The Girls I Grew Up WithSarah Heyward

Before there was Twilight, before there was The Hunger Games, before we even really knew to call this particular genre YA… there were series of books for pre-teen girls, starring other pre-teen girls, and I was obsessed. I could write forever about all the books I loved as a kid (and I have, here) but right now I’m thinking only about entire series devoted to the stories of one girl heroine. Three of my favorites:

The Anastasia Books

Written by Lois Lowry, the Anastasia books were about a girl “just trying to grow up”. In the first book of the series, she’s ten and in the most recent book, she’s thirteen and I’m pretty sure she’s not going to age again from there. These books were brilliant for a few different reasons: Anastasia – and the other characters – were completely real. Anastasia is a smart, slightly nerdy, regular girl who loves her family even when they drive her nuts, gets into trouble and hangs out with her best friends. If that sounds boring – it isn’t! Whether she’s answering the personal ad of a much older man (somehow uncreepily AND unromantically), misguidedly becoming a “companion” to an elderly lady or engaging in an emotionally intimate relationship with a plaster bust of Freud’s head, she does so with equal parts humor and charm. There’s something wonderfully offbeat about Anastasia, her genius baby brother and her academic-bohemian parents and I always wished I could lock myself into her tower room (her brilliant demand when her parents started house-hunting in the country) and hang out with her for a few hours.

Cam Jansen

These books skewed slightly younger but there were so many of them and they were such a treat to read, I had to include them. David A. Adler created this charming creature, Cam Jansen, whose main attribute was a photographic memory. Throughout the stories, she would close her eyes and say “Click” (this is so not how a photographic memory works, but at the time it made sense to me), freezing a memory of whatever she saw before her. This came in handy since she happened to live in a town where THERE WERE ALWAYS MYSTERIES TO BE SOLVED. So, yes, this was more of a mystery series than a coming-of-age epic but cheers to Adler for imagining such a spunky, independent, smart little girl heroine for other less-spunky, less-independent girls to look up to.

The Alice Books

This is a very special series, penned by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, because Alice actually grows up over the course of the 26-and-counting books about her. Rumor has it in the final book of the series (due May 2013), Alice will age from 18 to 60. Just thinking about this gives me chills because, like so many other girls, I grew up along with Alice. I started reading her when I was about eleven, and like clockwork, a new book would appear each year with her one year older. But that’s not the only thing that makes these books so incredible – it’s how honest they are. While not quite as sexually frank as, say, Judy Blume, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor does not shy away from extremely controversial issues for such young readers: hooking up, death of a family member, drugs, drinking, masturbation, homosexuality, racial issues, suicide and on and on and on – without EVER veering into after-school special territory. Alice navigates middle school and high school with the help of her two best friends, her on-and-off boyfriend (the gorgeous and sophisticated Patrick) and her dad and brother. I know that I’ll devour the remaining two books and then start over again from the beginning, so I can grow up with Alice one more time.

The Freaky Friday books

This is a bit of a stretch because only the first book expressly starred Annabel Andrews, but there were two others and she was still around, if not the main attraction. Written by Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard Rodgers of Rodgers & Hammerstein and a total genius herself), these books are so hilarious, so witty and such a perfect combination of unbelievable-yet-totally-believable… and yet everyone seems only to remember the movie versions. To me, Annabel was a perfect heroine because there was nothing perfect about her. She was messy, mean to her little brother, sulky with her parents, a tomboy… and yes, she grows up over the course of the books but she never loses her ferocity. I loved how relateable she was, even in a completely unrelateable situation (switching bodies with her own mother) and also how funny and frank the writing was. There was a decided lack of sugar-coating to these books, which could so easily have been silly little trifles with a cute gimmick.

There are many other series about girls I didn’t mention, including some by these very authors – Lois Lowry wrote three books starring Caroline Tate that are well worth a read. And I have read everything Paula Danziger ever wrote at least five times each – among many others, The Divorce Express, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, and Remember Me To Harold Square. They all featured bright, curious, flawed girls with a sense of humor and a pleasing over-use of puns. What were some of your favorite girl series growing up?

Images via danitorres.typepad.com, cliqueypizza3.wordpress.com, camjansen.com, storysnoops.com, goreybooks.com

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  1. The Cam Jensen, Alice, and Freaky Friday books were my favourite in elementary school! And I LOVED the Little House on the Prairie books (if you lived in Wisconsin during my childhood, you 99% most likely ended up reading these fabulous books) :D

  2. Go Ask Alice, Catherine, Called Birdy, And the Midwifes apprentice. I read over and over, i still have them.

  3. I was a BSC girl all the way. I even had the movies on VHS (shhh, I’m old! I had a VCR!) and watched them religiously. I wanted to be Stacey, naturally. She had cool bangs and bangs never worked on me. SIGH.

  4. I think, at some point, I either owned or read all of the books in that first photo. Scary! I was a pretty big devourer of books as a pre-teen. Thanks for bringing back some fond memories!

  5. Ohh, the Alice books! I had forgotten about those! Why aren’t there more Patricks in the world? :)

  6. I read all of these!!! I think of Cam Jansen almost daily, wishing I could do the click thing. (So unrealistic!)

  7. baby sitters club!!!

  8. Mandie Shaw (mystery series), Emily of New Moon… the “Little Women”, and any Madeline L’Engle character you can name. Oh, and (of course), Nance Drew and her pals.

  9. I loved anything by Sharon Creech-Walk Two Moons, Bloomability, Absolutely Normal Chaos…all lovely, honest, beautiful books.

  10. The Alice books were my favorite growing up! I will definitely read the last one when it comes out.

  11. I love that Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice are both in that photo!

  12. anne of green gables, laura ingalls wilder, and molly mcintire…those were my girls!

  13. Alice! Yes!

    Also, according to the picture above- you and I may have shared a bookshelf. I just re-read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and The Giver a few weeks ago. Also, I think I have every Lois Duncan book ever. Daughters of Eve was the best!

  14. ALICE!!!! how could i forget her?!
    (I also was a magic treehouse kid all day)

  15. Anne of Green Gables, The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins/HIgh, Nancy Drew, and then when I was 11 I read Pride and Prejudice and was introduced to Elizabeth Bennett. (My favorite book.)

  16. Cam Jansen always made me try and have photographic memory I even made the click sound in my head

    Anonymous | 9/08/2011 12:09 pm
  17. I still have a few Lois Duncan books. Along with the most of my Especially For Girls books. Anyone remember that book club? Good times.

  18. Ahhhh I loved Anastasia! I looked like her in this one http://www.amazon.co.uk/Anastasia-Your-Service-Lois-Lowry/dp/0006728677/ref=pd_sim_b_3 Does anyone else remember the schoolgirl diary type ones, the one I’m thinking of, the girl knew someone when he was little who was a complete dork, then he went away to Australia or something and came back a surfer with a hot bod… sure he was called Graham or something… anyone shed any light?! x

  19. My read of choice was Girl Talk and BSB. I’ve never heard of these series which makes me sad because I do believe my childhood heart would have devoured most of them.

  20. Oh my goodness! I saw “Catherine, Called Birdy” in that pic and it made me so happy. :)