Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Writer and blogger Lizzie Skurnick belongs to what you might call the struggling artist income bracket, and she, too, is feeling more creative than ever.

When the stock market crashed, she went back to her childhood bookcase. There, she found three young heroines who not only learned how to survive hardship, they figured out how to thrive.

Skurnick tells us about their stories for our series Three Books.

MS: You might think of girls' fiction as one big Cinderella rewrite, that scullery maid who finally gets her night at the ball. But if you're seeking tips on weathering the economic crisis, your daughter's bookshelf may hold more than Suze Orman.

When they're in a tough spot, teen heroines tame wolves, survive in garrets and live out nine-month snowstorms without a tiara in sight.

The next time someone asks what book you'd bring to a desert island, say Scott O'Dell's "Island of the Blue Dolphins," which might actually help you live out the first week.

Preempting "Lost" by half a century, this classic tells the story of Karana, a chief's daughter who has to make do with seagulls for company when her tribe sails out for the mainland and leaves her behind.

Any young fashionista can identify with Karana's first setback. She ruins her yucca skirt swimming after her slowpoke brother. But then, her brother is killed by wolves, an earthquake eats her house, and when the ship returns for her, she misses it again.

But Karana refuses to take it personally. Not only does she befriend the wolf in question, she does the hunting, preserving and gathering work of her entire tribe. She's not exactly whistling while she works, but gathering enough abalones to last you through the winter doesn't leave a lot of time for self-pity.

Being sent away from your genteel life to live with country cousins might not seem as horrible as being literally left to the wolves, but that's how it feels to "Understood Betsy's" Elizabeth Ann. She's a spindly city girl rusticated to snowy Vermont.

For a girl used to having every cough a source of grave concern, Elizabeth Ann finds Putney Farm an obstacle course of impossible tasks, like having to hold the reins of Uncle Henry's wagon or do her own hair. But after successfully sugaring some applesauce, it starts to dawn on her that having her fears ignored by her newly found relatives is the best gift anyone could give. Dumping her fusty old name, Betsy also leaves her pampered past behind.

Totally at home with holding the reins is "An Old-Fashioned Girl's" cheery country girl Polly, who I've always hoped wasn't the inspiration for the ever-annoying Pollyanna.

When Polly goes to the city to visit her friend Fan, she annoys her sophisticated host with her penchant for plain, muslin dresses and being nice to people. But the second half of the novel finds an older Polly wrestling with bigger questions like, whether to marry a rich friend of Fan's simply to have enough to eat.

Moral Polly has quite a bit of "Little Women's" Marmee. You can totally see her convincing someone to give up their Christmas breakfast. But when Fan's father goes smash, Polly shows her how to live large on a small budget, sewing Fan's gown inside out to wear for another season. Being poor doesn't mean you don't get to go to the ball.

Getting through hardship isn't about keeping your head down or finding a fairy to wave a magic wand. These three girls are as scared of what life has handed them as any pink-slipped employee. But after admitting that it's hard, they sharpen the spear, sugar the applesauce and are happy to have whatever dress they've got. Ripping up the past is a great way to step into the future.

BLOCK: Lizzie Skurnick is the founder of the Old Hag books blog. Her memoir about teen reading called "Shelf Discovery" comes out in August. You can find all the essays in the Three Books series at npr.org. You can also find more reading recommendations at the book section of our Web site.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.