As an adult who loves books, one of the most exciting things about having children in your life is the opportunity to introduce them to books and characters you loved when you were a child. When the child in your life is a little girl, like a daughter or a niece, how do you pick the books for her to start to build her library? Every little girl must have heroines she can look up too, to pretend to be, to love. These are heroines that are not only for girls, but boys can love these books and the girls in them too. Following are ten books, in no particular order, with heroines for everyone.
1. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
Best Quote: “It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”
Written in a very different time, this novel follows Anne Shirley, an orphan sent to live on a farm with a pair of siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who had requested a boy be sent to help out with the work. Talkative, dramatic, with a powerful imagination, Anne is a whirlwind in the sibling's and the town's life. She inadvertently got her best friend drunk, broke a slate over the head of a boy who made fun of her red hair, and dyed that red hair green in an attempt to dye it black. She remained always and truly herself, and won Matthew and Marilla over, becoming a light in their lives.
2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling
Best Quote “I hope you're pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed - or worse, expelled. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to bed.”
The first of the Harry Potter series of books introduces us to Hermione Granger, the bushy-haired, brainy, know-it-all. The entire series tells the story of her growth, but in this first book she already showed herself to be unapologetically smart, never pretending not to know the answer when she did. She is bossy, but always loyal to her friends, slightly arrogant, but willing to lend a hand. One of the greatest female characters in children’s literature, she has positive and negative aspects to her personality but is loved and respected by her friends even if they do not always like the negative.
3. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Best Quote: “This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!' thought Lucy, going still further in....”
The first book of the Narnia series has two potential heroines, Susan and Lucy Pevensie, but it is Lucy who stands out in this book. The youngest of her four siblings, Lucy is the first to find Narnia, and she has to convince the others of what she has seen. She is bullied by her brother, and dismissed by her other brother and sister due to her youth. Her story is one all young children, particularly younger siblings will recognize. Her transition through the book from youngest sibling to Queen Lucy the Valiant would be an inspiration to any small child.
4. The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch
Best Quote: " 'Ronald,' said Elizabeth, 'your clothes are really pretty and your hair is all neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.' "
In a gender -reversed retelling of the classic “prince saves princess from dragon” story, Princess Elizabeth must rescue her betrothed, Prince Ronald, from a fire-breathing dragon, ultimately using her wits to outsmart the dragon. In the course of the rescue she becomes rather disheveled, a fact Prince Ronald did not like – the bum. Princess Elizabeth let him know what she thought about that.
5. Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren
Best Quote: “He's the strongest man in the world.'
'Man, yes,' said Pippi, 'but I am the strongest girl in the world, remember that.”
Uncommonly strong, unmannered, and unpredictable, Pippi Longstocking is the kind of little girl we wished we could have been before we were old enough to realize how impractical it would be. She lives in a house without parental supervision with a monkey and a horse and is best friends with her two neighbors. She calls out adults on their insincere behavior and does pretty much as she pleases. What fun to read about a life with no consequences.
6. Heidi - Johanna Spyri
Best Quote: "Because I want to go about like the goats with their thin light legs."
Not every little girl is tough and sassy. If your little girl is a nature spirit, running barefoot through the grass, and examining all of the bugs, Heidi is the heroine for her. Sweet natured and loving, with a deep connection to the land around her, Heidi lifts everyone she meets - her grandfather, her friend Peter, her friend Clara, just by loving them and encouraging them. No sap though, Heidi has a stubborn streak under all that sweetness.
Adult readers may find the book a little saccharine, and non-religious people may find it a little too heavy on the God talk, but a non-cynical child will be caught up in the wonder of the Alps and in Heidi's love for the world she lives in.
7. Matilda - Roald Dahl
Best Quote: “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.”
An extraordinary child with terrible parents, Matilda finds she has powers to affect the world around her via telekinesis when her terrible situation is carried over to school and an unpleasant headmistress. She is incredibly precocious, and finds a champion in her teacher Miss Honey. In the end, Matilda finds her happy ending with Miss Honey, and little girls everywhere can see the power of having someone on their side.
8. Olivia - Ian Falconer
Best Quote: “Reading never wears me out.”
For younger readers, this picture book features Olivia, a very fashionable pig, who can do so many things – dancing, and singing, and painting on walls, and more than anything wearing her mother out. This is a great read-along book, so parents can enjoy the beautiful illustrations, but mostly so that children can enjoy Olivia’s independent, energetic personality.
9. Harriett the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
Best Quote: "Life is a struggle and a good spy goes in there and fights.”
By spying on her friends and classmates and writing down her observations in a notebook, Harriett hurts feelings and damages relationships when that notebook is found and shared around her class. Harriett may be nosey and say unkind things, but she is not an unkind person. Older girls will recognize the rippling of gossip and payback that accompanies a pre-teen scandal, and how it ultimately resolves itself as if nothing ever happened.
10. Beezus and Ramona - Beverly Cleary
Best Quote: “I am not a pest," Ramona Quimby told her big sister Beezus.”
Though the much put-upon older sister Beezus is the heroine of this novel and the character that older readers will identify with, young readers will identify with the wild Ramona, the younger sister. Beezus struggles with her irritations with her slightly bratty, very indulged younger sister, comparing their relationship to the one she sees between her mother and aunt. She learns that the adult relationship they enjoy is not the same as the one they had as children and that she should stop feeling guilty. A good book for girls who are struggling with a bratty little sister or brother.
Other books to build a girl’s library with heroines they can love:
Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll; Are You There God, It's Me Margaret - Judy Blume; Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder; A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle; The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman; Nancy Drew Series - various authors; Julie of the Wolves - Jean Craighead George; To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee; Little Women - Louisa May Alcott; Over Sea, Under Stone - Susan Cooper; Charlotte's Web - E.B. White; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Robert C. O'Brien; and many, many more.