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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Department of English

Advisor(s)

Mark Facknitz

Abstract

This paper looks at the importance of tomboy characters in children’s literature, specifically focusing on Katherine Paterson’s Newbery-winning novels, Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved. Though much of the children’s literature arena remains dominated by “boy books,” the use of tomboy characters in literature offers an opportunity for teachers and parents to push aside the gender conventions and stereotypes that are reinforced through trite and redundant curriculum. The strong tomboy transcends masculine-feminine roles and develops identity outside of their restrictions. She is an ideal for young females working toward gender equality while allowing young males to safely explore “girl books.” A close analytical reading of each text provides numerous examples of tomboys breaking gender conventions in order to establish true identity. In both novels, the tomboys (Leslie Burke in Bridge to Terabithia; Sara Louise Bradshaw in Jacob Have I Loved) struggle with the rules of gender convention in the face of adolescence, peer pressure, love, and death. Readers of Paterson’s books easily relate to the characters, sharing in their triumphs and sorrows and learning from their experiences. If true change is to take place in society regarding gender roles, then it must begin in the classroom. Katherine Paterson’s novels and tomboy characters offer students the opportunity to push beyond gender conformity, as well as encourage them on their quest of self-identity. Such literature should be incorporated into the general Reading curriculum.

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