The term girlhood is incredibly ambiguous: is it the time from elementary and middle school, does it end when one turns 13, or does it continue until one’s 18th birthday? A Keywords for Children’s Literature essay by Jackqueline-Reid Walsh expresses the elusiveness surrounding girlhood. Walsh argues that girlhood begins and ends at a different time for each girl; there is no clear start and beginning to girlhood. Depending on the circumstances, for example, if a girl had to take care of her sick mother, the time of girlhood may have never begun. For a girl coming from a wealthy family, girlhood may have been many years and filled with enjoyable times and little worries. There are multiple meanings to girlhood and depending on one’s culture, race, and geography, one girl’s girlhood could have started at a completely different time compared to a different girl living on the other side of the world. In Meet Kirsten, girlhood is represented as immigrating to America from Sweden, while in the film Matilda, girlhood is represented as being a parent for oneself and taking care of all of your needs.
The American Girls Collection Meet Kirsten details Kirsten and her family’s immigration to America from Sweden. As a young girl, Kirsten had to worry about surviving the long journey to America by boat and had to assimilate into American culture quickly. She knew little to no English and somehow had to learn to get around her new home. Along with this, she watched one of her best friends die from Cholera right before her journey to Minnesota. While Kirsten was fortunate enough to be able to immigrate to a new and more promising land, the journey was tough and her girlhood looked different compared to other little girls. She had to deal with the death of a close friend while at the same time adapting to this new place. One could argue that Kirsten’s girlhood ended once she arrived in America as she had to adapt to her new lifestyle and take care of herself.
In the film Matilda based on the book by Roald Dahl, the main character Matilda is her own parent. Because Matilda was incredibly different from the rest of her family, she ended up taking care of herself most of the time. Matilda taught herself to read and even brought herself to the local library to check out books, all while at a young age. Eventually, Matilda moves in with her teacher Miss Honey. One could claim that Matilda’s girlhood started once she moved in with Miss Honey. While growing up, she took care of herself and was not necessarily focused on playing with dolls or having her Mom take care of her like other girls her age. Once she moved in with Miss Honey, her girlhood truly began. She was being taken care of by an older adult figure like she should have been taken care of at home. All in all, as stated in A Keywords for Children’s Literature and shown through Meet Kirsten and Matilda, what girlhood means to one young girl may be completely different to another young girl.