Growing up I was fortunate to have parents who loved to read and shared that passion with me. Some of my first memories are sitting on my mom or dad’s lap and turning pages through an adventure of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, the Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain, or Little Critter by Mercer Mayer.
As the literary world celebrates the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder today, author of the beloved “Little House” books, I’m reminded of my favorite childhood books, and more importantly, the influential female characters I discovered in them.
About a month ago I came across a study from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media examining gender portrayal of females in family films. The study found that for every female portrayed in G, PG, and PG-13 family films, 2.42 males are depicted. In a society that is saturated with male leads and heroes, especially in the media, it is imperative that girls see and read about girls and women who live interesting, exciting lives. The characters below allowed me to dream and envision a life beyond what I knew at the time.
In honor of Laura, from Little House on the Prairie, I thought I’d share a few of them with you. Add your favorites to the list in the comment section below!
- By far, my all-time favorite female lead was Nancy Drew. I think the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene accounted for three-quarters of my library check-outs one summer of my youth. Nancy’s stories of adventures and sleuthing drew me into her 1930s world. With best friends Bess and George, Nancy rose to any challenge, outsmarting and sometimes physically besting her counterparts to solve the mystery.
- The Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor consumed a good chunk of my pre-teen days with the stories of Alice McKinley’s trials through middle school. After losing her mother at age five, Alice navigates through her teenage years trying to figure out how to “be a woman” with the help of friends and female mentors.
- The active imagination of Ramona Quimby, in the series by Beverly Cleary, showed me that creativity cannot be stifled and often spices up even the best parts of life.
- If you’re looking for a book to break down the stereotype of princesses, check out The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, or Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Both stories reshaped my understanding of how a princess should act.
- Other favorite characters for me include Scout Finch in the timeless classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and the outspoken, feisty red-head Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery.
What books inspired you as a kid? What books and characters would you add to my list?