In an age of drug-addled teen actors, jailed heiresses, and scantily clad pop-princesses, it is a goal of many parents to protect their daughters from emulating these confused, pitiable, and highly visible teenagers. One way of accomplishing this, is by surrounding their children with a plethora of positive, bold, and strong girls who can act as role models. Often these wonderful young women can be found in books.
I painstakingly narrowed down an incredibly long list to arrive at my top 13 young women in literature (there are many, many more–feel free to come in and ask me about them). I included female protagonists who are smart, funny, honest, inventive, clever, bold, brave, and consistently positive in the face of adversity. There are old favorites and some newer female characters that are destined to become classics. I have limited the titles to those found in the Children’s Room and the YA section.
- Matilda Wormwood in Matilda ~ Matilda is a sweet child who loves to read and discovers an interesting way to fight back against her neglectful parents. J DAH
- Ramona Quimby in Ramona Quimby, Age 8 ~ Ramona is a spunky child who bravely handles the everyday struggles of young people involving family, friends, and school. J CLE
- Lucky Trimble in The Higher Power of Lucky ~ Lucky is one of the most likable and curious kids to enter children’s literature in the past decade. This is a must read (regardless of any controversy over the author’s word choice). J PAT
- Ella in Ella Enchanted ~ In this magical novel the Cinderella story is turned on its head. Ella is a smart, kind girl who has been cursed with the “gift” of obedience and must do all she can to overcome it. J LEV
- Nancy Drew ~ Nancy is a classic and timeless heroine. She uses her intellect and courage to solve various mysteries and helps everyone around her in the process. J KEE SERIES
- Jo March in Little Women ~ Jo March is a talented young woman who is determined to become a writer. Her ambition and stubbornness are balanced by the care and love she bestows on her family. J ALC
- Laura Ingalls from the Little House books ~ Laura is a rambunctious and lovable young girl who struggles and thrives alongside her family in the wild frontier. J WIL
- Anne Shirley from the L.M. Montgomery series ~ Anne has fiery red hair and a temper to match. She makes her way on Prince Edward Island with the help of the Cuthberts and the friends she meets along the way. J MON
- Alanna in The Song of the Lioness Quartet ~ Alanna is a young girl who will do everything she can (including posing as her twin brother) in order to become a knight. YA FIC PIE
- Stargirl in Stargirl ~ Stargirl is a young woman who will not compromise her sense of self in order to fit in. She is a unique and beautiful character who has an effect on everyone she meets. YA FIC SPI
- Dimple Lala in Born Confused ~ Dimple’s parents are from India and she struggles with continuing their customs while also fitting in as an American teen. She is my favorite YA protagonist. YA FIC HID
- DJ Schwenk in Dairy Queen ~ DJ is a wonderfully honest and sweet 15 year old girl who takes care of her family’s farm, trains a rival football player for the upcoming season, and does all she can to become comfortable in her own skin. YA FIC MUR
- Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice ~ Elizabeth is the penultimate strong heroine. She is witty, smart, and fabulously stubborn and she is a character I will never tire of revisiting.
I hope you and your daughters (and sons) enjoy the recommendations. Happy reading!
~ Tricia is the youth librarian at OWL and loves books, movies, Motown, Opera, chocolate, tea, reading at the beach, and learning how to be a better cook.