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Girls Solving Problems

Our narratives are filled with images of attractive girls falling in love, girls being assaulted, and girls reaching their starry destinies … but what about girls at work?

Girls solving problems not related to beauty, love, or relationships? Girls failing, failing, failing, persevering, failing again, and finally succeeding.

Our girls need critical thinking and grit more than they need perfect appearances and fantasies of romance.

If the western writer Louis L’Amour likes a character, he shows the character working hard – driving cattle, chopping wood, climbing a rock-face, practicing with a six-gun. Here is what he says about Riley Mclean in “The One for the Mohave Kid.”

If a man has a trade, he is proud of it and says so.

Usually, he will do a good job at anything else he tackles.

Another writer with close ties to the hard-won glories of work is Jack London. In The Call of the Wild, he makes a point of breaking down the proper way to load a sled. A group of Yukon rookies skips this work process and pays mightily for it. Another London story, To Build a Fire, centres entirely on this single, vital operation, and the moral worlds captured within that method:

He began laying dry grasses and the tiniest sticks on the flame. He could not choose carefully because they must be pieces that could be lifted between his hands. Small pieces of green grass stayed on the sticks, and he bit them off as well as he could with his teeth. He treated the flame carefully. It meant life, and it must not cease …

Ignore the proper ways of working on a problem, and the fall is steep. It is a lesson our girls can use in their lives, perhaps even more than one-upping the mean girls.

Laura Ingalls Wilder is an author who runs the narratives of family and coming of age through inner workings – in this case, of farm life on the Great Plains. Wilder’s enduring series of “Little House on the Prairie” books derive their strength from the family’s labour and industry on the plains. Ingalls does not gloss over the clockwork of running a farm, good and bad. “If enough people think of a thing and work hard enough at it, I guess it’s pretty nearly bound to happen, wind and weather permitting.”

Jane Eyre, John Green, and Jane Austen are excellent models for many of our YA stories, but adding a shot of Louis L’Amour, a little house on the prairie, and Jack London wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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