Photo by John Weir

Photo by John Weir

There is a crisis, as I see it, among the younger generation of girls in our society. Younger and younger, they seem to slough off their identities as children and strive to be the wrong kind of women. Mini skirts, huge sunglasses, hair extensions–these Lindsay Lohan Paris Hiltons often haven’t even hit puberty yet, and are wearing high-heels and carrying around metallic purses.

Where are they getting this from? Well, the media is all over the Britney/Lindsay/Parises of the world, and young girls are certainly listening. Even the Hannah Montana craze is like a slightly toned down version of the whole media message, but nice enough for moms and dads not to mind.

When I was younger, I was annoyed that there weren’t enough good books for me to read. I hated all the babysitter crap, the dewy eyed high-school romance books, and the millions of books about horses. (Why does everyone assume little girls love horses? Clearly, unicorns are far superior.) Most of my friends ate this stuff up, blasting through entire series in the blink of an eye and gushing about the love lives of their favorite fictive babysitters.

And it’s gotten much, much worse. The top selling books these days are, as I heard one bookseller explain, “Sex and the City for kids!”

What’s the solution to this? Geekdom.

Growing up, I had an idea I was a geek, but I didn’t know what to make of myself. If I had someone older help me through, I might have managed a little better and gained a little more confidence. I needed a role model that told me learning about the space-time continuum was cool, that memorizing the lineages of Hobbits was a perfectly respectable past-time and that, yes, unicorns are awesome. As it was, I took the long, hard road.

The thing is, girls need to understand that “girl power” has nothing to do with having a Coach bag and a Blackberry. It’s about being confident, about being strong and smart and beautiful from the inside out. Finding the right book, the right author, the right story, can change a girl’s life forever. I’m confident of that–heck, it happened to me.

For me, Madeline L’Engle was that voice. In the third grade I started with A Wrinkle in Time and the rest is history. L’Engle’s Meg Murry (and consequent other heroines) were role models for me–often slightly geeky girls with glasses who just “didn’t fit in” and yet, in the end, are capable of the near-impossible. L’Engle inspired my imagination, bolstered my confidence, and helped me to see that yes, I could do great things, too. Not to mention that her books helped me realize something else: women can write. We can write beautifully, meaningfully, artistically. We, too, can dream the big dreams.

As parents, teachers, friends, cousins, uncles, aunts… well, we really should do what we can to impact young girls’ lives. People are always willing to criticize the youth of today, but how many of us have been proactive in working to change that? So often, growing up, it’s the things we can’t do that define how we see ourselves (I’ll never be pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough, fast enough)–showing someone what they can do, well, that’s magic. Real, pure, magic.

Some suggestions to start?

  • Madeline L’Engle
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Garth Nix
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Susan Cooper
  • Patricia C. Wrede
  • Lloyd Alexander

There are dozens and dozens more (there’s a great Amazon list here with some more contemporary titles, too). And how about some graphic novels while you’re at it, too? And hey, if there’s a writer that impacted you, feel free to comment away.