Monday, July 30, 2012

Strong Female Characters for Girls to Know and Love

I've been discussing boys in literature and books that are good for boys for the past couple of weeks.  I thought it would be appropriate to focus on girls in literature--the kinds of girls we would all like our daughters to be.  As I researched and remembered stories with memorable girl characters, it took me back to my childhood, when books began to be powerful to me.  Because books are like good friends, I know I absorbed some of the character qualities of these powerful female characters.

Making lists is always risky.  Certainly, I will have left out many favorites.  And I hope to hear from many of you on who your favorite female characters are.  The list that was supposed to be 5 I had to stretch to 6.  To help me narrow the list, I put some parameters on myself:
1. The characters had to be from literature intended for children/teens.  That removed the powerful Jo from Little Women and Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
2. They had to be fictional characters.  This meant I had to take out Laura from the Little House series (sorry, Lori!).
3. They had to have no distracting characteristics.  For me, this meant no characters who are nosy, disrespectful to parents, violent, or just make me feel "icky"  Unfortunately, Hermione from harry Potter fits into this category.  (I sure hope to hear from someone on that!)  
4. It's not about the genre or plot.  I focused on the characters themselves--their strengths, their passions.  I asked myself if I would want to be their friends.

So, here is my list of 6 strong female characters that every girl (and boy!) should read and become familiar with.  Interestingly, some of the characters were written with the character traits I admired, and some of them grew into the traits.  

6. Margaret (Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume)
Thank you, Aunt Judy, for introducing me to this wonderful character by giving me this book for Christmas many, many years ago!  I related to Margaret so much.  She loves her parents but is at the age where she doesn't quite know how to show it anymore and is trying to pull apart from them, to become her own young woman.  During her 6th grade year, she is asking questions about life, friends, her body, the future.  She desperately wants to know and understand God, and she seeks Him out--although she doesn't find Him where she thinks she will.  Moving to a new town, she is thrust into a new school and new friendships at this emotionally challenging time.  I love her intimacy with God.
Character Qualities: inquisitive, persistent, loyal friend
Quote that Expresses Margaret's Personality: "Are you there, God?  It's me, Margaret.  I just told my mother I want a bra.  Please help me grow, God.  You know where.  I want to be like everyone else."  (Okay, maybe this wouldn't be the best choice for a boy.)

5. Mrs. Frisby (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien)
This is my favorite cover for this book.  When I teach it, I ask students to predict who the character is on the front and what he/she is holding.  It's my favorite read-aloud of all time!

Genre: Science fiction/fantasy
The brave Mrs. Frisby has two major differences with most of my other chosen women: She is a  mother (thus, not a peer of most readers) and she is an anthropomorphic character--a mouse that acts like a person.  Mrs. Frisby embodies courage, as she must protect and act during a very dangerous time to ensure the safety of her sick son.  In one of the book's most thrilling episodes, she must drug a cat to provide safety for the rats to complete their important plan.  Except that she is a rat, Mrs. Frisby is a very normal mother.  She has never done anything eroic up to this point, which is what makes her bravery so real to readers.  Every girl should have a role model like this brave mama.
Character Qualities: courage, sacrifice
Quote that Expresses Mrs. Frisby's Personality: "As she hurried home, Mrs. Frisby considered just how much she should tell her children about all that had happened--and all that was going to happen.  She decided at that stage, at least, she would not tell them about their father's connection with the rats.  Also that she would not say she had volunteered to put the sleeping powder into Dragon's bowl.  That would worry them; she could tell them, perhaps, when it was safely done" (p 150).  

4. Esperanza (Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan)
Genre: Historical fiction
For all of her young life, Esperanza had been a rich and somewhat spoiled girl, living on her family's ranchero in Mexico, until her greedy uncle makes demands that she and her newly widowed mother cannot accept.  They secretly leave Mexico and become day laborers in California's Central Valley.  When her mother falls ill and is unable to work, Esperanza "rises" be a hard-working breadwinner for her family.  Readers see the unfairness of life through Esperanza's eyes, but they also learn of hope (esperanza, in Spanish).
Character Qualities: perseverance, hard work, loyalty, determination, hope
Quote that Expresses Esperanza's Personality: "As the sun rose, Esperanza began to feel as if she rose with it.  Floating again, like the day on the mountain, when she first arrived in the valley.  She closed her eyes, and this time she . . . glided above the earth, unafraid. . . .She had her family, a garden of roses, her faith, and the memories of those who had gone before her.  But now, she had even more than that, and it carried her up, as the wings of the phoenix.  She soared with the anticipation of dreams she never knew she could have, of learning English, of supporting her family, of someday buying a tiny house.  Miguel had been right about never giving up, and she had been right, too about rising about those who held them down" (p. 249-250).

3. Meg Murry (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle)
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy
As one of the most popular and well written science fiction fantasies of all time, A Wrinkle in Time explores time travel through the perspective of family relationships.  Meg, a wallflower, becomes a rescuer, using her faults as her strengths--stubbornness becomes tenacity, anger becomes hatred of evil.  Her very relateable character is an inspiration to real girls everywhere.
Character Qualities: tenacity, loyalty/love of family, determination
Quote that Expresses Meg's Personality: "Father said it was all right for me to be afraid.  He said to go ahead and be afraid.  And Mrs Who said--I don't understand what she said, but I think it was meant to make me not hate being only me, and me being the way I am.  And Mrs Whatsit said to remember that she loves me.  That's what I have to think about.  not about being  afraid.  Or not as smart as IT.  Mrs Whatsit loves me.  That's quite something to be loved by someone like Mrs Whatsit" (p. 176).

2. Charlotte (Charlotte's Web by E. B. White)
Genre: Animal fantasy
The world's wisest spider, Charlotte will forever be equated with friendship and sacrifice.  While living in Zuckermans' barn with a host of farm animals, Charlotte develops a friendship with the insecure pig, Wilbur, and eventually saves his life with her savviness.
Character Qualities: faithfulness, wisdom, encouragement
Quote that Expresses Charlotte's Personality: "Wilbur blushed.  'But I'm not that terrific, Charlotte.  I'm just average for a pig.'  'You're terrific as far as I'm concerned,' replied Charlotte sweetly, 'and that's what counts.  You're my best friend, and I think your'e sensational.  Now stop arguing and get some sleep,'" (p.91)

1. Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery)
Genre: Historical fiction
The optimistic spirit of orphan Anne Shirley makes her one of the most hopeful and enduring characters of all time.  Seeing the good in everyone, dreaming of possibilities, and having undying loyalty to her "bosom friend" Diana Anne is a hero of every dramatic preteen.  This historical fiction story has no serious villains and no epic storyline.  Instead, the reader enjoys observing the growing up of a girl to a young woman on Victoria Island during a kinder, gentler time.
Character Qualities:optimism, loyalty, creativity
Quote that Expresses Anne's Personality: "Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about?  It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world.  It wouldn't be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it?  There'd be no scope for the imagination then, would there?" (p. 21)

I can't wait to hear your favorite females in literature!

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  1. Anne Shirley is my favorite. Betsy Ray would have to be on my list. Pippi and Nancy Drew were good friends to me growing up as well.

  2. I loved Nancy Drew, as well! Had not heard of Betsy Ray. Thanks for responding, Cheri!

    1. Susie - You must meet Betsy Ray! The Betsy Tacy books were a favorite growing up and I recently reread the whole series and loved them even more the second time. They chronicle the life of Betsy and her friend Tacy from the time they are little girls until Betsy is married. I think I liked her highschool years the best. I am pretty sure I remember Meg Ryan's character in the movie where she was a bookshop owner describe Betsy and Tacy to a little girl. The author is Maud Hart Lovelace and I think they were written in the 40s.

    2. I just read online that the books advance in reading level as the characters get older--that's just plain brilliant! That's the way to keep your readership! I wish current quote did that for their series. I will have to check this series out! Thanks for the recommendation, Cheri!

  3. One of my favorites growing up was Tree by Leaf...main character Clothilde was from what I remember very caring and steadfast.

    1. I've never heard of it--I will be sure to look it up! Thanks for your comment!

    2. by Cynthia Voight... read it when i was like 12, don't remember much, just remember loving it!

  4. How about Caddie Woodlawn, if I can't have Laura? Same pioneer values, with a little more spunk!

    1. Are you There God? It's me Margaret and Charlotte's Web are my all time favorites! My mom introduced me to these books and I remember feeling love,strength and hope after reading these books. LOVED THEM!! LOVE your posts Susie---keep up the great work and the obvious fun you are having. ;-) love you!