Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Two Ms. Pierces'

Studies have shown that American children who learn to read by the third grade are less likely to end up in prison, drop out of school, or take drugs

There’s an open secret in the publishing world that to get boys to read, the protagonist should be a boy. Historically, children's books abound with male protagonists who have adventures, save the world and accomplish mighty feats and reap the glories, whether they are Peter Pan, Charlie Bucket, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Although I this is a blanket statement and I don’t agree with if fully (I’ve met lots of boys, and grown men, who love Ramona and Laura Ingalls Wilder) there is a tinge of truth to the sentiment. In WordHustler’s interview with Ben Barnhart, Young Readers Editor at Milkweed Editions, he states --
“Girls make up, by a wide margin, the larger audience of readers, and there’s a lot of debate about whether boys simply don’t read or whether they don’t read because publishers are only publishing books for girls. There’s also a rule of thumb that says girls will read books about both boy and girl protagonists, whereas boys will only read books about boy protagonists.”
Although girls are omnivores of the reading world, they need to have access to books that have nuanced female protagonists. These characters should reflect a host of personality types, face adversity, succeed and fail at whatever they strive for. At the end of the day, the key for an author is to create characters who resonate with the reader – readers, whether they are boys or girls, need to believe in the protagonists journey and take away something from having read the book.
I encountered Alanna when I was elementary school, and I was hooked. Here was a girl after my own heart – a girl who defies convention and becomes a knight. She has successes and failures, yet prevails through it all. Tamora Pierce wrote ALANNA: THE FIRST ADVENTURE in 1983 and it was a ground breaking series of novels. Within a year I stumbled across Meredith Ann Pierce's DARK ANGEL trilogy, about a young slave girl, Aeriel, who defeats vampires and saves the world. These are books both boys and girls should read – the character of the protagonists transcends sex, and their accomplishments are universal.
The two Ms. Pierces’ introduced readers to tough minded, multi dimentional characters who went for what they wanted, stumbled, failed and succeeded, but perhaps not in ways they thought they would, or should. They got me love reading and planted the seeds to write – so thank you!

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