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Cops-N-Kids Literacy Program

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Mysteries and Children's Books

I've just started to read Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (NPR's Fresh Air book critic), a Christmas gift from the person who knows me best. I would read this book for the title alone. I haven't gotten very far, but the book has already given me food for thought. In the very first chapter, Ms. Corrigan discusses the role of women (or lack of a role of women) in most adventure stories. She adds that "the two places where swashbucklers in skirts have long thrives have been in the "can't-get-no-respect" genres of juvenile and detective fiction." I found this an interesting observation, because juvenile and detective fiction (mysteries and children's books) are the two genres that I most prefer. And I certainly enjoy seeing strong women and girls having adventures in these stories (think of Pippi Longstocking, for instance, one of the examples in Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading).

Ms. Corrigan goes on to say that detective fiction has "sanctioned curious women to gamble with their lives and enjoy the male thrills of exploring the unknown and hunting down prey." I have always been particularly partial to the sub-sub-genre of historical mysteries in which the detective is a woman in a job that is ahead of her time (a lawyer or a journalist or a private eye or a mid-wife/doctor) in a world that generally relagates women to roles in the home. Some examples here include:

  • Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series, starting with Murphy's Law. These are about an Irish immigrant who becomes a private detective in early 20th century New York.
  • Victoria Thompson's Sarah Brandt series (Gaslight Mysteries), starting with Murder on Astor Place. These are about a well-born young woman who becomes a midwife in early 20th century New York, and ends up in an informal partnership with a police detective.
  • Shirley Tallman's new Sarah Woolson series (2 published so far), starting with Murder on Nob Hill. Sarah is a young woman from a prominent San Francisco family who becomes a lawyer.
  • Dianne Day's Fremont Jones mysteries, set in San Francisco in the early 20th century, and starting with The Strange Files of Fremont Jones.

There are also many other historical series in which a spirited woman is in partnership with a man (see especially Laurie King's Holmes/Russell books, Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt and William Monk series). But I like the four series above because although each woman has some man (usually a police detective) who helps her (and adds relationship tension) the women are the primary investigators.

So, I've already found some validation of my twin loves of mysteries and children's books in Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, and perhaps some insight into why I like the strong woman lead/historical mystery sub-genre so much. I'll let you know what else I find of interest in this book. Happy Reading! -- Jen

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.