The upcoming release of the second Hunger Games movie adaptation of the book, Catching Fire, has got me thinking about all strong female heroines that I had admired and still admire in the children’s and YA literature I had read when I was growing up. I have a list of about 20+, but listed some of my favorites from my childhood and teenage years.
1. Princess Eilonwy from The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. I first read about her in fourth grade. It was perhaps the first time I had encountered a princess who doesn’t act like how I had imagined a princess to act like. She is stubborn, hot-tempered, energetic, funny, and she says all sorts of things that sound very smart, reasonable, and flippant all at the same time. In addition to those qualities, she is also a very caring person. She has adventures and fights alongside the male characters of the story.
2. Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl. Matilda is a genius, teaching herself to read by age three, and has extraordinary powers, which she uses to punish the sneering adults for their misdeeds and unfair demands. A bookloving nerd with her own style of personal justice – what is there not to love! In the end, she uses her powers to save the only adult who cares about her, Miss Honey, from the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.
3. Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Jo is passionate, creative (she is an aspiring writer), independent, and irrepressibly stubborn. Though she chafes at the feminine requirements of domesticity, she also happens to be the glue of the March family. At an early point in the book, she cuts off and sells her own hair (supposedly her one true beauty) to pay for a train ticket for her mother to visit her injured father. I remember finding it shocking, heroic, and a quite sad and it endeared me to her forever.
4. Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles series by Patricia Wrede. She is another unconventional princess. Annoyed that no one was willing to teach her all the stuff that were considered unprincesslike to learn and even more annoyed that her parents were going to arrange her marriage with some neighboring prince, Cimorene decided to run away and work for a dragon. She goes on to have adventures, foiling evil plots, saving her dragon boss from bad wizards, and recovering stolen swords.
5. Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Who can forget Anne Shirley with her red hair, hot temper, chatterbox ways, and overly romantic imagination? She frustrates the grown-ups around her with her antics and mistakes (like getting her friend drunk on currant wine by accident). Nevertheless, her openness and kindness captures their hearts. We get to see her grow up in the book (and throughout the series) and witness her transformation from tempestuous preteen (at one point, she cracks a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head. He deserves it.) to stabilizing influence in the community and in the classroom (she becomes a teacher).
6. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. No explanation needed. Voldemort would have taken over the wizarding world early on in the series if she weren’t there to help Harry save the day!
7. Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Karana is a Nicoleño Indian girl girl, whose tribe ends up being devastated by a war with the Aleut people. When her brother, Ramo, misses the ship to bring their entire tribe to the mainland, Karana jumps off the ship and swims back to the island (pretty badass!). When he is killed by wild dogs, she is left all alone on the island. She becomes completely self-sufficient and survives by hunting and fishing for her own food, building her own weapons, setting up her own shelter, and fighting her own battles. She eventually makes peace with one of the dogs who attacked her brother and befriends an Aleutian girl who later arrives on the island.
Others include Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Harry Crewe from Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, Janie Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God, Sophie Hatter from Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet, Sadako from Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and Princess Elizabeth from Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess.
Who were your favorite childhood heroes and heroines from children’s literature?