably more than adult fiction, since I only really like Terry Pratchett & a few mystery writers for adult books. I love the gothic mystery/horror books which were written by John Bellairs & have been continued by Brad Strickland. Unfortunately, Bellairs did seem to believe a lot of fat stereotypes, & includes a lot of that in my favorite series, the Lewis Barnavelt/Rose Rita Pottinger books, but these kids are very likeable people who have great adventures, & the fat, timid Lewis shows great courage, loyalty, imagination, & strength & has a huge role in saving the world from evil over & over again.

    I love Madeleine L’Engle’s books, which I never read until I was past 30, but, like many others, I felt it was somewhat of a betrayal, plus very unrealistic compared to the life experiences of many of us (myself included) that Meg should have to become “beautiful”, suddenly not have to wear glasses anymore, not be a dork, etc. At 58, I am as much a dork as I ever was & never was/never will be a great beauty in the socially-accepted sense & the only reason I no longer wear the Coke bottle glasses which were my constant companions from age 8 is that I developed hereditary cataracts & had surgeries & lens implants & can actually SEE for the first time in my life.

    Overall, my favorite kid’s writer for portraying smart, active, involved fat kids who have full lives is Daniel Pinkwater. His books are quirky & so are his characters…real characters, never stereotypes or cookie cutters…& many of them are fat, like the 400-pound Pinkwater himself. And, unlike Danziger, when he creates a fat character, the character is FAT, not slightly plump. Don’t get me STARTED on how I feel about writers who are themselves fat but who create pretty conventional characters & often reinforce stereotypes about fat people! I guess it is just more evidence of what we know…that no one hates fat people as much as many, if not most, fat people hate themselves & each other. My favorite Pinkwater books are the ones about the Hoboken chicken & the two Fat Camp Commandos books…Fat Camp Commandos & Fat Camp Commandos Go West.

  87. Ah, strike that … me memory really IS crap. “Me and Fat Glenda” was the sequel to the first book. Which really IS horrendous. *sigh*

  88. Great post!

    I think the character I loved most was Jo from “Little Women.” I recently reread it as an adult and I was struck by what an amazing woman she is. When you read it as a child you don’t really know what’s coming in your own life in terms of societal expectations (at least, I didn’t really), but reading it now it was incredible to see how she just lived life by her own rules.

    I too though was really into Sweet Valley High and wanted to be Elizabeth Wakefield, though those were probably some of the worst books for an impressionable mind.

  89. Obviously it warms my heart to see several people talking about the Moomins. :)

    And Daniel Pinkwater — of course! He really is a fat activist, in behavior if not in name. Also, so fucking funny. I know it’s kind of obscure, but “Young Adult Novel” is one of my favorites. Tough to pick a favorite though!

  90. Laura Ingalls (books, not movies). Like me, she had dark hair, was stubborn and strong-willed, liked to excel at school, and was short and small (so small that her Pa called her Half-Pint). She did sometimes worry about her looks but didn’t seem concerned about them beyond normal teenage discontent. She knew that her worth didn’t come from her looks. She was outgoing and kind to people, and people liked her for that. I loved that she told Almanzo that she would not promise to obey him in the wedding vows. She just seemed like she would be a lot of fun and (to use a L.M. Montgomery phrase) a “kindred spirit”.

    I remember really identifying with Ramona Quimby when I was in grade school. So many of the things she said and did reminded me of things that I said, did, or thought.

  91. Bree: “One of my favorite SVH books in the series featured a girl named Lynne who discovered she could sing, and with Elizabeth’s encouragement, sent in a tape of herself to the school’s rock band. The lead singer, Guy, fell in love with her voice, and then her, without seeing her. Lynne was afraid to reveal herself, afraid he’d reject her because of her looks (she wasn’t fat, but she wasn’t a big beauty and prefered sweatshirts and jeans – nothing wrong with that!). In the end, Guy didn’t care who she looked like and they got together.”

    That was probably my favorite SVH book of the series!

  92. Nancy Drew is the one that comes to mind immediately – read those when I was 8-10 years old. But, I was just as likely to relate to male characters. By the time I hit 8th grade, science fiction was my favorite genre, and most of the best characters were male. I’ve always hated the way girls and women seemed so limited by their gender in fiction. Either that, they were 2-dimensional and badly developed.

  93. Sniper, how could I forget about Alice! I still pretty have both Alice books memorized, and I any time I find myself feeling cross and stubborn, an Alice-ism pops into my head!

  94. My main ones were Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy from Little Women, Sally from Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself (I read this one at least seven times), Deenie from Deenie, and Anne from Anne of Green Gables (loooved the first book; didn’t read any of the others).

    Back then, I was most like Sally and Anne, with some Amy. Now, I’m still like Sally, a little like Anne, and more like Jo. I loved books as a child, and I totally still do. I read all the time. I lived in books.

    I have to say that Nancy Drew disappointed me. I was really into Roald Dahl and Judy Blume, so the Nancy Drew books seemed really sanitized in comparison. I discovered my love for Nancy later, when I was introduced to the computer games, which are THE BEST GAMES EVER.

    I never read Pippi Longstocking when I was younger, but after that last amazingly great post about her, now I see that I must. I really appreciate her being able to do what she wants, even if it means that she doesn’t read that much. She sounds super awesome.

  95. The sequel to “Hey Fat Glenda” is “Hey, Remember Fat Glenda?” and it’s set in Grade 7 or 8. Glenda is still jogging, still dieting and noticing boys.

    What I remember most about the book was that although it dwelled on how she was initially looking for validation from others (including a teacher crush) she eventually figures out a lot about herself.
    I remember what I liked about the book was that it the first one I’d seen that made exercise look fun (Glenda and her new friends take a Dancercise class) but it also showed how screwed up her relationship to food has become at one point when Glenda specifically goes on an emotional eating binge in front of her terrified mother. But by the end of the book, Glenda is not so fixated on her weight, although I seem to remember that she also realized that she wanted healthy and not thin at all cost. Sadly enough, this was a pretty revolutionary thought in my house, where my own mother was terrified of my sister and I gaining any weight beyond a very low setpoint.

    That book did two things – it made me a little suspicious of dieting and it made me want to try out activities that I didn’t know existed – I was 12/13 and I was sure there had to be more to it than ballet (everyone was thin), swimming (I’m not buoyant), or track and field (why are you running? what’s the rush?), so I actually have rather fond memories of it.

  96. Hands down my favorite literary character from childhood was Dorothy Gale from the Oz series. I was raised mostly on fairy-tales in which the girls (they were always girls) waited in towers or in dungeons for someone to go get them. Dorothy went out there and DID stuff. It was way more fun to pretend to be her than any of the fairy-tale girls.

    I also really liked Anne Shirley, Emily Starr and for that matter any orphan girl.

  97. For positive fat role models:

    Mark Tidd
    Sekatary Hawkins
    Snarkout Boys
    Three Investigator Series

    leaders of each group in these series are plump/fat and are treated positively. All boys series, for some reason.

    Earlier when I was listing my favorite stories, I can’t believe I forgot the Westing Game and the very crazy Figgs and Phantoms (about a strange girl from a very eccentric family–and learning to love herself and her family). I adored both of them and there is lots of positive stuff about learning to be who you are in there.

  98. lactoseintolerant, I loved the Blume books. Deenie, Sally J. Friedman, Then Again Maybe I Won’t, Forever (which my mother bought for me because it was forbidden at school and I was like 18th on the black-market waiting list) – and eventually even Wifey. I’ll never forget going to my dad and asking “What does it mean when he says ‘I felt myself getting hard’?” Hehe. He asked if I knew what an erection was and I lied and said yes and that was that. I found out soon enough, since they bought me lots of sex ed books. Then another mom got Then Again banned from our school library. But I got a lot more real-life type sex ed from Judy Blume. For what it’s worth, I never cared for “Are You There God?” – I already knew so much about periods and such it was kind of redundant. But Deenie was awesome because she was doing the same thing I was and it was OK! Hehe.

  99. Kim – oh my gosh, I didn’t think anyone would remember the Three Investigators! Jupiter Jones rocked my socks as a kid – fat and super smart, and the leader of his trio (and a protege of Albert Hitchcock)! So much cool wrapped in one package.

    At least I come by my geekdom naturally. :)

    Interesting how the “fat = healthy” mindset comes from older books (Heidi, Anne, Little Women). At what point did the “fat = stupid/lazy” paradigm creep in?

  100. Nothing’s Fair In Fifth Grade! That’s the name of the book I was trying to remember! The one with the fat girl, Elsie, who has a horrible mother who won’t be seen in public with her, and has a two-seater convertible that she’ll only take Elsie’s sister in, never Elsie. I read that book about a million times growing up.

    And then Barthe DeClements had to ruin it by writing a sequel where Elsie gets skinny in ninth grade and lands the star quarterback. Nice one.

  101. penguinlady, I can’t say for sure when that crept in, but I had a whole post on my blog about the old euphemism, “Well, she’s healthy.” Which was used to mean someone was fat. The euphemism stayed in use in sort of a lighthearted way until recently enough that I certainly remember it.

    But yes, plumpness (especially in children, but also in women) was certainly seen as healthy for a lot longer than this stupid new “fat=death” paradigm. I’m very sorry it has changed. I’d like to see it change back.

  102. I loved Charlotte’s Web as a child (surprised?). Charlotte is still the only spider I’ve ever liked. I’m a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables, although I’ve never got to read any of the other Anne books. I’ve always admired her for taking out Gilbert Blythe with her chalkboard…if only I had the guts to stand up to my bullies like she did.

  103. *sorry about the double post!*
    Oh, how could I forget Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade! I didn’t become fat until sixth grade, but I could relate to a lot of Elsie’s troubles (fifth grade was the beginning of five years of torment and hell from my peers). Thanks to lc for letting me know about the sequel, I didn’t know there was one, but I probably won’t read it because it’ll ruin a piece of my childhood.

  104. I read lots of Trixie Belden, Bobbsey Twins when I was small, all the Little House books, Little Women, and The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I’m sure there are more, but I LOVED these books and read them over and over.

    I still have my very first Secret Garden book from 1971(yeah, I’m old). I really connected with the Mary character. She was a difficult, strong-willed and independent little girl. She was plain and had a sour expression. Other kids taunted her by calling her Mistress Mary Quite Contrary. A really wonderful story.

    Francis Hodgson Burnett also wrote A Little Princess. For some reason I never read that one, but I’ve watched the movie with my daughter several times. Love it. The story/movie is full of very strong little girls.

  105. My favorite female characters are from Tamora Pierce’s first two quartets. Her characters are truly Girls Who Kick Butt. When everyone told Alanna she couldn’t follow her dream because she was a girl, she dressed up as a boy and proved them all wrong. Daine’s village looked down on her for not having a father, but she basically said “screw you,” ran off, and became one of the most powerful mages in the kingdom. Plus, she could talk to animals! How cool is that? I’ve re-read these books about a million times, even though they’re considered “young adult” and I am definitely not anymore!

    Oh, and Pierce’s “Circle of Magic” quartet included Tris, a pudgy girl who often got made fun of for her weight. But her real friends and teachers never mentioned it, and she was just as smart and talented as the others. But I never got into that series as much, since it was written for a slightly younger crowd.

    The other series I re-read a million times was the Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. Cimorene refused to conform to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, empty-headed standard of being a princess. She set off and made her own adventures, and eventually found a guy who loved her because of, not in spite of, all her different-ness. (What can I say, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. :-))

    I also have to give love to The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and Matilda, too. Those girls rocked!

    And finally, since this is my first comment, I have to say how totally awesome this site is, and how much it’s changed the way I see a lot of things in just the few weeks I’ve been reading it. Thanks KH, FJ, and SM!

  106. I can’t believe someone else has read Catundra! And, yes, I looked it over sometime back, and it *is* horrible. When I was young, I liked it because of the kitty and the mousie, but, looking back on it, I wonder what kind of damage it did to my psyche at an early age.

  107. I have a first edition of The Secret Garden. It is a treasured possession.

    However, I can’t believe no one mentioned The Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye. Amy isn’t fat, per se, but she isn’t tall and slender and graceful and everything else her 6 elder princess sisters are. She is ORDINARY and absolutely amazing because of it.

  108. also jo from little women and definitely pippi. all girls who defied the straight girl play-with-dolls paradigm. not lit (sorry!) but tatum o’neal in paper moon. and of course lots of boys! lord fauntleroy. he was such a role model!

  109. Ama, Little Lord Fauntleroy was way cool, as was the boy from Captain’s Courageous (not at first, obviously. Oh and what a fantastic movie – Freddie Bartholomew was a genius and so was everyone else.)

    And yeah Jo and Pippi and all the girls who did stuff…but I loved Beth too, (though she was way too good for me to aspire to) and she loved her dolls. I was a kid who loved to climb trees and play in the mud and the dirt and the sand, but I loved my dolls dearly. Is there something wrong with that? Can’t one be both?

  110. Which reminds me – the first Raggedy Ann book was absolutely ***awesome.*** I didn’t care for the rest of the series, which was completely different – as it was pure wishful fantasy without enough logic to interest me, whereas the original was…well it was *possible.* I could imagine that dolls were alive when no one was in the room, and I did. So er…yeah, Raggedy Ann *rocked.* (Sorry, mentioning dolls reminded me of that one. My son loved that book too.)

    I think Christopher Robin was rather a “hero” to me in “When We Were Very Young” but I can”t fathom why – he’s a nasty brat. Something about the vivid imagination that I loved.

    And don’t let’s forget Alice – she rocked in Wonderland and in the Looking Glass :) One of the few that was more than a friend and I sorta wanted to be like.

  111. Wow, must delurk for this one. I agree with everybody about all those books, and for the ones I haven’t read already? I have put in requests for them to the library! (Hawaii has a great deal where you can request any book from any branch and they will deliver it to the branch library of your choice. Another reason to live here).

    As for body image in books, I remember reading Anne McCaffrey in high school, of course all the Pern books, but also “Restoree”, about this woman who is abducted by bad aliens, skinned, then rescued, and given a beautiful new skin by her (alien but indistinguishable from humans) rescuers. She was smart and athletic but not beautiful before, she is smart, athletic and beautiful after, which was annoying, in a way. But AMcC said she wrote the book as an antidote against the current (late sixties? early seventies?) image of women in scifi, when they were all D-cup naked objects for men’s pleasure. And the woman knew how to be a pill, which I loved. I still re-read it when I come across it, even if I can’t remember her name because the book is in first person, therefore it is ME in the book.

    Also AMcC characters always love their food! The eating! And the enjoyment of good food, and good wine, very positive.

  112. Wow, what a great topic! So hard to think of any of my favorite book heroines that haven’t already been mentioned…well, I loved Karana, from The Island of the Blue Dolphins. She was brave and strong, and survived on an island completely alone with her animals for almost 20 years. I also really adored Julie from Julie of The Wolves. She runs away from the home life she hates, and survives by gradually being accepted in to a pack of wolves. Granted, it isn’t the most traditional adolescent tale, but I always admired her :P There was also this kind of obscure book, that I’m sure no one here has ever heard of, called Pearl’s Pirates. The heroine was a white mouse, who ends up separated from her owner, sailing across the seas on a model ship; I was just a little girl, but I remember that being one of the first books that I couldn’t stop reading. I loved the idea of a mouse having grand adventures, and honestly, it was nice to see a girl having fun that didn’t involve boys or shopping for once :P

  113. Huh, never really picked out books to like based on thin/fat heroes, but here’s some.

    The Hobbit? Bilbo is just fine with his body, tummy, hairy toes and all. Merry, Pippin and Brandy are younger and more svelte, but also big fans of second breakfast and aren’t expecting to be anything other than round hobbits themselves when they grow up, please pass the toasted cheese!

    For the younger set, Dr. Seuss. His illustrations, kids and creatures alike, have plenty of bellies and different shapes. Star-bellied sneetches spring to mind.

    The House with a Clock in it’s walls by Jonathan Bellairs (and series). I loved that book so much. Lewis and his uncle have a lovely resemblence in the illustrations (Gorey maybe?). Good stories and touches on family traits being shared, everyone’s unique, bullying and not everyone being able to accept different people like him and his uncle, but they still gotta be them.

    Cynthia Voigt’s Dicey series. A family friend/mentor to one of the kids is really fat, dealt with really realistically I think, also lots of great secondary characters in all weight ranges. These were some of my FAVORITE books, still are actually.

    I’ll probably think of lots more, I loved YA books way before I was a YA and read jillions from about age 8 on.

  114. I don’t remember it perfectly, but how about Jennifer Murdley’s Toad by Bruce Coville? I was really more into his My Teacher Is An Alien series, but I can totally relate to how she hated mirrors.

  115. So I’m young, and luckily got to grow up on Harry Potter starting at age eight or nine. I can’t wait for my own daughter to have the brilliant, brave, buck-toothed, bushy-haired Hermione Granger for a heroine.

  116. If you like independent kids making it on their own (one of the things I loved about the Boxcar Children), then My Side of the Mountain is wonderful. The protaganist is a boy who runs off and makes it in the wilderness on his own.

    I also liked Gentle Ben, though I’m having trouble pulling up the story details, I remember the cover in detail and the feeling of comfort from it.

  117. pretty much the only kids/ya book i can remember really turning back to repeatedly is drummers of jericho…i guess cos i first read it when i was the only jew, or at least jewish-american/cultural not religious type (my family relocated to europe when i was 9 and i went to an international school for 3 years) and generally struggling with identity stuff as kids that age are wont to do. when i moved back to the states at age 12 i was a token weirdo without the gregariousness to turn than into popularity, and i definitely related to pazit and took comfort in her uncompromising weirdness despite the hell she gets for it. though it’s hardly progressive, the fact that she gets the boy in the end, and that a boy from such a conservative background can form compassionate and independent thoughts, also gave me hope. plus it’s not that well-known, so i could re-use it for book reports a lot and not get in trouble.

  118. oh, and on a much lighter note, the captain underpants series. i hope i never outgrow potty humour

  119. No prob, Charlotte, happy to help!

    This kids’-lit thread is making me think about all the books I loved back then – did anyone else read the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar? They were so damn WEIRD and that’s why I loved them so much. It was an entire school filled with strange kids like me. I need to go back and read them!

  120. Oh, I also liked the Escape from Witch Mountain series. I only have a vague recollection of them now, but if I remember right the girl had just as much to do as the boy, and they both had cool powers, and they wouldn’t stop until they knew the truth.

  121. lc, I looooved Sideways Stories from Wayside School!! I didn’t read any of the others, but I remember reading that one over and over. I don’t think there’s anything else like it.

    Annie McPhee, I’m glad you loved the books like I did! Blume is fearless; I really appreciate that she doesn’t sanitize her books or underestimate what her readers can handle.

    I actually was obsessed with Are You There, God? for several reasons. Puberty seemed really mysterious and desirable to me, as I looked up to my older sisters and their teenage friends. I also didn’t have much literature on puberty and bodily changes until almost too late. I actually had this horrible book called Getting Ready for the Guy/Girl Thing, that was a Christian book about dating. It seemed really great because it was written in a fun style, but now, looking back on it, it was so horrible. It dichotomized gender to the extreme, and there was a whole chapter about why Satan wants you to have sex. It was written in a totally scary tone and it talked about hell a lot. I’m still undoing the damage from that one.

    I would also like to see the “fat=death” paradigm shift back to “plump=healthy.” I’ve even noticed people worrying about babies being fat! I and all the babies in my family and my extended family were super duper fat, healthy, and happy! Wantint babies to be thin is so convoluted and insane.

  122. Yes! to Little House on the Prairie (books, not show), Anne, Emily, Sara Crewe, Mary, Louisa May Alcott girls, Meg Murray, Cimorene from Patricia C. Wrede, Judy Abbott, Tamora Pierce girls- and all the rest. I read them all and loved them. And I totally agree with The Rotund that The Ordinary Princess is perhaps one of the best ones of all.

    I never had a problem with Meg growing up and “getting” pretty. When I was younger, I was so full of adolescent akwardness myself (which my parents of course told me would go away with time) that it was nice to see that promise “come true” in one of my fictional friends. Now, as an adult, I can see that Meg didn’t “get pretty” – she just stopped comparing herself to her mom (as much) and stopped trying to conform with external expectations (like, that she should have curly hair when it was really straight, or that she should not be so good at math). Basically, she accepted herself as she was.

    I also read the “Nothing’s Fair In Fifth Grade” books. I agree that it SUCKS that Elsie has to “get skinny” in order to become socially acceptable. But the books (there are 3) are a little more complex than that, IMHO. Sometimes, this is a complexity that makes me HATE them more (like, the first book is narrated by a character named Jenny- only after she “gets skinny” does Elsie get to narrate her own books). True, the second book is way lame, because Elsie is all skinny, and gets into choir and dates the football dude. But the third book! In the third book (Seventeen and In-Between) Elsie gets her head screwed back on, figures out what a douche-hound the football dude is, figures out that her mother should have been nice to her when she was fat, and falls in love with the earthy lumberjack guy who had been her friend and nice to her back in elementary school when she was fat.

    I think that some of the most terrible books I read when I was small were the “B. is for Betsy” books by Carolyn Haywood. Forgive me for hating on a classic, but the overly-moralizing, 1950’s patriarchal-norm-enforcing spirit that haunts these books messed me up good, and I would never give them to a child to read.

  123. I just recalled that I did my 6th grade book report on Carrie by Stephen King. And I remember relating the plot of The Bad Seed to my grandmother word-for-word during a fishing trip. She was nice and pretended to be interested, haha.

    I remember liking Carrie a lot because she burned down everyone who was mean to her. It was like my private fantasy, because I was very sensitive and always the bottom of the totem pole, socially. Sick, sick, sick — but also kind of funny.

    I grew up to be non-homicidal, interestingly enough.

  124. Actually, one of ‘the Snarkout boys’ is a a very quirky, UNpretty girl, called Rat. And I LOVED “The Ordinary Princess.” I will have to check to see if it still exists anywhere on this planet.

  125. Yes, I said Louis Sachar way upthread – his books are super awesome! I read all of the ones that were out when I was a kid (the Wayside School books, including Sideways Arithmetic, in which I did all the logic puzzles like a good little dork; There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom; and Sixth Grade Secrets), and then I sneakily read Holes when no one was watching when it came out a few years ago. Still awesome to read his books as an adult! I definitely read Sideways Stories several times. They are extremely weirdness-positive!

    I forgot to mention that I read a lot of the horse books, too – Misty, etc. I had a beautiful copy of Black Beauty with gorgeous illustrations that I read a few times.

    Somebody mentioned that they liked Piers Anthony, but that his female characters weren’t very, well, positive. Heeheehee, when I was in my early teens, my sister and I decided his Xanth books were horribly sexist, so we wrote him a letter calling him a sexist pig! Ha!! We were so precocious. He thought it was hilarious, and he wrote back and humorously explained that the books are satirical. He also gave us the name and address of another teenage girl around our age who was the president of a local fan club, because he figured we’d have interesting things to talk about. I still have the letter in a box somewhere!

  126. For the younger set, Dr. Seuss. His illustrations, kids and creatures alike, have plenty of bellies and different shapes. Star-bellied sneetches spring to mind.

    Doc Seuss is truly teh awesome — and not just for kids. Ever check out “The Butter Battle Book”?

    And the Sneetches spring to mind for me every time I hear about a bunch of straightening their curly hair and curling their straightened hair. I sometimes think adult life would be much more serene if Seuss Literature and Related Societal Analysis were a mandatory course for college freshpeople.

  127. Oh, dear.

    I neglected to say that I read an article where the Doc apparently says BBB is a metaphor for the arms race.

    I also neglected to insert “women” between “bunch of” and “straightening”.

  128. I also didn’t base my book friends/role models on their bodies, although I think Sweet Valley High did some lasting damage with those “beautiful, perfect, size 6 figures.”

    Anything by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume rocked my world.

    One book that I remember portraying fat/thin in a bad light was “Class Pictures” by Marilyn Sachs, which follows two girls, best friends, from kindergarten through the end of high school. Lolly is fat in kindergarten, and the other girl (I forget her name, but she’s the main character) bites her cheek, thinking it’s an apple. In junior high, the main character realizes that “Lolly had become a beauty” when she looks at her one day and realizes she’s gotten thin, and of course, all the boys are now after her.

    Has anyone mentioned “The Westing Game”? Still one of my favorite books of all time. It’s a mystery, but really it’s about all these great, quirky characters, and the best one is Turtle Wexler, a smart 12 year old girl who solves the mystery through her wits. She’s a tomboy who’s always being compared to her beautiful older sister… and Turtle ends up being the heroine.

  129. Westing Game is one of my favorites!

    I’m a little surprised, though, at the couple of commenters who thought they were being asked only to name fat heroes. Didn’t you notice that I started with Pippi? I think characters need hardly be fat in order to model self-acceptance and the value of qualities beyond looks.

  130. I was and remain in love with Tammy Pierce. Alanna of Trebond meant a lot to me growing up. A teeny little bit of me wishes she had stayed a boy, but still married her guy :) But that’s just me.

    Also, yeah to Scout Finch. “Scout yonder’s been readin’ ever since she was born, and she ain’t started school yet.”

  131. Oh, and yes again to Cimorene. Best line ever is when her parents say that princesses don’t do such things. And she says “But I am a princess, and I do these things. Therefore princesses *do* do these things.

  132. Alanna of Trebond meant a lot to me growing up.

    HELLO YES ME TOO

    It didn’t even occur to me when I was a kid to wish she’d stayed a boy, but I do remember feeling disappointed at the end of the first book… until she turned out to still kick ass in the sequels.

    I wonder if Alanna was responsible for my taking up fencing.

  133. I am a huge Dr. Seuss fan also. I am currently considering the purchase of a “Horton Hears a Who” t-shirt” & I own a battered old sneetches tee, with one bright yellow sneetch standing out in front of the crowd & the caption, “Dare to be different.” Since I have always been VERY ‘different’…and indeed can be nothing else…I thought the shirt was made for me.

  134. I just reread some Pippi books and her dad is real fat, which I’d forgotten. He’s still incredibly strong (second only to Pippi), and he credits his fat with saving him from drowning because he is so buoyant.

  135. Alanna of Trebond meant a lot to me growing up.

    Dude, she was my absolute favorite. (And can I say that I actually got to meet Tamora Pierce, who was incredibly nice and funny, and signed my book, and I only said about 5 things that made me look like a total idiot. It was thrilling.)

    Incidentally, she has an awesome fat heroine (Triss) in the later Circle of Magic books, as well as various other girls of different sizes and appearances.

  136. I loved Laura from the Little House on the Prairie series when I was in elementary school. I used to sit at the dinner table and go off on how “women are not furniture” and “women have rights, too!” after reading those books, to indulgent looks from the parents.

  137. I was thinking alot about this. I just started watching Origin: Spirits of the Past, which is a Japanese Anime film dubbed into English. I was thinking, there really are alot of strong women/girls in Anime. You really don’t see films from America where women/girls do much other than stand around and be pretty. I’m sure there are a few instances where this differs, but it seems with Anime everyone has a interesting personality, including the women.

    Perhaps this is that when people write films in Japan they come across as more intelligent, than some of the garbage that has gone into American movie theaters of late. You know, the standard woman as a sexual object, maybe has a personality, ect ect.

    I think most women and girls like Anime, because the female characters actually do something. They go on adventures, and show compassion and caring, while also not putting up with anyone’s crap. It’s a far cry from just dressing sexy, and trying to capture a man like in most romance films.

    There also has been discussion in more recent Anime about issues regarding size acceptance. Like the Anime series Azu Manga Daioh where the student Yomi, seems to be perpetually trying diets, but they never really work. Although she’s I guess what you might say “Japanese fat” like, we’d think she’s thin, but in a society where everyone is like super thin she’s not. It seems actually that’s becoming more of a reality in America day by day. And it’s not like we even live in a culture that eats mostly seaweed and fish, which apperantly is what has kept Japanese people thin for so many years.

    There also is a style of drawing called Chibi. A well known example are the characters from the Super Mario games. They’re drawn shorter and stouter, and basically just look plain cute. There’s a character called Toadette, from when they introduced female versions of the Toad mushroom people into the Mario games. I think the female versions of Toads look like really cute fat women, and the Toads look like really cute fat men. So that works, even if perhaps unintentionally, in favor of size acceptance. After all, what says HAES better than a plump plumber who runs around all day trying to save the princess, but never looses weight despite it. Yet still is considered the hero and mascot of Nintendo. Have you ever thought about it, Luigi the thinner of the brothers, actually is considered second to Mario. It’s completely different than society is now.

    I also remember Ramona Quimbley a little bit. I remember seeing a live action show based on the books, I don’t really remember much about the show though.

    There’s also Rainbow Brite from the 80’s, which actually given the amount of Japanese artists who worked on the show, could be considered the first widely accepted Anime in the US. You can see hallmarks of what is commonly known as Anime characteristics in it. Like all the characters having huge eyes, for example.

    There also was in the first episode when Wisp was going to help Twink with something, cameras that grew out of flowers..looked like something straight out of the Sonic the Hedgehog games. In the film Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealers, which is the only official re-issuing of anything from the Rainbow Brite series on DVD that I know of. There were these huge robots going after Rainbow Brite. The Japanese have had a thing for robots, for like forever. They even have those wacky robot contests, Keith Olbermann likes to put clips of them in his Oddball segments.

  138. i just have to step into the thread to hate on Piers Anthony and the Xanth series. he can claim it’s satirical all he wants, but it’s like saying something horrifically offensive and then saying ‘just kidding, god, can’t you take a joke?’

    but, one of my favorite books was ‘The Rebel Witch’, about a girl who ends up saving the world. As a birthday gift one year, one of my best friends found a copy for me, as it’s out of print.

  139. I know I’m coming *really* late to this party, but I just heart this thread so much. Everyone has mentioned so many of my childhood faves: I loved Anne and Emily, Sara and Mary, Harriet, Pippi, Ramona, Trixie…. I loved Little Women until they started getting married. Thanks to whoever mentioned Vesper Holly, I thought she kicked so much ass. The Ordinary Princess was also one of my all-time faves (the intro part where the king and queen were referencing all the fairy-tale cliches was so hilarious).
    One author that I don’t think anyone has mentioned is Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I checked out The Egypt Game and The Changeling from the library so many times when I was a kid.
    I also remember really liking The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt, but I can’t remember who wrote it?
    I *also* also thought that Elsie actually started to lose weight in Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade… I remember her saying, “I can see my feet.” I had forgotten how awful her mom was, though. Geez.

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