Sunday, July 18, 2010

Before there was "Twilight," "Little House" inspired tween girls to read

The release of the most recent film of the Twilight saga, "Eclipse", has teens and tweens swooning over vampires and werewolves.

Of course, by now the world knows that the films are based on a series of novels by Stephenie Meyer.

But before there was the Twilight saga, there was a series of books that inspired a similar, although perhaps less fanatic, "revolution in tween girl reading."

They were the "Little House" books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder some 80 years ago.

And, there was nothing supernatural about them. In fact, they remain innocent and timeless.

When the books inspired a TV series that ran on NBC from 1973-1983, it was the first show that specifically attracted tween girls.

Every week we visited with the Ingalls family in frontier America and watched the dynamic of a tween girl relationship between Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson.

In Nellie, played by actress Alison Arngrim, America saw a new kind of child character that was not "sweet and compliant."

I remember Nellie. She wasn't very nice-- but she was a powerful female character.

Arngrim, now 48, has written a book titled "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch."

In the following discussion on NPR's "The Take Away," she discusses the enduring popularity of the "Little House" phenomenon along with Patrick Henry Bass, senior editor of Essence magazine.

Listen to "The Take Away" here:

We now live in different times. It's an age of media hype and marketing. Much of it is aimed at an impressionable tween and teen girl audience with the goal of making huge profits. Yet, the messages contained in what girls read and watch formulates their self perception and shapes gender roles.

And of course we could go on and debate the gender roles portrayed in "Little House" and examine its feminist significance and impact in view of the social and economic times in which the series aired and the books were reintroduced.

I'm not saying that girls should be like Nellie on "Little House" or like Bella in "Twilight." But, it is important to view what we -- teens, tweens, or adults -- are reading and watching through a feminist lens.

And yet, "Little House" still endures. It is now on DVD in several languages and syndicated around the world in 140 countries.

Nellie lives! Will Bella do the same? Only time will tell.

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