This post originally appeared as a guest post on Dolly Dowsie. Reposting today in honour of National Libraries Day.
When I was a little girl, I could usually be found curled up in a corner with my nose in a book. I could disappear for hours on end, only emerging once yet another story had been devoured. The courageous, feisty heroines within their pages were my best friends, and from a very young age, they taught me what kind of girl I wanted to grow up to be. Long gone are the days where girls in storybooks are passive damsels in distress. Now, girls can turn to books for aspirational, strong female role models. I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite childhood books and the characters in them that helped make me the woman I am today.
1. Matilda, from Matilda by Roald Dahl
As a slightly strange, extremely bookish girl, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Matilda. Matilda tells the story of a little girl who uses her intelligence and special powers to outsmart her bullying headmistress and apathetic parents. She is wildly imaginative and a little bit mischievous. Although she plays tricks on the grown-ups in her life, she is very fair, and only punishes people who really, truly deserve it. Those who treat her well, such as her friend Lavender and her teacher Miss Honey, are met with respect, love and loyalty from. As with most Roald Dahl characters, Matilda encourages children to see learning as an amazing journey that should continue outside school. Once I had begrudgingly accepted that I didn’t have telekinetic powers, I focused on attaining Matilda’s second and even more important weapon, her brilliant mind. Matilda shows little girls that reading voraciously and learning just for the love of it can be just as powerful as having a magical superpower.
2. Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Charlotte is a spider living in the dark corner of a farmer’s barn. She befriends Wilbur, a young pig who is horrified to learn that he might some day end up on the farmer’s breakfast plate. With the help of the other farm animals, Charlotte hatches a plan to save Wilbur from this terrible fate. Charlotte is intelligent and well spoken – it’s thanks to her that I can greet someone with “salutations”, or aspire to create my “magnum opus”. She is kind to all the animals in the barn, despite their apprehension towards her because she is a spider. She is firm, but gentle towards the naïve Wilbur, and never lets him give up hope. She often puts the needs of her friends before her own. Charlotte taught me that it doesn’t matter how people perceive you, as long as you have a kind heart and a quick wit, you will always be loved.
3. Henrietta Hickathrift, from The Stray by Dick King Smith
This one isn’t a very well known book, but it is one of my absolute favourites. I first read it as a little girl, and now, as I pass it on to my littlest sister, I’m finding that it hasn’t lost a single bit of its charm. Henrietta is an old woman who decides to run away from her nursing home and go to the seaside. She is plucky and compassionate, earning the admiration and friendship of everyone she meets. Although she hits a few speed bumps along the way, the book eventually sees Henrietta’s kindness and generosity returned on her tenfold. She faces her fears with great panache, inspiring me to live life to the full, and taught me that no dream was too big or too small.
4. Sophie, from the series Sophie by Dick King Smith
Sophie is a stubborn but loveable four-year-old girl, who detests frilly dresses and dreams of becoming a lady farmer. The series follows her between the ages of four and eight, passing milestones such as beginning school, starring in the class play, taking riding lessons and informing the farmer’s son next door that they’re going to get married some day. She is steadfast and loyal, and a great lover of all animals. She is incredibly proud of her impressive vocabulary, and frequently uses very long, complicated words, albeit with a few endearing mistakes. Most of all though, Sophie works conscientiously to achieve her goals. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does, which frequently causes accidental chaos, but usually also ends in success. She taught me not to sit around and wait for things to happen to me. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, I could achieve anything.
5. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
I know, I know, this one’s a big cliché, but I just couldn’t exclude Hermione. I have a special soft spot for her because we were almost the same age when the first book came out, and with each passing year, we grew up together. The Harry Potter series could more accurately be titled “Harry Potter gets confused, Hermione fixes everything”. She is intelligent, meticulous and motivated, leaving the boys in the dust both in and out of the classroom. She isn’t afraid to be herself, despite taking pretty much constant stick for being clever. As she matures throughout the series, she becomes increasingly considerate and understanding, acting as mother, teacher and friend to a great number. In the final couple of books, she has her heart repeatedly broken, but instead of sulking, simply continues to rid the wizarding world of evil until the object of her affections realises what a colossal mistake he has made and comes back. Hermione is beautiful, but this is completely outshone by a stunning personality, a keen intellect and a willingness to do anything that is necessary to protect her friends. She is a true leading lady: so, so much more than just a pretty face.