I was a voracious reader as a kid. I'd hide books in textbooks, under the covers, in my bunk at camp. My parents actually had to take my books away from me in order to get me to do my homework, complete chores and even to go to sleep. All that reading about girls who were out there living their lives, having adventures beyond my boring life in the suburbs no doubt influenced the fact that I now make my living reading books and leading women outdoors. So here are seven girls and one boy protagonists who I could not get enough of as a kid.
1. Ramona Quimby
“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”
Beverly Cleary was the first author I read religiously, and Ramona Quimby, with all her flaws, was the first protagonist I ever saw myself in. We even looked alike, with the same straight brown hair cut chin length, the same skinny legs and arms. I remember being inspired to finally lose my temper by Ramona's declaration of a bad word (spoiler alert: it was "guts") after a lifetime of always trying to be the good girl.
2. Pippi Longstocking
“Don't you worry about me. I'll always come out on top.”
The Queen Goddess of Badassery, Pippi Longstocking had no parents and a horse that lived on her front porch. Author Astrid Lindgren inspired generations of upstart young women with a heroine who was at once both vulnerable and brave, setting the tone for who I wanted to be as a young woman.
3. Harriet the Spy
“Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth.”
While the generation before me was inspired by Nancy Drew, I was a Harriet girl all the way. I even had a notebook that I'd carry around with me, hiding in bushes and behind seats on the school bus, scribbling away at my observations of people (which didn't win me any friends, by the way).
4. Sam Gribley
“I must say this now about that first fire. It was magic. Out of dead tinder and grass and sticks came a live warm light. It cracked and snapped and smoked and filled the woods with brightness. It lighted the trees and made them warm and friendly. It stood tall and bright and held back the night.”
Who among us hasn't dreamed of running away from home and living in the woods? Sam Gribley gets the lone distinction of being the only boy on the list, but he was still a sort of heroine of mine. Written by Jean Craighead George and published 1959, My Side of the Mountain taught me everything I needed to know about courage and independence while also inspiring me to make Dandelion Fritters and feed them to my family (they were not impressed).
5. Julie (from Julie of the Wolves)
"Somewhere in this cosmos was Miyax; and the very life in her body, its spark and warmth, depended upon these wolves for survival. And she was not so sure they would help."
It was not until I started writing this blog post that I realized that My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves was written by the same author — hooray for Jean Craighead George! Another heroine who survived out in the harsh natural world by herself, Miyax/Julie made friends with wolves and survived on her wits and intelligence. A powerful story of conflict between two identities and two sets of traditions, I loved this story from the very beginning.
6. Becky Thatcher
“Maybe not, maybe not. Cheer up, Becky, and let's go on trying.”
Becky was not just Tom Sawyer's first love; she was mine too. I immediately fell into my first girl crush with this girl's blonde braids and surly attitude. Becky is probably the most "lady-like" of all my inspirational girl heroines, but I loved how she taught Tom that his showing off and his "boy tricks" wouldn't work, and if he wanted to win her, it would have to be with something more serious. I clearly remember wishing that Mark Twain had written a book about Becky, adding depth to her character and giving us more insight into her sheltered life.
“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...”
Ronald Dahl's Matilda was magical and loved books — and I wanted nothing more than to be her, Wormwood parents and all. In fact, she's something of a feminist icon for me, as she flat-out rejected her parents' insistence that she be "seen and not heard," or that she was stupid and unworthy. Although I clearly remember wishing Miss Honey would grow a bit more of a backbone, I loved Matilda and everything she stood for.
8. Laura Ingalls Wilder
“Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”
The Little House on the Prairie books convinced me that I had been born in the wrong century. I wanted badly to eat maple syrup drizzled on snow and wished that my own father played the fiddle (instead of softball). My favorite of the series was the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, but I devoured all of the books in the series as quickly as possible. Later, when I discovered the TV series, I remember thinking it seemed like a totally different Laura.
Who were your favorite literary girl heroines growing up? Leave a comment below.
Jill Hinton Wolfe