Thursday, April 15, 2010

Girl power, boy power, kid power, story power

The adorable Kidsmomo recently did a podcast on "girl power" in honor of Women's History Month. The follow-up theme: books with boys' names in the titles. That got me thinking about the strange looks, at least, that they would've gotten if they'd done a podcast on "boy power."

There are so many great girl power moments in children's lit, of course. Jo March flouts convention and we cheer. Stargirl flouts convention and we cheer. Both are expected by some to fit into a fairly narrow model of what a female should be, and both make us proud by doing more than others expect of them.

But are girls the only ones with that power? I just picked up The Whipping Boy in Sid Fleischman's honor, and found myself cheering for Jemmy just as I did for Jo. Like so many literary ladies, Jemmy belies others' expectations. Expected to stand and wait during the Prince's lessons, Jemmy instead pays attention and learns to read, write, and do sums, and I don't know about you, but I'm darn proud of him. Class and position do for Jemmy what gender does for so many female characters, making us want to see him empowered because he isn't born with power.

Even the simple fact being a child can have that effect. Incantations and intrigue notwithstanding, kid power is a big part of the Harry Potter books' appeal. Harry and his contemporaries do more than wizards their age are expected (or, in many cases, allowed) to do. And we cheer.

How about you? What makes you root for a character?


  1. a little off topic but you got me thinking about some recent YA I have been reading with females who are in positions of power but lack the ability accept or properly use their power. It seems like an excellent way to portray the modern female who can get herself placed in positions of power but still grows up in a cultural sphere that stifles that power. Do you know of any male characters who have similar stories? It would be interesting to compare.

  2. Good question! Actually, The Whipping Boy puts a twist on that scenario. Prince Horace has the opportunity for a great education but doesn't pay attention during his lessons, which leaves him illiterate and unable to properly use his power (unlike Jemmy, who gains the aforementioned unexpected power by making the most of the lessons).

  3. I think it's all about having some obstacle to overcome. This post made me think about The Schwa Was Here, which I love. How can a boy (or girl, but a boy in this case) through life when no one notices him?

  4. as you probubly know from the 2 years you lived in the same apartment as my bookshelf my favorite books growing up were "death books" or luraine mcdaniel books about kids with life threatening ilness it think part of the apeal was it made everyone equal and even thoguh the kids were always strong because of what they were going through not all of them made it some got the heart transplant or thier cancer went in to remission but some did nto make it and thier loved ones had to deal with the grief yet another example of something that gets you no matter how strong you are (or maybe im just weird and morbid and thats not the point at all)

  5. Johanna, your first sentence pretty much sums it up. I was almost afraid to make this post because such a basic idea is at its crux (and then my inner English major decided the details were worth analyzing).

    Tobimonkee, that's a good point. Characters who don't have much power because of gender or class usually start out in that situation, but any character (or real person) can lose power by getting stuck in a scary situation. And if you're weird and morbid, so are a heck of a lot of readers.