There is a certain amount of fascination wth princesses in my house, Cinderella and Belle being the most oft-mentioned names. We have several princess costumes, cups, hairclips, backpacks and other paraphernalia. Now I know that many would think I’m doing my girls a disservice by exposing them to women who survive by having feet small enough to fit into glass slipers. But my motto is balance. Let them have their princesses so long as they also spend time with girls whose lives depend less on having the right footwear and more on their wits.
My girls are age 4 and 6 now and so they are not as caught up in having me read only books with pictures to them. They’ve learned to appreciate the power of their imagination to create pictures in their mind to accompany whatever story the words on the page conjure up. And this has given us access to a lot of wonderful literary girl heroines.
I thought I’d highlight some of the books we’ve either read or are yet to read in case you’re on the lookout for good books for girls whose main characters are bold and creative and smart with not a hint of delicate footwer in sight.
1. What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. Katy is certainly naughty, but she also spends years unable to leave her room after injuring her back in a swing accident. She pouts about this for a while, but she emerges a stronger and more resilient girl at the end.
2. The Railway Children by Edith Nesbitt. Who can forget Bobbie (Roberta) bravely waving her red petticoat flags in front of the train to stop it from having a terrible accident. She does faint afterwards, but given she’s almost been run over by a steam train, I think we can forgive her for this one lapse into princessly behaviour.
3. The Naughtiest Girl in the School by Enid Blyton. Elizabeth Allen begins this series as a spoilt and rude girl but of course she sees the error of her ways. I like this series because Elizabeth doesn’t become a goody-two-shoes; she’s still a bit naughty but she’s also smart and brave while trying to work out how to do the right thing.
4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The March girls are amongst the most marvellous of literary girls. Yes, they do all (except poor Beth) find their prince in the end, but not before they do something worthwhile for themselves.
5. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. You’ve got to love a girl who accidentally dyes her hair green but who is also clever enough to gain her teaching license in one year instead of the usual two. It’s unusual to see a girl heroine so focused on study and work, which is why this is such a great book.
6. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Normally it’s the boys in the books who are the strong ones, but not in this series. Pippi can pick up a horse with one hand and she also tells some amazing stories.
7. Eloise by Kay Thompson. Eloise does have a very priveleged life – she lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York and she has a stream of servants waiting upon her. But she is not afraid of an adventure and she charges into all corners of life, gatecrashing weddings with her pet turtle. And she always helps the maid change the bedsheets.
8. The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Ramona is age 4 when the series starts and in Grade 4 by the time it ends. She starts off scribbling in library books and pulling hair and ends up standing up to bullies, and helping her dad stop smoking.
9. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. Judy is a fabulous Australian girl, always outside, on the run from dusk till dawn and in plenty of mischief. She runs away from school and it takes her a week to walk home, she falls deathly ill but bounces back and then – well the end is an absolute tearjerker.
10. The Billie B Brown series by Sally Rippin. This is a series of early reader chapter books for girls and Billie is a tomboy whose best friend is Jack. One of these books made my 6 year old want to wash my car so that’s a very impressive achievement!
Who have I missed? I’m sure there are other wonderful literary girl heroines out there. I almost included The Wizard of Oz because Dorothy does pretty well after finding that she’s killed a witch and is alone in a strange land with only a lion, a tin-man and a scarecrow for company, but she does have to rely on a pair of shoes for rescue, so she came off the list. I’m sure there are others who should join the list so let me know!