A League of Extraordinary Women: The Lit Heroes Every Girl Should Know

LitWorld’s Stand Up for Girls program is held annually on October 11th, the International Day of the Girl. To spread the message of empowering girls through literacy, LitWorld asked our community of literacy advocates to share their insights and expertise. This post was written by the strong and powerful women of Booksource. Here they introduce us to their Lit Heroes: the female book characters who inspire them, and who every girl around the world should meet.

Molly Lou Melon from Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell (Grades P-3) 
Chosen by Jessica Langan

Molly Lou Melon has always been an inspiration to me. She is one of the most confident little girls I’ve ever come across. She is short and awkward with buck teeth and a bullfrog voice, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. Her grandmother offers wise words that Molly Lou Melon keeps in mind when she moves to a new town. Ronald Durkin makes fun of her for being short, having buck teeth, sounding like a sick duck and on and on, but it never fazes Molly Lou Melon. Her courage and confidence shine through, Molly Lou Melon is a role model for girls of all ages.

Princess Magnolia from The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale (Grades K-2) 
Chosen by Emma Williams

Look elsewhere for tulle and frills - The Princess in Black is not a Cinderella story! Princess Magnolia appears to be a stereotypical girly princess, but do typical princesses keep a whole land full of monsters in check? Do typical princesses dominate and defeat said monsters? Do typical princesses wear BLACK? As it turns out, this princess has a secret. In a world that’s far from black and white, we need more books for youngsters to communicate that it’s OK to like colors, styles and activities that are too often assigned to one particular gender, often excluding the other. We need books to show that princesses can be powerful, and that boys can love princess stories, too. 

Blueberry Girl from Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman (Grades 1-5) 
Chosen by Brandi Ivester

Neil Gaiman wrote this book for a friend when she was expecting a daughter of her own. The poetic text is somewhere between a wish and blessing for a daughter as she grows, experiencing all of life’s joys and sorrows, challenges and triumphs. The breathtaking illustrations by Charles Vess depict a diverse cast of young girls having adventures and living life to the fullest. “Keep her from spindles and sleeps at sixteen, let her stay waking and wise. Nightmares at three or bad husbands at thirty, these will not trouble her eyes.” Lines like these make this a difficult book to read aloud, as my voice has a tendency to crack with emotion. I wish Blueberry Girl was around when I was a child so I could have read it with my own mother. The “Blueberry Girls” in this story will inspire girls to harness their own inner strength and fierceness.

Ramona from Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (Grades 2-5) 
Chosen by Erin Vehige

I was probably 8 years old when I first fell in love with Ramona Quimby. We were the same age and I admired her spirit. Growing up with an older brother and a younger sister, I just wanted space to have my own voice and do my own thing without being judged. Ramona represents that untamed sense of self that still continues to inspire me. She is wild, rambunctious and unique. She’s spunky and raw and okay with every bit of it. Ramona’s strong will and determination to be herself drew me into her stories. I think about what she represents to young girls and see why she is still an inspiration to today’s readers. In a time where so much focus is placed on women’s bodies, Ramona embraces every ounce of herself. She encourages girls to take pride in their thoughts and their voices. She exemplifies what it means to break out of stereotypes and live a self-determined life. Ramona makes being one’s own self look as natural as it should be.

Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl (Grades 3-6) 
Chosen by Kelli Westmoreland

Matilda is the story of a sweet, brilliant little girl who must overcome her rough life at home to do what other kids might take for granted: go to school, learn and succeed. Her strength is admirable. With no parental support, she takes it upon herself to be her best. She doesn’t cast blame or wallow in pity; she takes action and finally finds someone to offer her support and care, her first grade teacher Miss Honey. Too often our actions are in response to our environment, whether positive or negative. Matilda teaches us that sometimes we need to act because it’s just the right thing to do, not because of an outside motivator.

Enola Holmes from The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer (Grades 4-7) 
Chosen by Michelle Abeln

Enola Holmes is Sherlock’s much younger sister. In her first book, The Case of the Missing Marquess, her mother has disappeared, and Enola’s older brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, decide to send Enola to boarding school. Enola has other plans. She escapes to Victorian London where she quickly becomes involved in a kidnapping. Enola is no damsel in distress; she’s a brave and intelligent young woman, fiercely determined to retain her independence in a time when women had little freedom of their own. Enola defies the expectations of society and her family to not only do what’s right, but to gain and keep her freedom.

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (Grades 4-12) 
Chosen by Diona Graves

The series chronicles the adventures of a young wizard, Harry Potter, and his friends Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The main story focuses on Harry's quest to overcome the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, whose goal is to become immortal and destroy anyone who gets in his way (especially Harry Potter). Surrounded by boys, Hermione Granger stands out to me as the brains and master strategist behind Harry’s often reluctant mission to destroy Lord Voldemort. Harry and Ron would face a host of horrendous fates without Hermione’s ingenuity and I love the way she never downplays her abilities. Hermione knows who she is and remains true to herself throughout the entire series.

Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (Grades 7-12) 
Chosen by Emily Voss

The Princess Diaries were my end all be all in middle school. Set in New York’s Greenwich Village (a magical, mythical place for a girl in rural Missouri), The Princess Diaries tells the story of Mia Thermopolis—an average ninth grader until she finds out she is the crown princess of a small European country. Mia was MY kind of princess. Growing up, I was not a tomboy, but I was not a girlie girl. I was always somewhere in the middle. Mia showed me I could be a neurotic feminist who likes Star Wars and wears Doc Martens but could still be a princess. Mia is inspirational for girls in the middle. Girls do not have to subscribe to one type or the other. They can just be themselves, whatever that entails, and be special.

From princesses to orphans to the girl next door, what all of these characters have in common is their ability to influence girls of all ages through their self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-motivation. Old and new books alike will continue to inspire girls to be strong and confident for a long time.

Booksource is a family-owned company based in St. Louis, Missouri that has been providing the education market with the largest selection of new and classic titles and classroom collections for 40 years.