I challenge any adult to read Giants without getting a little tearful. It is a celebration of the everyday domestic life which is so often overlooked in literature and yet is the joy of having a family.
The book follows a girl from when she is a baby on the rug (and the adults around her seem like giants), to crawling, walking, going to playgroup and then school, getting married and then finally having her own little girl. I was given this book when my son was only a few weeks old and it is a joy to read it with him as he grows up and in turn achieves these different milestones. (At point of writing he’s almost walking to the park to be ‘the one in the duck pond’, but not quite.)
What gives this book top heroine rating is that the main character isn’t perfect. Like all children she does naughty things (‘I called people names and upset the water on Millie Magee’) and she fights with her older brother (‘I got big and strong and punched my brother John.’)
Reading an interview with the author, Martin Waddell, it comes as no surprise that he grew up amongst interesting women (his mother and aunt were actresses) as the female characters in this story are right in the centre of the tale. He also says that he aims to write great dramas in a way which relates to pre-schoolers (Hamlet for four-year-olds) which explains why Giants has the feel of an epic family saga crammed into 24 pages.
Heroine rating 5/5
My son and I love the first two of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things trilogy. We’re forever roaring our terrible roars (Where the Wild Things Are) and I can’t bake a cake now without howling ‘milk in the batter! milk in the batter! we bake cake and nothing’s the matter!’ (In The Night Kitchen.) Those books both have little boys, Max and Mickey, as the central characters so when I discovered that the third book in the trilogy – Outside Over There – has a female heroine I ordered it straight away.
OOT might not have the immediate appeal of the other two books but it is not without charm. It is a more sinister tale – my husband finds it terrifying and says it will have to be banned when our son is old enough to understand it. (E Duthie writes very eloquently about this reaction to the book in the excellent blog We Read It Like This) Ida is looking after her baby sister when goblins come and steal the baby leaving a changeling in her place. Sendak was a young child at the time of the Lindbergh Kidnapping which had a lasting impression on him, and this story draws heavily on that event with the baby resembling Charles Lindbergh Jr.
The tale has three female characters: Ida, her younger sister and her mother. Ida’s father is away at sea and he instructs her to look after “the baby and her Mama.” In some ways Ida is a traditional female character: caring for other people. She also saves the baby by playing a jig on her horn and thereby making the goblins dance “so fierce, so fast, they quick turned into a dancing stream”, following the mythology of a dangerous female musician (sirens et al.) But she is also brave and bright – she saves the baby herself rather than calling for someone else to help her. And she’s illustrated in wonderful powerful poses.
Heroine rating: 4/5