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We need more strong female lead characters for kids

Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:36 a.m. CDT

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I am a lover of literature. Although I don’t have as much time for it as I like these days, reading books is my number one favorite thing to do in the world.

Reading was such a fundamental part of my upbringing and I count my blessings that I grew up in the era where R.L Stine’s “Goosebumps” series and K.A. Applegate’s “Animorphs” series were the talk of the playground.

Besides those two authors, I would also read anything by Mildred Taylor, Walter Dean Myers, Mary Downing Hahn, Chris Crutcher and Gary Paulsen. I was a book junkie and would devour new “Goosebumps” within hours of acquiring them and I still count the “Monster Blood” books as my favorite series of the franchise.

As a young boy, I had no trouble finding books about things that I was interested in. There was no shortage of strong male fictional characters I could relate to, and in some ways, look up to and strive to be like.

In fiction, there has never been a lack of strong male lead characters, but what about strong female lead characters?

Sure, back in the day young girls could look up to Nancy Drew, keep up with the adventures of the “Babysitters Club,” and if you go further back, admire the courage of Scout Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” However, who do girls have to look up to these days?

Let’s be honest here, as popular as The “Twilight” series is, it is pretty terrible. It’s ruined the cool mystique of vampires, it takes the whole Disney theory of “every princess needing a prince” thing to an extreme level and Bella is just detestable on so many levels.

I haven’t read the “Divergent” or “Mortal Instruments” books, so I can’t offer an assessment on those takes on the female protagonist, so this leaves only one other widely known series, with a female lead, to give little girls a strong role model: “The Hunger Game” trilogy.

*If you haven’t read the books, spoiler alerts ahead. You’ve been warned.*

I love, love the “Hunger Games” trilogy. Well, correction, I love the first two books. The third is questionable.

In the first book, we learn about our heroine Katniss, who is the main character in the series. The early version of Katniss is the best.

She is the primary provider for her mother and sister, she doesn’t care what other people think about her, she does what is right — even if means breaking unjust laws, she isn’t concerned with chasing after boys and she is willing to sacrifice her life for people who are smaller and weaker than her.

This version of Katniss can rival “The Boy Who Lived” Mr. Harry Potter himself in terms of universal appeal. This Katniss is the reason enrollment in archery classes has been rising nationwide. In fact, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources held a contest to win a new bow in conjunction with the release of second “Hunger Games” film “Catching Fire.”

That version of Katniss is why I went against my better judgment, and let my then 13-year-old sister talk me into reading the first book and then getting completely sucked into the series.

After that first book, in my eyes, Katniss could do no wrong.

Katniss was “The Chosen One,” she was going to be fictional character that a whole new generation of little girls could be proud to look up. She was teaching girls to like who they are, how to be a reliable person and how to be strong and independent.

This Katniss was who — God forbid I have children — I would like my daughters to read about and want to be like.

Then I read the third book of the series and I became distraught at what happened to Katniss.

Suzanne Collins, the scribe behind the series and Katniss’ creator, ruined this wonderful character she birthed. She turned Katniss into a drug addict, she made Katniss this flaky and psychotic person who people were afraid to leave alone and the worst thing of all, is she made Katniss just another girl who was torn between two boys.

This isn’t the image we need for our young girls. I like Disney movies, but the solution always comes in the form of the princess finding her prince and they live happily ever after. Well, I hate to break it to you Disney, but more than half of marriages end in divorce and guess what? Women aren’t these delicate little creatures that need a man to swoop in and save them.

Before that horrendous third book, Katniss showed all of these positive qualities and was a remarkable character. But in the end, she was ruined. Collins turned her into this strung out, hallucinogenic and boy crazy shell of her former self.

I feel bad for all of the girls who look up to her because the next two “Hunger Game” films will show her gradual decline into addiction and cowardice. It wasn’t a very pretty thing to read, so I can only imagine how the film version will play out.

I wish the “A Song of Fire and Ice” series was more kid friendly. George R.R. Martin has so many strong and wonderful female characters in his pages and little girls would have a bevy of them to chose from.

I’m also a big fan of Hermione Granger from the “Harry Potter” series, but she’s not the main character. She is very vital, but she’s still just a member of Team Potter and not the captain of the ship.

But back to the “Hunger Games,” maybe I’m reading too much into a children’s book, but I have to ask the question: “Is there a modern fictional character out there that our little girls can look up to?”

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