Helping Readers Find Strong Girls on the Road to Katniss by Kate Hannigan
I found my writing inspiration sitting on a bench at my kids’ school. It wasn’t me plopped down there on the hard wood, it was a Wee Reader devouring a copy of The Hunger Games. While I loved the book, I was a little blown away that a third-grader was taking on such big, emotionally complex material. I wanted to plop down beside Wee Reader and rattle off a list of all the other brave, adventuresome heroines to meet on the road to Katniss Everdeen.
So I went home and got to work. And the result was my own sort of Hunger Games, which published in May. Titled Cupcake Cousins, it’s a story about two cousins who try to bake their way out of having to be flower girls in their aunt’s upcoming wedding. The stakes are high enough – a disaster strikes the wedding cake, and their cooking skills are put to the test – for an early middle-grade audience, and there’s plenty of tension as the girls are tested.
But my girls, cousins Willow and Delia, are only a drop in the bucket. There are so many wonderful characters just waiting to be discovered. So if I could have sat down on that bench and recommended some middle-grade novels featuring strong girls, here are a few I would have introduced:
Mibs Beaumont: Mibs comes from a family where the 13th birthday is a magical one in Savvy by Ingrid Law. That’s when family members get their special power like creating electricity, moving mountains, or causing hurricanes. Mibs is hoping her savvy will help her save her father, who has been injured in a car accident. So she courageously stows away on a Bible salesman’s pink bus to reach him, and the adventures ensue. While her family is as wacky as they come, Mibs shows herself to be brave, bold, and thoughtful.
Sophie Young and Grace Yang: Best friends Sophie and Grace are routine neighborhood spies in Kristen Kittscher’s debut mystery series The Wig in the Window, until they glimpse a curious scene at nearby house that may have been bloody murder – or a cooking project with beets. The friends are off to solve the mystery, breaking secret codes, trailing after mysterious strangers, and pulling off all kinds of derring-do.
Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern: Delphine is the big sister, and so much rides on her shoulders as she and her younger siblings head from New York to Oakland to be with the mother who left them. In Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, Delphine’s challenges are in relationships, and making sense of the adults in her life – from her distant and disappointing mother to the Black Panthers running their day camp. But all three sisters are richly drawn characters who show resourcefulness and courage, and readers will cheer for little Fern at the book’s end. Readers can rejoin them in the book’s sequel, P.S. Be Eleven.
Zita: What can beat waging intergalactic battle to rescue a best friend abducted by aliens? Zita the Spacegirl presents a smart, confident, and caring main character who must deal with seriously weird foes, ancient prophecies, and a doomed planet. It’s great to know there are two more Zitas for readers to discover in this graphic-novel series from author/illustrator Ben Hatke.
May Amelia: The fearless main character in Jennifer Holm’s Our Only May Amelia and The Trouble with May Amelia is unforgettable. Saddled with being the only girl in the new frontier settlement and having seven brothers, May Amelia has plenty of challenges and is anything but a proper young lady. She dreams of being a sailor and setting off for China, but the hard life of her pioneering family make that difficult. May Amelia faces hair-raising adventures and overcomes obstacles with her own sort of grace.
Kate Hannigan used to work in newspapers. Now she spends her time researching and writing fiction and non-fiction for young readers. Her debut series for early middle-grade, Cupcake Cousins, published in May with Disney-Hyperion. Look for Book 2 in June 2015 and Book 3 in September 2016. Kate’s first historical fiction for middle-grade, The Detective’s Assistant, features not only a strong and capable girl, but was inspired by America’s first female detective. It publishes in April 2015 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.