writing

Girls make great heroes … and villains

To celebrate World Book Day next week, National Book Tokens have just announced the results of their Great Big Book Poll … and girls rock. In a poll voted for by men and women, girls and boys, 6 of the top 10 heroes of all time in children’s books were girls (and two of the others were bears).

Harry Potter and Bilbo Baggins were the two boys who made it to the top, alongside favourites such as Matilda Wormwood, Hermione Granger, Lyra Belacqua, Jo March and Katinss Everdeen.

Even better, girls made 7 of the top 10 villains too, with Dolores Umbridge, Cruella de Vil and the White Witch narrowly beating Miss Trunchbull and Bellatrix Lestrange.

Do check out the poll – it’s fascinating: broken down by gender and age of the voters too. There isn’t perhaps as much of a difference as you’d think. (And I’m super-proud to say that my wonderful editor, Bella, edited the book considered most likely to be a future classic. It’s here if you want to see what it is.)

So many of my favourite heroes and villains are in the top 10s already, but here are 3 more girls I think worthy of a mention. Orphans and heroes all …

  1. Posy Fossil

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild:

Posy was always my favourite Fossil sister in Ballet Shoes. Fearless, single-minded, dedicated to ballet, ferociously talented, thinking with her feet. Posy is destined to be a star and she knows it. Mistake her for a ‘little girl’ at your peril. There is more than a little of Posy in my first hero – Crow, in Threads.

2. Mary Lennox

Mary, Mary, quite contrary is a spoiled and neglected disaster of a girl at the start of The Secret Garden. But oh so curious … When I was ten there was nothing I loved better than to read about the day she followed the robin through the garden, and watch her come alive.

3. Judy from Daddy Long Legs

I loved Jerusha Abbott as a teenager, but it’s only reading her story again (and again) as an adult that I realise just what a feminist manifesto Daddy Long-Legs (written by Jean Webster in 1912) really is. Yes, it might seem a bit strange in this day and age to call your unseen benefactor ‘Daddy’, but Judy, rescued from the orphanage and sent to college by the man who keeps his identity a secret, refuses to play by his rules. She glories in everything she learns, dedicates herself to being a self-made woman as a writer, and refuses to be distracted by money or love.

And yet how she delights in the world around her. I’m teaching plotting at the moment, and one of the standard pieces of advice is to ‘put your protagonist up a tree and throw rocks at them’. Jean Webster doesn’t throw rocks at Judy: she buys her books, and an education, and occasional fancy dresses – and Judy loves them all. And so do I.

“I look forward all day to evening, and then I put an “engaged” on the door and get into my nice red bath robe and furry slippers and pile all the cushions behind me on the couch, and light the brass student lamp at my elbow, and read and read and read. One book isn’t enough. I have four going at once. Just now, they’re Tennyson’s poems and “Vanity Fair” and Kipling’s “Plain Tales” and – don’t laugh – “Little Women.” I find that I am the only girl in college who wasn’t brought up on “Little Women.” I haven’t told anybody though (that would stamp me as queer). I just quietly went and bought it with $1.12 of my last month’s allowance; and the next time somebody mentions pickled limes, I’ll know what she is talking about!”

4 thoughts on “Girls make great heroes … and villains

    • She’s so interesting, isn’t she? And lovely by the end. A ‘nice’ girl could never have stood up to Colin that way. As I wasn’t feeling so ‘nice’ myself when I first read it, I was reassured!

      • Yes, her development as a character is seamless. And I know exactly what you mean – how many of us are really that ‘nice’ anyway?! Mary made sense to me as a young reader – and even now.

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