What Ought a Young Girl Read?


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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91 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Regarding the initial study, does it matter what type of book one reads (particularly, fiction vs nonfiction)? Is a book a unique object or is reading in general — magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. — what matters?

    As to practically applying this, nothing sucks the fun out of reading (or, really, anything) like being forced to do it.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I wonder — Kazzy do you let the kids vote on what you read them in class?
      In college, there was one class where the teacher let the kids vote. It might have improved our paying attention…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        An occasional vote, I often let the kids pick, and often I pick. But I do think there is a difference between being read to and reading. Both are valuable experiences but they target different skills for the “consumer” and play different roles in the learning/growth process.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          The High School English curriculum locally is a mix — there are works that are mandated by the state, some by the school board, some by the teacher, and some that are chosen by the student.

          I’m pretty sure that every grade has at least one work that is chosen by the student. Often from a pre-generated list, but in my experience generally they’ll happily let you pick an unlisted work if it meets the general requirements. (Complexity, right genre or era of writing, whatever).

          There’s generally almost always one kid (this is AP Senior English) in my wife’s class who picks a work that’s unlisted entirely because she doesn’t want to deal with the flak from parents who would go nuts just because it’s ON the list.

          In general, she works really hard to help her students find a work they’d like — something they’d enjoy reading.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            I think the issue becomes one of time. Free reading… reading for pleasure… is something different than what most of us do with most of the books we read for school. And if I’m 16 and only have time to read 10 books this year and I have 10 “required” (of one type or another) books for school, there goes any chance of just picking up a book at the book store because it looked interesting and falling in love with it… or hating it.

            Way back when, I included JK Rowling in my Mount Rushmore of children’s authors despite thinking she was minimally talented. I did so because she got a large group of children to love reading again, to wait in line for a book to come out, to eagerly anticipate the next chapter in the story. That is incredibly valuable and something we need to leave room for. Saying, “Choose one of these ten books,” is unlikely to fill that space.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              She tends to suggest, I think. Asks what they’ve enjoyed (authors, books) and suggests a few off the list that might be something they’d like.

              I know she’s read a great many books simply because a student has, and she wanted a feel for the author and book so she could better recommend future works.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

              Way back when, I included JK Rowling in my Mount Rushmore of children’s authors despite thinking she was minimally talented. I did so because she got a large group of children to love reading again, to wait in line for a book to come out, to eagerly anticipate the next chapter in the story.

              This. I do not get the Rowling phenomenon. I read my niece’s copy of the first one while visiting over Christmas. This was a few years after it came out, and was all the rage. I thought it was OK, but unremarkable: a workmanlike example of the genre British children’s fiction that an adult would be willing to read voluntarily. The following year I started the second one, but only got halfway through before returning home. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t feel the need to go out and buy a copy. I am told that the later volumes get more complex. They certainly get longer, which isn’t quite the same thing. I figure I will eventually read them, probably when my kids are of an age (which will be soon). But why did Rowling hit the popular culture jackpot instead of someone else? I have no idea.

              That being said, one clearly can do worse, and if it makes reading socially acceptable, then more power to it!Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                I am going to fully back up what @richard-hershberger is saying here, which is pretty close to what @kazzy is saying. Not the best books as far as Lit is concerned, but boy did they get kids reading! I would say that my favorite British childrens books are the Swallows and Amazons books, but they probably seem horribly old fashioned now.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The secret to Rowling is that one wise lady discovered that writing books was less lucrative than advertising them. In short, she had a GREAT agent. The books are mediocre, but getting Scholastic and everyone onboard, getting the buzz going … that was the tricky bit.Report

          • Avatar Patrick says:

            The High School English curriculum locally is a mix — there are works that are mandated by the state, some by the school board, some by the teacher, and some that are chosen by the student.

            Just on the record: state mandating of a book list, or local school board mandating of a book list, (or state- or local-board- mandating of an unreadable book list) is in my opinion a bad idea.

            I actually have a particularly strong opinion on this one that includes the use of a lot of multi syllable profanity regarding how bad it is.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              I’m not sure how broad the state level stuff be. It might just be things like “At least four works by Shakespeare” in High School or textbook selection.

              And I misspoke :It’s not by the school board that does the book lists — it’s the district supervisors for that department. Curriculum over the entire K-12 is set for the district, and then sub-departments further refine it.

              I know some stuff persists — the aforementioned yearly Shakespeare play. A handful of works almost always seem to be on display (actually that’s mostly in 6-8th. High school varies a bit more on books, but covers some historical stuff more persistently). Sometimes they change which ones or what year each is read. Other stuff changes more often.

              Actually, thinking about it — by the time you get to 9th through 12th, the ‘static’ works that rarely change are all famous dead writers. Shakespeare, Sophocles, Homer, etc. Historical lit, so to speak.There’s more contemporary stuff, generally aimed at the aforementioned “books they’d enjoy reading that are also useful when teaching literature”.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I, for one, would really like to hear your perspective on that. I am of several minds on “standardizing” “curriculum”.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Me too. I mean most of the ‘standard’ curriculum for literature could be called “Famous Dead Writers Who Had Heavy Influence on Future Writers, Who Might Also Now Be Dead”.

                It’s either writers with heavy influence (Shakespeare, Homer, etc) or writers whose works cover a specific period of (usually American) cultural history (Twain, for instance) or are particularly good (fictionalized) snapshots of a historic event (All Quiet On the Western Front) or often all three.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                I’d rather we do Moliere than Shakespeare. We’ve lost so much of Shakespeare over the years, you’re missing out on at least a third of the show. (Granted, Shakespeare is really good at puerile humor, which is great for 9th graders).Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Kazzy: does it matter what type of book one reads

      I don’t remember, unfortunately. I’m pretty sure the question asked was about a book rather than counting magazines or other non-book types of reading. This isn’t to say that they asked questions about magazines and failed to find any benefit there. I know it’s very slimy of me to cite results when I don’t even remember where I initially read them, but that’s what I did.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Also, I should admit that the Academically Adrift got itself a *lot* of critics. Here is a relatively good critique:

      Also, the book itself shouldn’t be seen as a wholesale attack on college. It only claims to look at critical thinking skills while many programs may instead focus on domain knowledge. From the linked summary:

      Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

      Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. However, the authors note that their findings don’t preclude the possibility that such students “are developing subject-specific or occupationally relevant skills.”


      Students who took courses heavy on both reading (more than 40 pages a week) and writing (more than 20 pages in a semester) showed higher rates of learning.


      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I think the first quote — particularly the second paragraph — would sum up my objection to the summarized findings. To separate out “skill acquisition” from “learning” is wrong. It isn’t the ONLY type of learning but it does indeed show growth and change over time.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    Dwarf Fortress (for persistence)
    Deus Ex and Thief (for lateral thinking)
    Grim Fandango (just for the sheer joy of it)

    anyone got more?

    Books are great insights into other people’s heads,
    but the sheer joy of crafting plans and interacting is not to be underestimated.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I can only speak to my experience but here is my experience:

    I explored the experiences of others and I benefited from that, but, as time went on, I realized that I tended to enjoy others who meet certain criteria and others who met different criteria weren’t as edifying.

    Maybe her experiences will be different.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      This is kind of a similar question to “what music should my kids listen to?”

      Well, technically, they’re going to listen to whatever they want and they’re probably going to spend their tween/teen years listening to whatever the latest version of Lief Garrett is.

      The question isn’t whether she’s going to be listening to Lief Garrett.

      The question is whether she’s going to be listening to Lief Garrett *AND* whatever hipster crap that you got attached to when you were in your early 20s.

      All that to say: Get her in the habit of reading. Sure, she’ll read Babysitters Club and Flowers in the Attic by herself due to the tattered copies being passed around on the schoolbus.

      When she’s older, if she’s lucky, she’ll keep the habit of reading and she might even listen to your recommendations again.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        Get her in the habit of reading. Sure, she’ll read Babysitters Club and Flowers in the Attic by herself due to the tattered copies being passed around on the schoolbus.

        This is pretty much my experience with my seven-year old (going into second grade but reading about a grade ahead of that). She reads all sorts of crap. On our last library trip she picked out four books on Big Foot. I cautioned her about not believing everything she reads, which is itself a valuable lesson, but otherwise let her choose what she wanted.

        My addendum is that I also make sure that there is better material available to her. One trick is that the only age-appropriate book I have downloaded on my Kindle is the complete Oz books. So when she wants to borrow my Kindle, that is what she has. This has given her enough of a nudge that she seeks it out. I may have to buy hard copies so I can have my Kindle back.

        I think there is a question of trust. You have to trust the kid to take to better material, if offered. You can’t force it.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          So long as it’s not ONLY conspiracy books that she’s reading… a friend of mine grew up on those things. Is it any wonder he creates conspiracies more tangled than The Wire?Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            I went through a phase around fifth grade reading ESP/Sixth Sense crap. It is important to give the kid the tools to sort this stuff out. Letting them expose themselves to it is part of the process. As is making sure that it isn’t all they are reading.Report

      • Avatar bluefoot says:

        I pretty much agree with this.

        I think when kids are younger, the important thing is for them to read and enjoy it, so let them read whatever they want. As they get older, maybe you’d want to steer them to (or away) from certain books. Or you could do like my sister does and lets her kids read anything, but then either her, her husband or one of the aunts or uncles also reads the book. That way someone with more discrimination or practice being analytical can discuss the book with the kid.
        (Which is how I was pressured into reading Twilight. It was so badly written, I had to bribe my brother-in-law to read it. There was no way I was going to finish it. The fact that he read all of the Twilight books and discussed them with his daughter is surely a measure of how much he loves her.)Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        I spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid reading about palmistry and astrology. Hours and hours. In the OP, I managed to spin Mean Business into a win, but I have a hard time figuring out what learning about palmistry ended up teaching me.

        And I read all those crappy babysitter’s club sort of books too. I guess one could argue that even reading totally random or incorrect things still helps build verbal fluency. Now that I’m learning Mandarin, I certainly don’t care whether the sentences I’m trying to read are meaningfully contributing to my intellectual growth. I’m just trying to figure out which character means cat and which means hat.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          What astrology taught me was how to look for the little glow of warmth that you feel when someone is flattering you.

          When you learn to recognize “huh, they’re B.S.ing me and it feels good!”, it helps you recognize when you feel that situation when you’re listening to a politician give a speech, or when you’re reading a Myers-Briggs personality type description, or reading Nietzsche.

          “Oh, I need to watch out because I’m being flattered here… I’m probably more susceptible to arguments when I’m being flattered…”

          It doesn’t always work, of course, but it’s important to at least be able to recognize the sensation in retrospect.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          I am a big believer in the verbal fluency argument, at least for not-yet-fully-proficient readers. This is for the same reason that Microsoft installed Minesweeper with Windows back when mouses/mice were new. If you want someone to learn a skill set, making it fun is more likely to succeed than lecturing them about the long-term benefits of the skill set.Report

  4. Avatar Chris says:

    Korney Chukovsky.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      This is the first I have ever heard of him, but I have to say I find the idea of a Russian Dr. Seuss fascinating.

      I’ll bet his version of The Lorax is a HOOT.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        “The Lorax used his giant arms to crush the imperialist capitalist pigs who threaten Mother Russia.”

        You can see some of the art in one of his books here:


        There is a translation:


        • Avatar Glyph says:

          I don’t know if I’ve said this here before, but pretty much every time I finish reading Yertle the Turtle to my kids, there’s about thirty seconds in which I’m convinced it’s the greatest story in the English language.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            It is also the reason why I burp anytime someone asks me to do something I don’t want to do.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Related: http://www.theawl.com/2015/07/the-pixar-theory-of-labor

            That should probably go in Linky Friday but it made my head spin in a way that made me want to hurt people.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Did you read it? Read it. It is worse than it sounds.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Oh, I read it all right. Hence my comment.

                Honestly, I think those kinds of analyses can actually be good, if there is a little bit of acknowledgement of the silliness or possible ambiguity of it.

                I like multiple readings, none of which need to be taken as definitive, but as merely another lens through which to view the story; it’s a fun exercise and can enhance the experience of art.*

                But treating it as dead serious, or as the only possible interpretation, invites mockery.

                *Mad Max: Fury Road spoilers:

                Va n svyz svyyrq jvgu penml, cevzny vzntrel – oybbq, sver, zvyx – gung obgu gbhpurf ba srzvavfg gurzrf naq NYFB olcnffrf nyy ernfba naq ohzcf svfgf jvgu Serhq ba vgf jnl fgenvtug gb bhe yvmneqoenvaf – bar guvat gung V unira’g frra erznexrq ba vf gur snpg gung gur Jne Oblf – Wbr’f svthengvir (cbffvoyr yvgreny?) “puvyqera” – jub ner frag bhg gb ergevrir uvf “oevqrf” – cnvag gurzfryirf juvgr, naq funir gurve urnqf (be unir ybfg gurve unve sebz enqvngvba rkcbfher).

                Guvf nccrnenapr, pbhcyrq jvgu gurve furre ahzoref naq pbeerfcbaqvat qvfcbfnovyvgl, (gurl ner pnaaba sbqqre, guebja ng gur cerl vaqvfpevzvangryl, naq cebzvfrq vzzbegnyvgl vs BAYL gurl svaq naq pncgher gur srznyrf) vf…jryy, xvaqn fcrezyvxr. Juvpu znxrf frafr, fvapr Wbr unf frg hc jung nzbhagf gb n fbeg bs sregvyvgl phyg, ng yrnfg sbe uvz naq uvf pebavrf.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                My issue isn’t even with that type of analysis, but the level of bullshit required to complete it. Sometimes you can say, “Wow, all this person’s works sort of fit into a narrative framework/single universe/defined worldview.” But when you start using elephant sized shoe horns to make it all fit, it is time to stop.Report

            • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

              That totally doesn’t deserve a response, but I can’t help myself.

              The basic Pixar story is that of an individual seeking to establish, refine, or preserve their function as an instrument within a system of labor. The only way Pixar is able to conceptualize a protagonist is to assign them a job (or a conspicuous lack of one) and arrange the mechanisms of plot to ensure that they fulfill that job. This is why Joy can only accept Sadness once she comes to understand what it is she does.

              If you’re willing to twist and shove learning to be OK with being sad sometimes into establishing your place in a system of labor, then, yes, I guess you’ve mangled the meanings of word to the point that you can make your otherwise stupid argument “true”.Report

              • The only way Pixar is able to conceptualize a protagonist is to assign them a job (or a conspicuous lack of one)

                You know, it’s true: every main character either has a job or doesn’t. It’s a pretty remarkable insight.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Really anything by Munsch, but PBP is of a decidedly different tone than many of his other, sillier works. I like that it challenges assumptions without being a “preachy” “issue” book.

      Mo Willems books are great. At her current age, the Knuffle Bunny series is tops. Gerald and Piggy make all the kids laugh, but they don’t really “get it” until they’re about six; assign each character a voice and stay consistent with them since the book is wholly narrative (it is sort of written comic book style with speech bubbles and the like) and it will make it easier for her to follow along. She’ll probably be ready for the Pigeon books when she is four and those are highly interactive and wonderful.

      Frog and Toad are classics, albeit weird and trippy. But kids love them. Especially if, again, you give them each a distinctive voice (I go with a slightly higher, cheery tone for Frog and an old curmudgeony one for Toad).

      I think we’ve debated the merits of Eric Carle before.

      But, honestly, take her to the library (yes, take her to a physical place full of books and full of people who like being surrounded by books) and let her pick and go from there. And if you end up reading the same shitty book over and over and over again, so be it. There will be ample time to cram “literature” down her throat. What you want her to do now is fall in love with reading and grow up in a culture of reading so letting her turn the pages even if you haven’t finished the words and asking a million questions and putting the book in her mouth (though she is probably beyond that stage now) are all super important parts of becoming a good reader if you can believe it.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      By the way, thank you to everyone who is contributing concrete recommendations. I’m recording them.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I could go on an on about what a young girl should read, because I raised two boys and think it should be the same regardless of sex or gender. At the moment, though, I’m mostly struck by the fact that as a young boy you read business biographies for pleasure — which might be the most weird-in-a-good-way weird things I have ever heard about any young boy’s reading habits.

    This is both kind of off topic and kind of incredibly on topic, considering the post, but I never quite understood the conservative idolization of Iacocca. My impression of him at the time was a guy who used govt. bankruptcy laws in conjunction with getting the feds to flip the bill to bail out his company, and somehow crafted that into a narrative that made him the darling of small-government, anti-regulation conservatives. On the other hand, my dad worked for Ford at the time he became a hero at Chrysler (after, as my dad always said, almost taking Ford under), so it’s entirely possible that this tainted Iacocca for me at the time.

    I haven’t thought about him in years, mind you, but I wonder if I were to go back and reread his autobiography now if my opinion of him would reverse itself, as yours has with Dunlap.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      Tod Kelly: as a young boy you read business biographies for pleasure

      I’d have earned more and had a wider choice of career options if I had gotten an MBA. Instead, I got a PhD in something even most educated people don’t know you can get a PhD in. You could have guessed there might have been something a little bit strange about me.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      He went big into Zipcar – the man has vision.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Kazzy: Especially if, again, you give them each a distinctive voice (I go with a slightly higher, cheery tone for Frog and an old curmudgeony one for Toad).

    Way ahead of you, Kazzy. Waaaaaaaay ahead of you.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Hmmm… @tod-kelly I’m curious what that could mean. Were you born with Frog and Toad’s distinctive voices in your head? Because… well, that is weirder than a young boy reading business books.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I have used voices which do indeed sound identical to what you describe since I had kids.

        My Frog is basically Kermit’s voice. My Toad is, ironically I suppose, a bit froggy. Think of what Eeyore would sound like at 70 after a lifetime of smoking and drinking whiskey and you get the basic idea.Report

        • Avatar Patrick says:

          Clearly the next Leaguefest ***MUST*** be “Members of Ordinary Times audiobook their favorite children’s books”Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Dude… it won’t even be a contest. THIS IS LITERALLY WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING!

            I went to story time at the library with Mayo and sat in silent judgement as the lady totally ruined “Leonardo the Terrible Monster”.Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              @kazzy It might not be what I do for a living now, but I was doing storytime as unpaid intern for my mom the children’s librarian starting when I was about 11. And I have 3 younger siblings. Next time we’re both at the same leaguefest, I look forward to being your underdog challenger :D.

              PS I feel the need to point out that my mom didn’t teach at my school. Makin’ me do storytime for my own classmates woulda been cruel and unusual.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Heh… you are the one challenger I considered before declaring myself the already-champion in my head, @maribou . 🙂Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Which reminds me of a library etiquette question I have…

                Mayo falls in love with certain books and Zazzy will renew them as long as possible so he can keep reading them (he’s 2). I think this is kind of poor form because I think the only mechanism our system has to stop renewals is if a hold is placed, and young children are not apt to place holds (even through their parents). There is something to the process of going to the library and pulling a book of the shelves that is really meaningful for a young child (grown ups, too, but not quite the same way). So if Mayo has this book for several weeks at a time — even if he is making use of it — it still feels like we are depriving other kids of finding it themselves the same way he did.

                Thoughts? I don’t think this is a moral or even ethical issue as much as an etiquette issue.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @kazzy I wouldn’t worry about it.

                A) Most libraries will use renewals as part of their plan to buy more books, so by accurately demonstrating Mayo’s love for the book, she’s helping them with collection development.

                B) It’s REALLY quite easy to set up renewal rules (ie limits) in the system, so if they don’t have any, they have made the deliberate choice that they want kids to be able to hoard the books.

                In other words, Miss Manners says go for it! 😉Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                [Smiles wistfully as his own summer library book hoarding now feels less guilt inducing.]

                On a slightly more serious note, I love watching other people do read-a-louds. I often learn something and, if nothing else, it is interesting to see their take on the story.

                Which reminds me… I might need to write up a “How to…” piece on reading aloud to children. Because, ya know, arrogance.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @kazzy Arrogance … sincere desire to share one’s expertise… are they really so different? 😉

                I’d love to read such a post.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I didn’t know where else to post this (and so really wasn’t going to), but seeing that the story-reading thread has had some steam I thought I’d throw out the non-humble brag that I won the Moth last night.Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                The story-telling competition that I occasionally hear on public radio?

                well done!Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Agreed, that’s pretty sweet @tod-kellyReport

        • Avatar Kazzy says:


          I believe I mentioned my voices for Frog and Toad before and someone else chimed in identifying theirs as fairly similar. Was that you? Or is there something universal about these characters? Wouldn’t shock me if there was. Frog is undoubtedly the more positive of the two and toad is a lovable old crank.

          My Frog is Kermity in terms of tone and tenor but doesn’t quite have the frogginess to it.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Speaking of, I read the story wherein Frog and Toad discuss the will power it will take to avoid eating a batch of cookies (if you aren’t familiar with the tale, Frog keeps proposing ways to avoid eating all the cookies like putting them in a box or on a high shelf before eventually feeding them to a bunch of birds while Toad repeatedly points out that they can just take the cookies out of the box or off the high shelf and ultimately goes home to make himself a cake). One of my students was so taken by the message that any time I mentioned the need for them to demonstrate patience or related “virtues”, he’d chime in with, “We must use our will power!” Loved it!Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              My favorite was always the one where Toad has been hibernating and doesn’t want to get up out of bed, telling Frog to wake him when May arrives. And then Frog pulls off all the Calendar pages until he gets to May and then wakes Toad up, like, five minutes late. I like that one because it’s the single story where Frog goes from the Good Boy of the stories to something of a scoundrel.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            @kazzy Very likely that was me. Although I kind of like the idea that everyone, everywhere just automatically knows the best voices for Frog and Toad.Report

            • Avatar Glyph says:

              I’m not saying you guys are WRONG, exactly….all else equal, I’d pitch a toad’s voice below a frog’s, and I agree he’s sometimes a curmudgeon – but I think you are missing something vital here, and that is that Frog and Toad are a classic male comedy duo – as Frog is generally the “straight man”, his voice would generally be pitched slightly lower (likely to indicate the fact that he is the symbolic “adult”, capable of better reasoning) of the pair.

              Think Lewis and Martin, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Bugs and Daffy.

              There are exceptions – upon YouTube review to support my theory, I was surprised to find that Ernie is actually pitched significantly lower than Bert, and then you have your pairs where the ostensible “straight”/reasonable-adult character is actually a hyper-masculine know-it-all idiot (think Zapp Brannigan and Kif) so it’s reversed for them.

              And I can’t quite decide who is the straight man between Felix and Oscar (I THINK Oscar, generally, though obviously we are supposed to sometimes be exasperated at his laziness/slovenliness just like Felix is – but assuming it’s Oscar, then they follow the pattern).

              But I pitch Toad slightly higher than Frog for this reason (though I weirdly don’t differentiate them as much as I do other characters).Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I *AM* saying that YOU are wrong.

                I’m trying to read Toad as you’ve described and just can’t. I can see how you can characterize him less as grumpy old man and more as petulant toddler but, just… no… no. Stop it, Glyph. Stop it right now!Report

  7. Avatar zic says:

    I don’t mean to be contrarian: but I cannot help wonder at the emphasis gender screening.

    Because I’d pretty much read anything to a girl who was inclined to be read to, following her interests as much as possible.

    But with boys (which is why I’m bothering risking being contrarian,) I’d actually make a point, from a very young age, of searching out books to read to them featuring a girl as the protagonist. Now I do think that it’s less a problem than it was; Katniss is much admired by non-females. But fiction, and stories without girls who are active, may well be part of the early roots of regarding women as second class and their concerns not worth addressing in serious policy talks.

    That all out of the way; it goes by age. Arnold Lobel’s works. All of them. For the very young. But of the C.S. Lewis genre you mention, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydai are awesome. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern features an active heroine. And anything by Priscilla Mckillip.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      zic: wonder at the emphasis gender screening

      Sorry, what do you mean?

      In our case, it does seem that most of her books have female protagonists (or none at all, like the Eric Carle books). It’s not all of them, but it’s a preponderance. Almost all of our books were gifted to us, so it wasn’t any particular decision on our part.

      I do get what you mean about boys reading about female protagonists and agree, but my current thinking unless you can convince me otherwise is that the same balance is even more important for girls. If a boy grows up to not be able to empathize with women characters and not enjoy reading women writers, I think he can still be more or less OK. Girls who can’t empathize and learn from male protagonists, however, will miss out on quite a bit. Yes, there is more literature being produced, but the Odyssey and Illiad will likely never have female equivalents. Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be a female Richard Feynman. There’s just the real Feynman who writes/brags in his books about taking up “painting” so that he could invite girls into his apartment and get them naked. And like it or not, that’s the guy we have to learn from.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOhhhhhhhhhh @vikram-bath

        No girl will EVER want for male protagonists in her life because the traditional “wisdom” after maybe about 3rd grade (and the weight of Western tradition as, well, expressed by you above) is that male protagonists are interesting and female protagonists are not. (or in its slightly less sexist, more modern and child-centered version that still runs around all over teaching and school librarianship, “girls will read about boys AND girls, but boys will only read about boys so …. we need more books about boys!”)

        There’s no worry whatsoever about girls coming across male protagonists.

        The worry – the experience of many girls at least – is that the only way to throw oneself into ever so many stories is to either cross-identify so much you start losing track of being a girl yourself, or to pick the passive / objectified / etc character in the stories to identify with.

        I think what @zic was saying is, why do you need a list for “a young girl” as in your title, and not a list for “a young child” – and then musing that as the mother of boys she did need to seek out female protagonists, so they weren’t just reading about boys boys and more boys all the time.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          @maribou thank you for clearly getting to the heart of it.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          @maribou @zic

          I’ll dig up a document I have on assessing children’s literature for bias. One of the things it looks at is not only WHO is in the books, but HOW they are represented. So, yes, you might have a story with a Black main character, but if the story is largely told from the white character’s perspective, you aren’t quite there yet. Or you might have a story with many female characters in it, but if none of them are the agents of change for the story arc, you’ve against fallen a bit short.

          It is also careful to note that books shouldn’t be discarded for containing any hint of bias (that’d leave damn near nothing), but that the wider range of texts you pull from, the better because you will be more likely to fill in the holes PLUS books with more obvious or harmful bias can be used as teaching tools. Pull all the books off the shelves and say, “What do you notice about all the main characters?” Even young kids (in some ways, especially young kids whose brains are insisting that they sort and classify things but who are not yet bogged down with society’s baggage around race, sex/gender, etc.) can notice really obvious patterns of bias.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, no, you’re talking about Feynman.
        You know why he taught freshmen? (Those famous lectures of his?)
        … to get women into his bed.

        (note: by the end of that class, most of the physics students and grad students were in the lectures, so I daresay he was successful).Report

  8. Avatar aaron david says:

    I would simply say that the most important thing is for the child (either gender) to see their parents reading, to see them holding a book, not a tablet. The reason for that (a new thought since my son was young) is to associate reading as a distinct, normal activity. At this point a tablet is associated with entertainment in a general sense, not reading in a specific sense. And if you want to have children see reading as normal and positive, then they actually need to see that, in a distinct manner. Just my two cents.

    Otherwise, Sandra Boynton, Angela Carter and Italo Calvino.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I’ve been thinking about that and managing to do it more. It also happens to be the most productive thing I can really do while I’m watching her anyway.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      There is actually research to back up the idea that children who see their parents read are more likely to become readers themselves. It is the idea of creating a culture of reading. And I’ve heard it suggested that if you are reading on a device for whatever reason, to make that known to the child. “Mommy is using her iPad to read a book.” “Daddy is reading the newspaper on his phone.” Don’t BS them… they’ll eventually figure you out. (I don’t know if the research bears out this second point, but it was a suggestion to parents who tend towards reading on devices as a personal preference.)Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        I think I read that somewhere also, @kazzy

        But it was something that my father pointed out to me when I was a young father. As a total book fiend, there was no fear that my son wouldn’t see me reading, but it was something said in relation to my brother-in-law.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:


          I noticed early on that whatever Mayo saw in my or Zazzy’s hand alot, he wanted. So he became very interested in TV remotes and phones (or toy approximations thereof) which served as a bit of a wake up call. So I make sure he sees me reading as often as possible, whether it is picture books to him or my own books to myself. I actually have a great shot of him reading “Think Like a Freak” (third Freakonomics book) because he is still enamored with the actual items I hold. So, yea, there was great wisdom in your father’s advice.

          My mom — a teacher herself — always pointed out that good readers make good writers… that there is a relationship between the quality of what you read and the quality of what you write. I don’t know of anything that backs this up (not that I’ve looked, but I imagine it being somewhat difficult to test) but I struggle to see how the inverse would be true so yet another notch in Reading’s belt.Report