Who are your girl power heroes in children's literature?
by Jeanne Sager
We had a big win in my house last month. We finally convinced our second grade daughter to try the Ramona Quimby books. She dove in, and she hasn't come up for air yet. Score one for girl power in the book shelves!
I've been a little down in the dumps about the state of children's literature lately -- particularly the message being sent to young girls. The "hot" books that my daughter's classmates are reading all seem to have male characters at the center ... and boys who are jerks to boot (seriously, what do people SEE in this Wimpy Kid character?).
I've taken those books as a challenge. Can I find feminist role models in children's literature, girls I want my daughter to read about and be like?
The answer, thankfully, is yes. The are out there. From Ramona to Matilda to Babymouse. You just have to look a little harder sometimes.
And because I HAVE been doing a lot of looking to make sure my own daughter feels all the girl love she can, I've got a head start ... that I'm willing to share.
These are the books I'm happy to put on my daughter's shelves, the books about girls I would love her to be like, girls who I hope empower her to stretch for her dreams.
1. Pippi Longstocking
Beloved by kids because she's a rebel who rescues kids from boring old school and takes them on adventures, the Swedish girl with long red braids is a true feminist who turns girl stereotypes on their ear. She's stronger than the men, is wholly unconcerned about her appearance, and she's strong and brave!
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, the eponymous hero of the Roald Dahl classic wasn't just a little girl with magical abilities that allowed her to best the evil school headmistress Miss Trunchbull. She was kind, just, and loved to read.
3. Hermione Granger
The books may be named for Harry Potter, but its his best pal Hermione Granger, the smartest girl at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who provides the brains behind just about every adventure in J.K. Rowling's seven-novel series. Hermione is everything a girl should aspire to be: smart and proud of her smarts.
4. Harriet the Spy
Harriet M. Welsch is brash, she's brave, and she spies on people just for the sheer fun of it. In the end, she learns a lesson about compassion for others, but Harriet's story is one that's worth celebrating most because she isn't a tomboy who is suddenly turned into a fairy princess type. She's celebrated for being herself, and she stays that way right through to the end.
She may be a rodent, but this young girl is sassy, silly, and up for any adventure. The Babymouse series was like a gateway to chapter books for my daughter, and I have to admit I've got a soft spot for the little mouse who loves to read, has a wild imagination, and is just trying to find her place in the social strata of school while staying true to herself.
6. Laura Ingalls Wilder
I wasn't sure if I should count the Little House on the Prairie series because, of course, Laura Ingalls isn't a fictional character. She was a real girl who grew up in pioneer times.
But telling little girls this beloved character was drawn from real life may only serve to bolster her impact. She lived at a time when girls might have done a lot more sewing and cooking than our girls today, but the fact is, the women played a vital role in family survival. And for her time, Laura was quite the rebel!
7. Caddie Woodlawn
Unlike Laura Ingalls, Caddie existed only in the mind of author Carol Ryrie Brink (although she was loosely based on Brink's own grandmother), but she's just the sort of spirited kid I'd love my daughter to be. A tomboy who grew up running in the woods with her brothers, rather than sitting home sewing with mom, Caddie has the same spirit as Laura but more opportunity to spread her wings and really fly.
8. Ramona Quimby
The very fact that one of the eight Ramona books (not including her origins in the Henry Huggins series) is named Ramona the Brave should tell you something about how author Beverly Cleary treats this character. She's clever. She's not afraid to take on injustice or challenges. What's more, she's like a REAL kid, with real kid problems, and real kid solutions.
9. Anne of Green Gables
Publishers created a firestorm recently when they dared airbrush Anne Shirley, taking away her freckles and turning her copper hair blond. It was an attack on just on the details of the book but on a feminist icon. For decades girls have read about a feisty heroine who is not a classic beauty, a girl who used her brains to get her ahead, and they responded as if the publisher were Gilbert Blythe calling Anne "Carrots" -- fiercely.
10. Sara Crewe
She may start out as a rich girl, but Sara Crewe's true colors come out when her father dies, leaving her penniless and forced to work as a servant in the boarding school where she was once a student. The girl of privilege turns out to be a hard worker with a vivid imagination that enables her to keep her hope alive that one day she will be rescued from her plight.
Author Frances Hodgson Burnett created Sara more than a century ago, but she's still showing little girls what it truly means to be a princess -- to have an inner beauty, not just money and fine clothes.
Which is your favorite? Who are your girl power heroes in kid lit?