All readers understand how it feels to be sucked into another world. You’re sitting on your couch with a book — and all of a sudden, BOOM, you’re in a completely different country and time zone. As a child especially, it is so easy to suspend disbelief, and get pulled into a literary universe. The characters and towns might all be made up, but it’s hard not to feel deeply connected to them.
April 2nd was International Children’s Book Day, and for a belated celebration, we are cracking open books from our childhood that featured strong female protagonists. And we are remembering that — no matter the story’s intended age group — these characters will always be available to help us relearn some old lessons.
1Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne Shirley is another one of the many reasons that Canada looks like a great place to live these days. This fierce and fiery red head from Prince Edward Island is not afraid to climb a rooftop or speak her mind when she is challenged. Anne approaches life with a sense of justice and whimsy that we should all strive to match. Plus, she is never afraid of taking matters into her own hands. She does plenty of things that we wish we could do… like smacking one of her classmates with a slate as a gentle reminder that she is the wrong target to bully. (Also, check out the just released trailer for the new Netflix show inspired by Anne herself.)
2Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Although Ramona Quimby is only 8 years old, she can teach us a thing or two about being an independent woman trying to forge her own path. She may add whiskers and a cat tail to the letter “Q,” but she isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with anyone who challenges her. With a flair for the dramatic, she marches to the beat of her own drum, not letting any obstacle get her down. Confronting boys on the bus? Check. Questioning the authority of her strict third grade teacher? Yep, that too. Learning the hard way that it is quite difficult to get raw egg out of your hair? We’ve been there too, Ramona.
3Meet Kit: An American Girl by Valerie Tripp
Kit Kittredge, who first made waves in the American Girl community by rocking a blonde bob, is the spunky heroine we all need to channel. She starts her own newspaper, helps financially support her family, and even briefly ends up in jail. Did I mention she is 9 years old? Let me repeat that — this 9-year-old hops railway cars with hobos and lands in jail because of it; meanwhile, you thought your morning was rough because Starbucks messed up your order. Although girls were expected to be prim and proper in the early 1930s, Kit embraces her inner tomboy. She roots for the Cincinnati Reds and dreams of sleeping in a tree house like Robin Hood. Not only does she defy convention, she basically throws it in the garbage and never looks back. Though our rap sheets may not be as long as Kit’s, we can use her spunk as inspiration to live a life that is filled with adventure.
4The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin
The Baby-Sitters Club — aka the youngest entrepreneurs of Stoneybrook, Connecticut — continue to be an inspiration to women everywhere. These girls gave hope to all those who dreamt of monopolizing an industry in a small town with their best friends, all while eating candy on the bedroom floor and communicating exclusively via land line. These four best friends were the original #squadgoals for young girls everywhere — and even in adulthood, we can still take away from the simple lessons they taught us. If you see a problem facing your community, try and fix it. Can’t fix it yourself? Employ your friends. If you’re going to be employing your friends, make sure everyone pays their club dues and there are enough snacks to go around.
5Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda proves that if you stay true to yourself and use your gifts for good (not evil), then things will work out for you in the end. This quiet bookworm reminds us that, just because you are an adult who has an important title, that doesn’t mean you are better than anyone else. Even if you haven’t been able to activate your telekinetic powers just yet, don’t be discouraged. All you need to take life by the horns are a few supportive friends, belief in your abilities, and a library card.
6Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
You know that feeling of complete and utter loneliness when you attend a party with zero people you know? Now, multiply that by 18 years, and you will understand how Karana felt. Her tribe leaves on a ship bound for new land, and she is left alone on an island. Unlike a modern day woman, she can’t disappear into her phone to keep busy. Instead, she takes the hand she has been dealt and becomes queen of the island. Karana hunts, fishes, and even makes a canoe to ensure her survival. So, the next time you’re a little bit nervous to walk into a party alone, just think of how Karana had to fight off a pack of feral dogs before she even had lunch. Then strut your stuff like the warrior you are.