Giveaways Inspirations and Influences

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls Blog Tour (& Giveaway): Claire Legrand on MG Heroines

Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The best part about I&I posts? Writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want: their new book, series or career as a whole.

We continue our awesome week of interviews, guest posts, and reviews with Claire Legrand’s Cavendish Blog Tour! We are thrilled to have the lovely Claire over to talk about middle grade fiction and her favorite heroines – gutsy gals that have inspired her own writing, including the wonderful character of Victoria Wright herself.

Please give it up for Claire, folks!

My Favorite Middle Grade Heroines

There’s something special about the heroines of middle grade books. Maybe it’s because these are girls only just beginning their journeys to badassery, and it’s always fun to watch people recognize that about themselves — that they have the potential to be, and will someday be, and already kind of are, an unstoppable force. Or maybe it’s because, in the land of middle grade books, these heroines for the most part haven’t yet discovered romance; they know it’s there, sure, and they may be developing a crush for the first time, but it’s not yet the all-consuming element that it often is for their young adult cousins.

Whatever the reason, there is an innocence to these girls, a strength tempered with the wide-eyed wonder still lingering from childhood. These girls have ferocious, gender-blind friendships, and they themselves are ferocious because no one has yet suggested to them that such a thing is unladylike. Even if they get into trouble, break the rules, rebel against the status quo — and maybe especially if they do these things — these heroines have a purity to them. Their stories are only just beginning. They could be anything and anyone, and they are just starting to recognize that beautiful reality.

I love these girls.

Don’t get me wrong — I also love Katniss and Karou, Katsa and Fire and Bitterblue, Tris and Alina and Elisa. But these younger girls, these middle grade heroines, hold a special place in my heart, and I’m here today to talk about some of my favorites. All of them influence my writing and were inspiring to me as I developed the character of Victoria Wright in The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls.

So, without further ado . . .

Matilda Wormwood from Matilda

I’ve read this book so many times I’ve lost count. Especially when I was younger, I would pick it up on a rainy day and read about Matilda and her intelligence, her calm in the face of circumstances that would drive most people out of their minds, and her power. Yes, Matilda has power. She is, in fact, telekinetic, and uses said telekinesis to wage war against her school’s tyrannical headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. But Matilda’s real power lies in her plain old non-telekinetic intelligence.

Among other things, she devours advanced books and can accurately solve outrageous math problems in her head — math problems! As someone who always struggled in math class, this ability of Matilda’s was especially awe-inspiring. Matilda’s intelligence mystifies and infuriates her narrow-minded parents, who choose to ridicule their daughter rather than praise her.

Through all of this — the emotionally abusive parents, the physically abusive headmistress — Matilda keeps her cool. She hones her powers, carefully and patiently, and fights back. And, after she has set her world right, her telekinesis disappears, leaving her with her fierce intelligence as her only weapon. I always loved this as a child, and often imagined being as self-assured about my own intelligence as Matilda was. She was never arrogant about it; she just knew her own smarts, embraced them, and never tried to hide them, not even when people literally tried to beat it out of her.

Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden

Whenever I think of The Secret Garden, my heart fills up with what I think you would call “the warm fuzzies”, and a lot of that has to do with one Miss Mary Lennox. At the beginning of The Secret Garden, Mary is sour, bad-tempered, and doesn’t love anyone or anything. She is not a likeable heroine, much like Victoria is not too terribly likeable at the beginning of Cavendish.

But then Mary discovers her uncle’s secret garden, untended and unloved (much like herself), and thus begins one of the most beautiful character transformations I’ve ever read, still to this day. Because along with that sour disposition comes an indomitable will. Mary tends this garden, pulling weeds and clearing away the rubbish. She takes in the fresh air and learns about animals from good-natured Dickon, the maid’s brother. And she helps her ailing cousin Colin walk again, when no one else could. No one else was stubborn and patient enough. No one else could understand a sick, sad spirit like she could.

At the end of The Secret Garden, Mary is just as stubborn and sometimes difficult as she ever was. But she has also learned what it is to love, to really care about something other than her own troubles. I thought about Mary a lot when writing Cavendish, because, like Mary, Victoria also has a lot to learn — although I think she would say that Mary had it easy compared to her. “Gardens and red-breasted robins?” she would say. “Please. Fight an army of evil beetles and then get back to me.”

Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time

Oh, Meg. Meg, Meg, Meg. How much do I love Meg Murry? At the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg is what so many of us (including myself) felt like at the age of 13 — hopelessly awkward, hopelessly ugly, not smart enough, not clever enough, eclipsed by much cooler friends and family members. Meg feels all of this to the extreme — her parents are brilliant scientists, her mother is beautiful, her twin brothers are popular and athletic and normal, and her baby brother is basically a child prodigy. What’s an intelligent, neurotic, painfully self-conscious girl to do with all that working against her?

Save the universe, of course. And Meg does, with the help of baby brother Charles Wallace and schoolmate Calvin O’Keefe (my first literary crush). It isn’t all smooth sailing, either. Meg is frightened a lot, and confused a lot. She gets overwhelmed and cries and stresses more quickly than her companions. But she is so, so very brave. She is perhaps the bravest of all her companions, simply because she has so much more to overcome. It is Meg who is brave enough to go back and rescue Charles Wallace from the evil IT, Meg who loves deeply enough to break Charles Wallace away from IT.

I remember, when first reading A Wrinkle in Time, I thought, “So there is hope for us mousy-haired, impossibly awkward girls.” I looked up to Meg because she somehow, despite not thinking much of herself, found the courage to be extraordinary. I still look up to her. I probably always will.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series

I love all incarnations of Hermione Granger. Book Hermione, Movie Hermione, even Fanfiction Hermione (well, for the most part). But my favorite Hermione Granger is the true middle grade Hermione, from the first two — possibly the first three — Harry Potter books. This Hermione still has buck teeth and wild, bushy hair. She is unabashedly obnoxious in class, always waving her hand about and making eager noises to catch the professors’ attention. She doesn’t hide her intelligence or her studious habits; in fact, she goes a little too far the other way and flaunts them.

But oh, middle grade Hermione. Before you appeared at the Yule Ball with your Sleekeasied hair and your normal-sized teeth — how I love you. I love you too, older Hermione, who is a little more mellow and a little less prone to wild hand-raising. But you, the younger, more oblivious Hermione — I adore you. You make me unbelievably happy because, God help me, I was you. I had the too-big glasses and the hair that flew every which way, and I was smart and didn’t hide it. I was too bossy and too worried about grades, and school stressed me out way too much, and I cared deeply about what people thought of me, even though I seldom showed it. Sometimes I cared too deeply, and I’d sit in front of the mirror and cry over my hopelessly wild hair, or I’d futilely wonder how I could go about being the elusive “cool.”

So when I read about you, middle grade Hermione, I recognized a literary soulmate. A sister. And I loved how you didn’t apologize for who you were. In fact, I think you kind of knew what an insufferable know-it-all you could be, and you didn’t care. You were proud of how hard you worked, of your grades, of your hard-earned compendium of knowledge that saved your less studious friends in a pinch. And you should be, Hermione. I loved that about you. I think we all did—and do.

P.S. Hermione, Victoria would think you were pretty much the coolest chick ever, but she would still claw your eyes out (in an academic sense, of course) to get that top of the class standing.

Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials

And now, for my favorite middle grade heroine, and perhaps my favorite heroine of all time: Lyra “Silvertongue” Belacqua. My love for Lyra knows no bounds. She’s so stubborn and brave and flawed and passionate that just thinking about her brings tears to my eyes.

In a lot of ways, Lyra is quite similar to Victoria. Her best friend goes missing. So do a bunch of other kids. And she goes on an epic adventure to unravel the mystery behind it all. But, unlike Victoria, Lyra could care less if her hair is perfectly curled. In fact, she prefers to run around the rooftops of Oxford University like a wild creature, with only her daemon, Pantalaimon, for company. She talks back to the adults in her life, even the scary, intimidating ones like Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel. She manipulates an armored bear king with hardly a flinch. She uncovers — and fights back against — a religious conspiracy that could determine the future of the cosmos.

I don’t know what else to say about Lyra. She loves deeply and without shame. If you cross her, you’ll be sorry. I think about her when I face problems in real life, when I feel lacking in strength or need an extra push of determination to get through a difficult day. I think of her crawling across the ice bridge with Pan in the far North, freezing cold and terribly afraid. I think of the moment when she pauses to shake and cry, to tell Pan that she doesn’t think she can’t do it—and then I think of when she takes a deep breath, knowing that she can’t do it, and continues on to do it anyway.

Like the rest of my list — and like Victoria herself — Lyra is difficult. Prickly. Uncompromising. Not always likeable. Passionate. Intelligent. And unbelievably brave. These are the heroines I think about when I don’t feel strong and need to feel stronger. These are the heroines I think about when I write, the kind of strong female characters I want to create in my own stories. These are the heroines I looked up to when I was a girl, and I know I’ll continue looking up to them — and re-reading their stories — for the rest of my life.

About the Author:

Claire Legrand is a Texan living in New York City. She used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a full-time writer, Claire can often be found typing with purpose on her keyboard or spontaneously embarking upon adventures to lands unknown. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is her first novel, due out August 28 from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Her second novel, The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers, comes out August 2013. Her third novel, Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker, comes out Fall 2014.

Make sure to check out the rest of the Cavendish Blog Tour here!

You can read more about Claire on her website, or follow her on her blog, twitter, facebook, tumblr, and goodreads.

The Giveaway:

To win a hardcover copy of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, fill out the form below! Contest is U.S./Canada only. Contest ends September 20th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, and make sure to stick around to check out our review of the book later today!

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  • Cassie F
    September 5, 2012 at 3:43 am

    Um, yes. Hermione is one of THE BEST MG heroines. Gotta love her. <333

  • Katie
    September 5, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Hermione is probably my favorite too.

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  • Linda W
    September 5, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Most of the heroines you mentioned are my favorites. And I’m just thrilled to death to see more great stories of middle grade heroines.

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    September 5, 2012 at 6:33 am

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  • Danielle Nguyen
    September 5, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I loved all of these books when I was younger (and still do). I think my favorite MG heroine was Harriet the Spy. Now that I think about it though, she was kind of a pest lol. Thanks for the chance to win Cavendish!

  • Ellie
    September 5, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Lyra from His Dark Materials is my favorite MG heroine too!

  • Shelby
    September 5, 2012 at 6:59 am

    My favorite muddle grade heroine….
    Am I allowed to say hermione? Because Hermione is awesome, for all the reason listed in this post. Of course, I love a lot of other middle grade heroines, but she’s the one that pops into my head first.

  • Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
    September 5, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Hmmmm, Anne of Green Gables, mayhaps? She’s delightful.

  • Misty
    September 5, 2012 at 7:27 am

    I love this list!

    Matilda was the first non picture book that I read as a child that really stayed with me. It’s also one of the few that I can read today and find it just as satisfying.

  • Jami Zehr
    September 5, 2012 at 7:30 am

    One of my absolute favorite books growing up was The Secret Garden, the copy I still own today has sadly fallen apart from my reading it over and over. I just can’t seem to give it up. And now I want to re-read it again!

    One of my new favorite MG heroines is Henrietta from the 100 Cupboards trilogy. Though not the main protagonist, Henrietta has a clear voice. She is loyal, a straight shooter, and obtuse at times, but always very brave.

  • Tori
    September 5, 2012 at 7:32 am

    My favorite middle grade heroine is DEFINITELY Anne from Anne of Green Gables!!

  • Tami
    September 5, 2012 at 7:40 am

    Hi, Claire!

    I am a huge, huge huge fan of Matilda (and other Dahl books like The Witches) — your book sounds right up my alley!

  • Anna
    September 5, 2012 at 7:41 am

    The book looks awesome (especially with all the cool heroines it’s inspired by). I’d have to say my favorite MG character is Hermione, too. She’s just so irrepressible!

  • Gillian
    September 5, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Hi to Claire from another Texan! I think if I had to pick, my favorite MG heroine would be Sara from A Little Princess. I read that book over and over as a kid, and I still reread it every so often!

  • deniz
    September 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Matilda. Yes. I love your other choices too, but oh! Matilda!

  • Ariana
    September 5, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Ooof, I could talk about how much I love Lyra Belacqua for days. I couldn’t have put it better myself, though. Yay for MG heroines!

  • Tori
    September 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

    I loved Matilda and Meg Murray, but my favorite was Harriet the Spy.

  • Ray Pratt
    September 5, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I have to go with Matilda for a favorite, but Meg is a very close second.

  • Anonymous
    September 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

    It is a toss up between Lyra and Hermione for me!

  • Kaitlin
    September 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

    It is a toss up between Lyra and Hermione for me!

  • Sheila
    September 5, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Gonna go with Alanna. Though she grows up in the series, she starts off in book one as a young girl who wants to be a knight.

  • Angie
    September 5, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Trixie Belden was my MG hero growing up, but I do love Hermione!

  • mary anne
    September 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I can’t remember her name, but the character from “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” was very cool. Also Anne Shirley. And there’s a series of books – Saffy’s Angel, Indigo’s Star etc about a family, and each of the books centers around one of the kids, usually during his or her middle school period.

  • Kaethe
    September 5, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I will second all of your heroines and add Mosca from Hardinge’s books to the list.

  • Vivien
    September 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I actually just started listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone again. Love Hermione!

  • Scribe K.
    September 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    September from the girl who circumnavigated fariyland in a ship of her own making!!

  • Jacqui
    September 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Can’t wait to read this one! My favorite middle grade heroine is Anne Shirley. She rocks!

  • bn100
    September 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Nice list of heroines. I like Hermione.

  • RED
    September 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Kat from “Kat, Incorrigible” is fantastic. I also quite liked Piper from “The Girl Who Could Fly”.

    And of course, all the girls listed here are amazing as well. I loved Mary Lennox–when I read The Secret Garden as a child, she was always my favourite part of it.

  • Alexandra the Great
    September 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I guess it’s a toss-up as to whether they’re adult, YA, or middle grade (I think they’ve been marketed as all three), but I read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles when I was in middle years. So I choose Cimorene, for making me expect my fictional princesses to kick ass.

  • Christina K.
    September 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Hermione of course but my fave is Luna Lovegood:) She’s brave but so quirky and completely proud of it:)

    Your book sounds awesome:)

    Thank you:)

  • Adeeti
    September 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Have to agree with Claire. Lyra takes the cake, though I really loved Hermione fanfiction for giving her a story of her own, where she was the hero who fought to make her way. I think if it had been Hermione Granger and the _______, she might’ve gotten a chance to be my number one.

  • Katrina
    September 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    I would LOVE to read this book! I think this was my favourite Inspirations and Influences post ever! I, too, suffer from smartass hand-shooting-up-in-the-air syndrome.

  • Grace Radford/Anna Pett
    September 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Hermionie is great. I also love Liesl, from Liesl & Po too!

  • Hannah H.
    September 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    I love all of these heroines! I also have a soft spot for Nita from So You Want to be a Wizard although she, like Hermione grows up.

  • Nicole R
    September 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Perfect list! It even makes me feel like doing a re-read of The Secret Garden to remember all the things I loved about the delightful and contrary Mary.

  • Michele Morrison
    September 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    having spent my childhood summers in pei, my fav was anne shirley

  • Stephanie
    September 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Hermione Granger

  • Kate & Zena
    September 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Hi Claire!

    I have so many “middle school” heroes, but I definitely love Hermione, Lyra (although, I don’t agree she’s a middle grade heroine. I didn’t understand the trilogy until I was a high schooler!) and Mary. I love Jenny and Violet from The Boxcar Children, Sara from A Little Princess, and so many other female heroes!

  • Sara
    September 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I enjoyed both Tanya and Rowan from the 13 Treasures trilogy.

  • Claire Legrand
    September 5, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    @Kate & Zena: Hi there! I just had to jump in and say that I agree–HDM is SO hard to classify! I hesitated including Lyra on this list because I can see–and HAVE seen!–HDM classified as MG, YA, and adult. Buuuut I just couldn’t NOT include her. I lurve her too much. ;D

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Teresa N
    September 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    I know most of Tamora Pierce’s books fall more in the YA spectrum, not MG, but one of the most powerful heroines of hers for me was Keladry of Mindelan, from the Protector of the Small series. Kel and I were about the same age when “First Test” was published, and I loved to read about a fantasy heroine who wasn’t magical or pretty but became special because of the depth of her compassion and her dedication to working hard and bettering herself. That series really spoke to me about the importance of knowing your own value and respecting your own moral code and work ethic, even when it’s not popular or cool or cute.
    Glad to see so many new MG and YA heroines lovingly remembered here and looking forward to reading your book!

  • Maureen
    September 6, 2012 at 3:27 am

    The book looks great! I loved Anne of Green Gables.

  • Becky C.
    September 6, 2012 at 5:54 am

    My current favorite middle grades heronine is Miranda from When You Reach Me. I just loved her and found her to be very relatable.

  • Amy @ Book Loving Mom
    September 6, 2012 at 6:37 am

    All of those books are fabulous. I think that Hermione is definitely one of my favorites!!

  • Superbwg
    September 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I love MG hero’s for the same reason as the author, It is all about the current adventure and finding your voice, they seem to be more about the individual and less about what that boy over there thinks of them, love me some MG heroines, my favorite is probably Matilda/Hermione I like smart girls.

  • Hwa Sun
    September 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Hermione Granger, Luxa (from The Underland Chronicles), Pippi Longstocking, and Allie Finkle (from Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls) are a few of my favorite MG heroins 🙂

  • Rebekah B.
    September 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Mary Lennox is one of my favorite middle-grade heroines too.

  • Kimmie
    September 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    My favorite would have to be Matilda. 🙂

  • Jasmine Rose
    September 8, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Woohoo for Hermione! Though, she’s not middle grade for all too long…

  • mclicious
    September 9, 2012 at 8:57 am

    I luffed The Cavendish Home! I got to review it for kidsreads and thought it was awesome. And Matilda and Mary Lennox are definitely amazing, as is the word “badassery.”

  • sarah
    September 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    this book sounds amazing! i just re-read matilda for my tween book club and was wonderfully reminded of how fantastic she is!

  • Nightsbridge
    September 11, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Sounds like it could be an excellent gift for a niece. Or at least, that will be my excuse . . .

  • Serena
    September 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I love all these heroines and these books! Hermione and Lyra especially, I think.

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