14 Girls We Wanted To Be Back Then: Kickass Heroines From YA & Children’s Books Of Yesteryear

by riese & laneia

Once upon a time in a faraway land, an eight-year-old girl in overalls ran faster than the boys and straight into our heartspaces. We considered titiling this article “The Land Before Katniss,” but as you can tell, we changed our minds.

As this list is limited to books we chose to read ourselves as tiny humans, it’s definitely not all-encompassing or representative, so feel free to share your own memories in the comments!

14 Kickass Girls From Books We Read In the 80’s


14. Jessie Alden, The Boxcar Children

For reasons which surely baffled our parents at the time, youngsters such as myself wanted more than anything to be The Boxcar Children — that is, to say, to be hungry and alone. Oh, youth! I was a big fan of Orphan Lit and wanted to live in a Boxcar, eat hobo stew and scavenge for loaves of bread, etc. Unfortunately, I was never orphaned, though I enjoyed building forts and pretending to run away from home. Honestly, my coping mechanisms haven’t really changed much since then.


13. Heidi, Heidi

Heidi made it seem like living on a mountain with a grumpy old man wouldn’t be so bad. She taught that goat farmer kid how to read and helped Clara learn how to walk! I mean, c’mon.


12. Molly McIntire, The American Girls Series

Listen, Molly just wanted to be the best version of herself that she could be. I really identified with her struggle to improve and set herself apart from everyone else. Also: wartime as a vehicle for coming-of-age will always be my favorite.


11. Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird

What can you even say about Scout. She’s childhood tomboy patient zero.

“So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ’em to their senses…. That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children.”


10. Juana Maria, The Island of the Blue Dolphins

Juana Maria is doing it for herself — the white men show up, kill all the sea otters, kill all the people, kill her Dad the chief, and then take the remaining islanders away on a boat, leaving Juana alone with her younger brother. So what does Juana do? She builds a house out of whale bones and hunts animals, motherfuckers! She does all the shit men used to do, all the shit women used to do, and then some.


9. Fern, Charlotte’s Web

I think Fern is why I wanted to be a vegetarian at such a young age, because of the way she saved Wilbur at breakfast that morning.


8. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

When the relationship with your adoptive family begins with them being disappointed that you’re not a boy, there’s really only one way to go and that’s UP! Anne was chatty and read all the books and had the best hair of anyone in any book ever (save for Pippi). She managed to be true to herself without being super disrespectful to Marilla, which couldn’t have been an easy feat.


7. Cassie, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Cassie is next-level heroine, because not only is she a smart firecracker of a girl who challenges authority, she’s a smart firecracker of a girl who challenges the pernicious, terrifying, often deadly and completely legal racism that defined the era and she does so in a way that only a child can.


6. Jo March, Little Women

Like Scout, Jo March is the tomboy prototype. I used to take classes at the Alcott House and imagine that I was Jo March. Fuck I wanted to be Jo March so bad.

“It’s bad enough to be a girl anyway, when I like boy’s games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy. And it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!”



5. Laura, Little House series

If I could’ve swapped lives with Laura Ingles, I would’ve in a hot second, even though I was pretty sure I’d die in her shoes. I especially remember reading The Long Winter at Pizza Hut with my family thinking, “I can’t believe we’re eating pizza AND THEY’RE STARVING TO DEATH IN A BLIZZARD!” It was just so romantic — the constant struggle and how fervently appreciated the small things and each other.


4. Claudia Kishi, The Baby-Sitters Club

Claudia wore the craziest shit and had her own phone line which, along with Clarissa Explains It All, planted the seed that if I was ever going to have a real life, I was going to need a separate phone line. Also it’s just occurring to me that my job at AS is essentially the same as Claudia’s job for the BSC. Holy shit.


3. Harriet, Harriet the Spy

via flickr.com/photos/calsidyrose

Harriet M. Welsch had absolutely everything in common with me: she fastidiously maintained a notebook of observations and quandaries, she always wanted to know more than anybody wanted to tell her and she hoped that all the time she spent observing other human beings could translate into a high-powered career! Her career choice, of course, was “spy.” I could do that. I could be a spy with my pencil and my don’t-fuck-with-me face. I could be Harriet the Spy!


2. Pippi Longstocking

Pippi permeated my brainspace in a major way, like that time I strapped sponges to my feet and tried to clean the kitchen that way and my Mom said she was really glad I’d decided to clean the kitchen, but that I was just making it worse and needed to take the sponges off my little brother’s tiny innocent feet. Pippi always stuck it to the man, though, ’cause she grew up on the sea and had no manners. If only I’d grown up on the sea, I could be really sassy to grown-ups and have a pet monkey, you know?


1. Ramona Quimby, Ramona books

To say I looked up to Ramona Quimby would be, in fact, incorrect. I did not look up to Ramona. I looked directly at Ramona, square in the eyeholes, and saw myself. She was fiesty and independent, curious, tomboyish, always getting into trouble, always not understanding the elements of the adult world that were closed off to her, or the tiring etiquette of everyday life. She cried too, and felt left out, and had crushes and got grossed out and smashed an egg on her head. I didn’t want to be Ramona Quimby. I already was Ramona Quimby. And still am, I think.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3184 articles for us.


    • I was like JESSIE ALDEN YES.

      Also Violet Alden. ‘Cause that girl read a lot of books and could fix all the world’s problems by making a sewing bag out of a pillow case or some shit.

  1. Ramona and Jo March are my favorites. I had a copy of a Ramona book that I just read and read till it felt apart multiple times.

  2. Omg! This list is spot on. I was the girl who wore full on pioneer garb (bonnet, bloomers and all) to school most days during 4th grade. I didn’t have a lot of friends. But I had a lot of heroes.

    • My heroines weren’t the Wilder girls, but I totally feel you on that one. I wanted to be one of Tamora Pierce’s characters so badly.

    • I wore pioneer garb in middle school too, braids and all. My social life improved dramatically after I stopped wearing pantaloons.

    • Wow, I would have loved you; it was my dream to wear pioneer clothes in my everyday life. As a kid I refused to wear anything else but plain, white, underwear because ‘that’s what Laura and Mary would have worn’. My mom thought it was hysterical. Anyways, in order to better itch my pioneer scratch, I signed myself up as a child volunteer at a living history museum one day during a field trip. I got to dress up and hang out in old log cabins and cook over open fires to my heart’s content!

    • THIS

      Is there a better proto-lesbian heroine? I must have read all of their adventures, and there were quite a lot of them. I still remember all the passages where it’s mentioned that “that summer, her hair was cut even shorter than usual” and how thrilled every time she’s mistaken for a boy.

      Being French, I read them in translation, where George is renamed Claude (which is actually kind of terrible, I admit) and the whole gang is relocated to the coast of Brittany. Enid Blyton and all her British fans would probably be horrified by all this, but man did I love Claude-George.

        • I had no idea that Louise Fitzhugh is a lesbian. Harriet the Spy now makes so much sense. Also the fact that I spent so much time when I was 10-ish pretending to be Harriet the Spy.

          • Ann M. Martin (author of the Babysitter’s Club) is also a lesbian! I can’t remember where I read this, but I’m pretty sure it was legit. Anyone else know??

      • Anne of Green Gables! Anne and Diana were totally into each other. Come on! They were “bosom buddies” and held hands and declared their love for each other. There was even an event here in Toronto a few years ago called, “Anne Made Me Gay: When Kindred Spirits Get Naked.”

        • I’m so glad someone said it. You know if this had been 2012, they would have run and gotten a married! Screw the boys and protocol and all that shit. Bosom buddies, indeed!

    • I’m really far too young for Enid blyton, but my mum had them lying around. I agree, andthis is another thing i should add to the list of ‘reasons i should have noticed the whole trans* thing earlier’

      It’s getting long now…

    • I have a big stuffed collie that my nana gave me when I was 7 still sitting at the end of my bed who’s called Timmy. We went on adventures.

    • Right?! Reading list just grew by 14.
      Also- where I live there is a toy/book store named Boo Radley’s, and next door a coffee shop named Atticus, and they have pages from To Kill a Mocking Bird covering one of the walls. It is the most happy tea-drinking spot because Scout is there.

    • It’s kind of hit or miss though, so beware. I recently went through this phase where I read a bunch of books from my youth. I was bitterly disappointed to realize that the Boxcar children and The Babysitter’s Club books were kind of shitty writing.
      Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables are worthwhile re-reads, though.

      • I always thought the Baby Sitters Club were shitty writing, E. I remember I was at a birthday party when I was 9 and the gift bag included a BSC book, which I promptly gave away.

        You’ve made me rethink my planned revisit of Encyclopedia Brown, though.

        • Oh yeah I loved Encyclopedia Brown! I will probably not reread them now, because I am also afraid of ruining those memories for myself. :P

  3. When you said, “Once upon a time in a faraway land, an eight-year-old girl in overalls ran faster than the boys and straight into our heartspaces.” I thought you were talking about Leslie, from Bridge to Terabithia, but then it wasn’t on the list and I was confused.

    BUT ANYWAYS. There were/are so many fictional girls that I wanted to be. Also, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, and Scout 100%.

  4. I was a pretty big fan of the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. Actually, I think that defined most of my childhood.

    Outside of the whole YA fantasy genre I was also obsessed with Little House on the Prairie and the subsequent books. Anyone else remember the whole wagon racing sequence when Amos won with the heavy wagon?

    • I’ve wanted to be Alanna since I was 10. Still kinda do. I’ve always related to women in fantasy novels more than women in any other genre.

      • I usually relate more to women in fantasy novels more too. I think maybe the fantasy women are stronger and more badass or something. Like “Princesshood is overrated, Imma get a sword and a dragon and kick some ass!” Or something like that.

        • “Princesshood is overrated, Imma get a sword and a dragon and kick some ass!” is basically the plot of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Dealing With Dragons). If you haven’t read these you MUST. Princess Cimorene is my hero forever.

          • YAS CIMORENE

            I haven’t reread those books in ages but I need to find them and do it because they are so good.

    • Tamora Pierce books are great! I actually started out with the Protector of the Small series- Keladry was badass!

      • I think of all of the characters, Kel was actually my favorite. There was something so realistic about her – I really identified with her.

        That being said, I actually think Circle of Magic was the best series Pierce ever wrote. Plus, seeing LGBT characters portrayed so well was a huge bonus for me. Lark/Rosethorn pretty much became my relationship model as a young queer in Texas.

    • I maintain that these books made me a feminist. I found out that Tamora Pierce is on LiveJournal a little while ago ago, that woman is a badass.

        • I’d be lying if I said I didn’t just go find her on facebook. My inner 12 year old is fan-girling so hard right now.

    • While I IDed pretty hard with Alanna (esp in the first book when she rages against being a girl really hard? yeah okay, I was like “oh good there are other girls that hate being this way too” and then went “wait why are you suddenly ok with this????!!!”)

      But Kel. Kel is like looking in a mirror; not a perfect one, but close enough.

      Also I really, really like Beka?

  5. Definitely played “Heidi” as a child… you know like when kids play pretend or house or whatever… my friend and I would be Heidi and Clara.

    Also, I always loved Jo March. She was my favorite, especially cause she was a writer which I always wanted to be.

  6. what do you mean, wanted? i still want to be claudia kishi. if i had that wardrobe i could rule the world. AND i could date kristy thomas.

  7. I don’t think I’ll ever relate to a fictional character as much as I related to Ramona Quimby. I totally cried when she smashed an egg on her head and then threw up and her mom had to pick her up from school.

    • In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines, they left the house at half past nine…The smallest one Madeline

      I loved Madeline I don’t think I’ll ever forget that introduction

    • I loved Madeline. Beautiful art, wonderful writing, it was in Paris… everything was dreamlike. :)

  8. Seeing Heidi appear here is for me (I’m swiss!) somewhat special. Would’ve never thought that ‘our’ famous books is actually still _that_ famous!

    And on a sidenote: I now want to read all of these books! :)

  9. Oh sweet cheesus. This is such a great encapsulation of my childhood. True story: I made a home movie with my neighbor girl around age 8 wherein I played Molly McIntire (I had the enormous glasses) and she was
    Samantha VictorianWhatsherface- it involved time travel and outstanding scriptwriting.

      • I’ll attempt to locate it at my parent’s place and upload from the ancient VHS, if possible haha. One bit of dialogue which I now find particularly hilarious:
        Her- “You don’t look very much like a girl…”
        Me- “You look *too* much like a girl.”

  10. I will confess here to all of you: After reading Anne of Green Gables I went through a (far too annoying) phase where I called people I liked “kindred spirits” and asked all of the girls at school to be my “bosom friend”. Clearly the lesbian card was being played even then.

    • True story, if you directly ask someone to be your friend on OKCupid (as in, “you’re interesting, let’s be friends”) it rarely turns out well.

      I wish everyone could just be as direct as Anne was.

      • YES. I always felt this strong sense of envy when I read that part. Why is it so much more complicated? :/

      • YES OMG MEG! I loved her! I definitely wanted to be her and just have all those experiences… also I just loved loved loved science fiction and it was mostly what I read (that’s still kind of true), and it was so amazing to have a girl be the main character in a sci fi story. That doesn’t happen often unfortunately.

    • Yes! Though I admit Morwen and her cats were my favs. Also the fire witch from book 4 (I can’t remember her name!).

    • I was actually introduced to these books by kids I was babysitting, so I was probably older than the intended audience… but CIMORENE, you guys! Plus I just love the way it makes fun of fairy tales, it’s priceless.

      Also also the baby dragon who hadn’t decided yet if it was going to be male or female (because they get to choose) made me so happy.

  11. I definitely second George from Famous 5. I wanted to be her so bad.
    I also loved Anne of Green Gables solely because she called my name “such a perfectly elegant name.” I’m clearly easily won over.

  12. OMG, yes to ALL of these. I wrote a one-act play last semester and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” was referenced A. Lot.

  13. I read that same copy of the first Boxcar Children books in elementary school. I’m pretty sure I checked it out of the library after seeing the cover and thinking, “That girl in the pink is hot!” And then she turned out to be my favourite character, so I felt justified in my 9/10 year old objectification of a fictional character.

    After seeing the Harriet the Spy movie I made my parents buy me a Sherlock Holmesesque detective/spy kit. It was awesome.

    Also, at some point during my childhood, I may or may not have tried to float across a body of water in a wooden barrel. It didn’t turn out well. Thanks for the splinters Pippi.

  14. Did anybody else read the Amelia Bedelia books? I don’t know that I wanted to be her but my middle name is Amelia and, as a small child when I said my full name I always said my middle name was Amelia Bedelia because in my small child brain I couldn’t say Amelia without the Bedelia.

    I mostly just wanted to actually be a boy when I was little. Like, me, but a boy. I did identify with plenty of the characters on this list though.

    • I loooooved Amelia Bedelia! As a child I was quite literal and I felt like maybe she was the only person who really got me….

    • Yes I loved Amelia Bedelia! I always remembered her tea cake and wanted to eat that! I still think it sounds so good! Also I just didn’t understand what she was supposed to have done wrong, because clearly a tea cake should have tea in it! xD

      Also, even though I did love a lot of female characters in the books I read, I do think I also just really wanted to be a boy, or just plain didn’t think about the fact that I was a girl, when I was a kid, so it was really easy for me to identify with all the boy characters in books too, and it didn’t feel particularly more special or intimate if it was a girl character. For instance, I have always wanted, and still do want, to be Sherlock Holmes. Not a “girl version” of Sherlock Holmes. Just Sherlock Holmes, as he is in the books. That would be so cool. The gender thing was never much of a barrier to me, in that respect.

  15. Riese, I’m not sure why, but as soon as I started reading Autostraddle, you reminded me straight away of Ramona Quimby.

    • i really identify with her moreso than i have with any other character. i started reading when i was super-young, i feel like there may have been a time period when i didn’t realize how small i was in the world because every book i read was about me! i made a t-shirt with a Q on it like she did for her cat and wore it like it was cool

  16. this is so perfect – EXCEPT- where is alana from tamora pierce’s books?? masquerading as a boy in order to become a knight, using birth control, not giving any fucks about who she slept with/married? all those things should qualify her. kel is also great if you go more into late 90’s/early 2000’s.


    i’m sorry when you introduce to me a character with the ‘she’s awkward and smart’ description, and then get her to travel through TIME AND SPACE, i basically want to live her life 1000x over.

    • laneia and i had a real talk situation this morning where we both admitted that we never really could get into ‘a wrinkle in time’, that we found it confusing and hardtofollow

      [runs and hides?]

      • I’ve sort of always thought this made me a bad person but SAME.

        I pretty much love every kiddie book and still have my faves in my apartment and reread them and don’t care that ladies find that weird but that book is just not great. #notsorry

      • Some parts I got and some parts I didn’t and some parts I thought I got but probably didn’t. But I didn’t worry too much about it because I didn’t get a lot of things in the sci fi books I read, but they were still exciting and fun. :)

  18. I can’t really explain how much I loved Harriet the Spy and Anne of Green Gables growing up. My friend and I continued to use the term “kindred spirits” for new people we liked well into high school (actually it still pops up in my vocabulary every now and then!). It was so bad ass when she broke her slate over Gilbert’s head! I totally would have fallen in love with her too.

    Also, re-reading Harriet the Spy really makes the queer subtext stand out to me. She is totally a dyke in training!! Here is an awesome article about queer Harriet: http://archive.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2005/jan05_horning.asp

    I recently got a new bike and named her Harriet the Spy.

  19. Nearly all of these books were crucial to my growing up. (And what was it that made being an orphan/abandoned so cool as a kid?) Like I mentioned above, though, I’ve always latched onto sci-fi/fantasy women more. The ones I remember best from when I was 12 and younger were:

    Alanna (The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce)

    My fav female knight because she got to be tough, brash, pretend to be a boy, smart, magical *and* feminine without succumbing to gender stereotypes. I really, really wanted to be Alanna. Also I would totally live celibate for George.

    Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)

    My dad read this series to me when I was 6 and even then I latched onto Eowyn. I mean, come on, “I am no man!” Bam. My first really fantasy heroine feminist moment.

    Rachel (Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate)

    I love a tough blonde. Seriously. And Animorphs was my life for at least a couple years. Rachel was always my fav. And come on, her nickname was Xena. Obviously bait for a future lesbian.

    Polgara (From a ton of David Eddings books)

    Obviously I didn’t always stick to “age appropriate” literature. Polgara rocked my world. Super powerful, super magical, politically savvy and, again, allowed to be dominant and in charge while still loving dresses and fashion. I also loved political intrigue and banter and Polgara’s stories were always chock full of that.

    Claudia (Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice)

    Yeah. I got into the vampire thing hardcore in my preteens. I have no idea what I found so romantic about Claudia’s story, especially since it’s super tragic, but I think I was secretly dark and dramatic and the thought of being a tormented child vampire was appealing.

    Jeshikah (Midnight Predator by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes)

    Yeah, another “wtf?” moment in my childhood since not only if Jeshikah not a main character, but she’s a dominant vampire villain who runs a modern-day human slave complex. Maybe my first fascination with kink? I don’t know, but I couldn’t get her out of my head for a long time.

    Willow (Sisters Long Go by Peg Kehret)

    I loved a lot of Peg Kehret’s books, but I read “Sisters Long Ago” so many times I lost count. It’s the first time I’d heard of reincarnation and it fascinated me. And while I didn’t have a sister dying, my mom was often told she was going to die soon when I was young and I really identified with Willow. Runner up: Ellen from “Horror at the Haunted House” because she was playing Joan of Arc in the haunted house and I loved ghost stories.

    Meg Murray (Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L’Engle)

    Because what baby lesbian doesn’t have a love for Meg?

    • “I am no man!” = SO MUCH AWESOME. That line gave me so many feelings. Hello Patriarchy! So you think you’re invincible, eh? Well, take that! HA!

    • When I finally got around to reading Lord of the Rings in university, I ended up holed up in a library cubicle, frantically reading through The Two Towers and The Return of the King instead of studying for exams in order to find out what happened to Eowyn. I seriously cried in the library when I thought she was dead and then my heart was alive again when I found out a few pages later that she was not.

      She was also the greatest in the movies. Eowyn >>>>>>>> Arwen.

    • SISTERS LONG AGO. THANK YOU!!! that was a deeply beloved one for me, too, and i didn’t know anyone else who’d ever read it, and it sunk into my memory vault years and years ago but i still had the faintest memory of it (and the cover) and THAT’S IT! i’m like, about to cry from childhood nostalgia, lol :)

  20. I still have my copy of “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” from 4th grade. When that girl made Cassie walk in the street my tiny, angsty self was ready to jump into that book and start something.

    I also bought a second copy for my class library so I wouldn’t have to share…much like I did with everything else on my YA shelf.

    • yeah, I read and reread that book and most of Mildred Taylor’s other books…growing up white in a conservative part of the South, reading books like that was probably more educational than most of my social studies classes were…

  21. Seeing as how I became attached to Star Wars at a very early age, as a kid I desperately wanted to be Jaina Solo or Tenel Ka, from the Young Jedi Knights series. They were all kinds of awesome.

    • I wanted to be slave leia (only with a lovely mistress obviously)

      Considering things i know about myself now that i didn’t know when i was 12, this makes complete sense.

  22. I enjoyed reading as a kid, and I still do very much, but I was never really into books about “normal” kids. Judy Blume, Boxcar Children, Babysitters Club, Ramona Quimby…they just did nothing for me. The only books from this list that I’ve read are Island of the Blue Dolphins, and To Kill a Mockingbird (who HASN’T read TKAM?).

    I was a fan of Julie’s from Julie of the Wolves. I went through this wolf phase in elementary school, so I totally wanted to be Julie and be adopted into a wolf pack, even if I had to live in the frozen tundra.

    Also, Rachel and Cassie from the Animorphs series. Holy jaysus, I LOVED Animorphs. As fearless and tenacious as Rachel was, I wanted to emulate quiet and thoughtful Cassie. I love animals, and the fact that Cassie worked at her parents’ animal rehabilitation clinic made her seem like the coolest girl to be, or at least the coolest friend to have.

    • Julie of the Wolves! Ahhh I was obsessed with the idea of being adopted into a wolf pack. Also, did anyone else read Malu’s Wolf? I’ve never met anyone else who’s heard of it, but I LOVED that book. Also Malu was totally badass. Definitely wanted to be her, along with Alanna and Daine (especially Daine).

    • YES! Julie of the Wolves! I read that one so many times. And, true fact: when I moved to Colorado and went on a hike and saw (what I was pretty sure was) lichen, my first thought was, “well, if I get lost up here, I think I can eat these? Didn’t Julie do that on the tundra?” ….and I last read that book about 20 years ago.

  23. All of these things <3 So in love with Jo March, I was so disappointed when she got married and as a preteen I didn't understand why.

    Can I also add Joey Bettany from the Chalet School series? Not only awesome herself but she had her own crush on Jo March.

    • Yeah, I was also kinda baffled/disappointed when Jo married Prof. Baer.

      Also Winona Ryder in the Little Women movie probs made me queer. Just sayin.

    • I know right? The way Jo describes him in her letters, I thought she just liked him. I was really confused when it turned out there was more to it. It never seemed quite right somehow.

      I don’t know how many of you have read the sequels, but Nan seriously rocks. Like, she decides she will become a doctor and never get married and she actually studies really hard to be a doctor and turns people down and completely sticks with it. (so now in my head she’s gay and that makes me like her even more :P)

  24. ????!?!?!?!!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!!

    there were other people who loved the same shit as me?!


  25. Yes to Alanna!

    Also, MATILDA! A girl who uses books and brains to get back at the annoying dolts in her life? Yes please.

    • MATILDA. YES. Also, being whisked away from your effed up family to go live with a loving and sweet teacher? Pretty much was my daydream every day from age 7 to age 18.

  26. I love all of this list, so much so that I happened to be discussing the American Girls just last night with some of my camp cabinmates.

    But I’d also like to throw in a vote for Claudia of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Because who didn’t want to run away and live at the Met?

    • Seconding Claudia. Also, both main characters from the lesser-known “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth,” also by EL Konigsburg, which is all about these two strong girls developing a quirky, intense friendship. LOVED that book.

    • “the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” was one of my favorite books ever, i loved that shit and obvs wanted to live at The Met

    • I’ve been scrolling the comments waiting for someone to bring up Claudia from The Mixed Up Files. Girl was wicked smart — packing clothes in empty instrument cases was genius.

      When we read that book in school, my third grade reading teacher Mrs. Andrews turned our school into a fake Met. We had to hide from fake museum guards in bathroom stalls, and budget money and shit in the cafeteria. Most memorable school experience probs ever.

  27. Harriet the spy inspired me to peer out of my windows with my crappy binoculars and watch people and write stuff down about them. This consumed most of my day. Now I feel like I was possibly not the only one who did this!

  28. Caddie Woodlawn, anyone? A total tomboy, though *spoiler alert* she eventually gives into the social pressures to be more ladylike. I always skipped the last part because of that–I preferred it when she was out-butching her brothers and wandering the woods.

    Now that I think about it, most of the books with female protagonists that I loved as a kid centered around tomboys or girls who pretended to be boys: the Alanna/Lionness series, Daine in the Wild Magic series, Jo March, Scout…

    • I must have blocked out the part where Caddie Woodlawn becomes more ladylike, because I LOVED her but totally don’t remember that plotline. Very telling!
      Also, so true about tomboys/girls pretending to be boys — those were all my favorite characters too! They were always allowed to be/able to be a lot more badass that way.

    • Thank you! I was wracking my brain and couldn’t remember her name and was thinking red head, definitely had some encounter with a rattlesnake, chilled out with the Native Americans, and I think warned them when she knew white men were going to attack them. I ran around the woods pretending to be her all the time. I remembered the pressure for her to be more ladylike, yet I totally blocked that she gave in.

    And the 4some from Enid Blyton, I forgot their name but they were always investigating something or other in weird places? The Secret of X? One of the stories had them in an island they managed themselves and I wanted to have my own island so bad.

    • Nancy Drew! OMG. I always sort of hated Ned Nickerson, but I loved that Nancy was so independent and had her own car and was so clever and all that shit. But my favorite was her friend George. I mean, her name was GEORGE for chrissake and I just wanted to be her.

    • YES!!! I was wondering if anyone was going to say this. But obviously the original no-nonsense/ pre-Ned Nancy that was a little less PC and a little more edgy, before heternormativity PC got in the way (and before the editors re-wrote it all to be more of the same). She may have been well-to-do, but she was intelligent, courageous, strong-willed, persistent, and loyal…and relied on her best gal pals.

      To this day I refuse to sell or donate my Nancy Drew collection. It is second only to my Agatha Christie collection. :P

      • Haha omg I have SO MANY Agatha Christie books! They are like, half my books. And I just keep collecting them, I can’t stop! Mostly Poirot, because oh god, so much love for those, and I grew up on the PBS series, but also Miss Marple and assorted others. :D

    • Um The Secret Island was basically my favourite childhood book. I used to go out in the backyard and practice weaving te branches of trees together to make a house. I was pretty successful too.
      Oh and once my parents had a fight, so we decided we would teach them a lesson, and that book was like a template for what we planned to do.
      Turned out to be harder since we stole the baby as well. :/

      • OMG it was one of my faves too. The troupe stole COWS and CHICKENS for goodness’ sake they are the template of the Autostraddle commune

  30. Molly was ALWAYS my favorite American Girl. My sister loved Samantha because she was all classy, but I always loved Molly because she was a badass. Definitely love every book and character on this list though.

    I think the one that’s missing is Hermione! She was the perfect fictional character for every girl to look up to.

    • YES HERMIONE! I was going to chime in and say Potter but wasn’t sure if the age range was right – I started reading the series when I was 15.

      I was bummed when Rowling’s planned rival-to-Hermione didn’t pan out. She was going to be Ron’s cousin from the accountant who ends up in Slytherin and is as whipsmart as Hermione. My mum thinks I’m Hermione but I’m not as fond of exams as she is; I think I would have loved Mystery Rival Character.

      Also Luna Lovegood for being so comfortable in her own skin and being the epitome of No Fucks To Give.

      • Yes I truly do love Hermione. And what? I did not know this about the almost-to-be Hermione rival! She sounds incredible! Arg why did that not happen? D:

    • I really, really wanted the Molly doll because she was all sassy and amazing. I had a couple of her books. But instead I got one of those boring ones that look like you except my hair was light brown/kinda blonde and mom got my the actual blonde one, and my hair darkened, and yeah.


  31. not exactly from the 80’s or anything… but i always wanted to be hermione granger from harry potter. She’s strong, throws a good punch, and kicks ass. all day everyday.

  32. I totally spent a good part of my childhood wishing/searching for a boxcar that I could pretend was my own as a direct result of the Box Car series.

    And I still get really excited everytime I see a Baby-sitter’s club book. In fact, last time I was hope, my parents had brought down boxes of my old book, and I went through them and read the ones I could fine! Haha.

    All of these girls are awesome- except I always found Harriet the spy to be a little annoying.

    • I used to have almost all the Babysitter Club books (the ones written up to around 1996), in addition to the whole Saddle Club series, but when I went to college my mom threw them all away in an attempt to declutter!
      I was heartbroken.

  33. I love this whole list, although somehow I have never read The Boxcar Children, Anne of Green Gables, or the Little House series (except for the first one and I liked Mary better). I also didn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird or Little Women until I was an adult. (Although I loved the Little Women movie when it came out when I was in high school, and I feel like I had a crush on all of them.)

    Ramona Quimby was one of my best friends for many years growing up. Reading about the ridiculous and awkward things that happened to her always made me feel better about the ridiculous/awkward things that happened to me.

    I’m so glad you put Molly McIntire on this list! No one ever understood why I chose Molly, because she didn’t have fancy dresses like Samantha and was not a pioneer (which was super popular) like Kirsten. But I picked Molly for 3 very specific reasons:
    1. She lived during WWII, which I was very into at the time.
    2. She wore glasses like me.
    3. Her last name is McIntire like Joey from New Kids on the Block. (Yes, this was legit one of my reasons at 9.)
    I think Molly is like Ramona in that she tries so hard and really wants people to like her but is also kind of awkward. (Hi, definitely me.)

    My modern addition to this list has to be Hermione Granger. Those books didn’t come out until I was almost an adult, so she wasn’t a character I identified with growing up, but I know for women just 10 or so years younger than me Hermione was a big role model.

      • If I had a dollar for every time my wife has told me I need to read Anne of Green Gables… well, I’d have a lot of dollars. They’ve been on my “to read” list forever, I just need to bump them to the top. (And get the books from the library, obvs.)

    • I seriously think this might be the first time I’ve ever heard/read someone say they liked Mary Ingalls better than Laura. Colour me shocked.

  34. As the 2nd oldest of 4 daughters in my family, I got way too much joy in pretending we were the March family because it meant I got to ‘be Jo.’

    So many of my other favorites have already been listed, but I’ve got to mention– Sara Crewe!

  35. I loved the Babysitters Club! Can we talk about how Kristy was totally gay? Remember that one book where she kissed Bart in the movies and didn’t know if she should close her eyes? Super awkward. I am sure she ended up with Abby. Or Dawn. I loved Claudia, but she almost intimidated me. She was way too cool. But I fucking hated Mallory. Elementary school me used to get so fucking pissed off at Mallory for no real reason.

    Also, as the proud owner of six American Girl dolls, I need to mention Felicity. Totally badass. The entire series is based on girls being badass. Felicity rode horses and hung around with Ben the apprentice and shit, and got invited to a ball on Christmas. I was in love with it all.

    • I assume you have seen http://thehairpin.com/2011/05/how-your-american-girl-doll-shaped-the-rest-of-your-life/? [Also, not gonna lie, when I was a kid I was SO jealous of the girls who had a whole bunch of American Girl dolls. I begged for one for ages and finally my parents agreed we’d split the price three ways between them, me, and my grandma. I “earned” my portion by doing odd jobs around the house for a couple dollars at a time, which, lol, looking back I was probably actually useless.]

      Anyway, though, the bit about Felicity is so spot on: “You grew up to have an affinity for lovely things, a possibly inflated sense of your own uniqueness, a teensy hint of self-righteousness (remember how she refused tea when they raised the tea tax? “Thank you, I shall take no tea!”), and a latent familiarity with Colonial Williamsburg.”

      • This made me sad. I got Kirsten because 1) I was blond 2) I am part Swedish. Plus my cousin’s name actually is Kirsten and she’s also part Swedish, so our dolls always got the same clothes. According to those adjectives though, I think I might have to admit I’m a Samantha.

    • My main memory of Kristy is when everyone painted their nails and she begrudgingly allowed them to do one coat of clear polish on hers. That was the moment I realized we were basically the same person (except I had Mary Anne’s timidness/overprotective parents. It’s weird feeling so much like two characters who are so different).

    • I had Samantha! Felicity came out when I was starting to age out of being the target group for American Girls… when I was growing up it was just Kristen, Samantha and Molly. I had Samantha ’cause I was really into a period of time I referred to as ‘the victorian time’ which was, in my head, the time Samantha was alive.

      • i had samantha! she wore fancy hats and that was what my grandmother wanted for me, so. but also yes, ‘victorian time.’ also the locket. THE LOCKET YOU GUYS.

        fancy hats. lockets.

      • My younger sister got Samantha the same year I got Molly, then a few years later she got Felicity. I was technically too old by then I guess but I still asked for clothes and stuff for Molly probably until high school. And even after that I kept her out “on display” in my room (and would brush and braid her hair when I was sad).

    • there is totally fanfiction dedicated to this, not that I know from personal experience or anything…

      also I could picture her with Dawn, the free spirit from California, she’d be into that

    • A little while ago I downloaded a pile of Nancy Drew games and played them so much that suddenly everything in my life was a clue.

      One game had her exotic dancing to raise money – nothing to do with the rest of the plot, just that you had to earn money to afford certain parts of the game and one option was to dance on cue. Which was REALLY random. o_O

  36. island of the blue dolphins! yes, this. similarly I wanted to be julie from julie of the wolves. living out in the wilderness with just myself and the animals still sounds good, except I might get cold.
    scout is one of my favorite characters of all time. if I ever have a daughter, I hope she’s like scout.

  37. So surprised/excited to see Island of the Blue Dolphins on this list – loveddd that book as a kid.

    Also, True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle anyone? I latched onto that book in my fourth grade class

    • YES to True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. In my fifth grade class we studied ships and at one point did a sleepover field trip to an old four-masted ship on the San Francisco pier. I WAS charlotte doyle for about three months afterwards.

      • Not to be weird… was this the ship Thayer or Balclutha? Because my fourth grade class did the exact same thing. And I am still a little obsessed with Charlotte Doyle.

    • Definitely Charlotte Doyle. I read that book in middle school, when I was convinced that all my problems could be solved with a sword and a journal…

    • YES CHARLOTTE DOYLE. My mom still remembers “that period of time” when I was obsessed with that book. I attribute my tendency to dream about swordfighting and ships to that book.

  38. autostraddle, i love all the articles about sex and fashion and how to be a functioning member of society but this might just be my favorite article ever.

  39. I was so obsessed with Little Women and Jo in particular for most of my life. I read the illustrated classics version in first or second grade and never looked back. I’m pretty sure I still own at least two copies of the book, a copy of Little Men, and two versions of the movie (it doesn’t get any better than Katharine Hepburn as Jo March). “fuck I wanted to be Jo March so bad” pretty much sums it up perfectly.

    Also I went through a brief phase where I wrote down everything about everyone in a secret composition notebook and pretended that I was Harriet.

  40. In kindergarten my teacher used to read us The Boxcar Children, and my friends and I would play “Boxcar Children” on the playground. I actually was always Benny, which makes total sense now that I’m grown up but still dress like a 12-year-old boy.

    I really wanted to be Kristy from the Baby-sitters Club, yes she was totally a queermo. (Can I just point out that at the beginning of the movie [don’t judge] she tucks her shirt into the front of her boxers?)

    Above all though, I think Harriet the Spy made me who I am today. Or maybe it’s because of all the Macgyver I watched in preschool…

    • I had SUCH a literary crush on Kristy as a baby lesbian. In the movie I think they do a good job at implying that she’s a baby queermo, too, or as heavily as they can for people who are supposed to be 13.

      Also, I must have watched that movie wAAAaaay too much, because it’s been about 10 years, and I know exactly which scene you’re talking about.

  41. I chose “Scout” as my camp nickname after the character in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I now go by it 24/7 because my friends think suits me better than my real name. Such love!

  42. I love posts about nostalgia and books!
    I was a shy awkward kid with bad haircuts and welfare glasses. Books were my refuge. This list is almost perfect. I would echo everyone else and add Meg Murray and Charlotte Doyle.

    I was definitely obsessed with books about groups of girl friends like BSC and Friends 4-Ever, Saddle Club etc.

    • My best friend in primary school and I used to play Saddle Club in the schoolyard at breaktime, we would ride imaginary horses over jumps made of sticks and the boys from the year above would make fun of us but I got to be Stevie so zero fucks.

      I was pretty jealous when another friend who went to a private all girls school told me that everyone there played Saddle Club and there were no dumb boys to make fun of them, though. Same sex education all the way for me after that.

  43. These were absolutely my favorite books/characters (I liked Claudia, but never read that one) circa 1998. I think there were years when I thought I WAS Laura Ingalls and ran around in prairie dresses climbing trees and spying. Thanks for this list!

  44. As far as more recent Children’s/YA books go, I have to say that I love Meggie from the Inkheart/Inkspell/Inkdeath trilogy by Cornelia Funke. I really strongly relate to her absolute passion for reading and the idea of becoming lost in the world of the book. These books are so excellent.

  45. one of the reasons I got an alaskan malamute as an adult was because of Rontu in island of the blue dolphins. #goodadultdecisionmaking

  46. You guys, can we get a count of all the little babygays who took to notebooks and pretended to be Harriet the Spy? Because I feel like it’s a lot of us.
    One. Obvs. I dedicated an entire summer’s worth of observations of my small little town to that black and white composition book.

  47. This was a fantastic list to read. I’m Swedish, but since I lived in the U.S. as a kid this means that I’ve grown up with several of these books (that my Swedish contemporaries simply haven’t heard of). Well, EVERYONE reads Pippi, but that’s not the point ;)
    I loved The Boxcar Children to pieces, and Charlotte’s Web!, and The Little House in the Big Woods was one of the first books I read in English (at the age of approximately six). I was also a huge fan of all the boarding school books, be it St Clare’s, Malory Towers or the Chalet School (I still find them enjoyable because they’re so moralizing!). I didn’t however go for the BSC but rather the Babysitter’s Little Sisters :)
    After moving back to Sweden from the U.S. my mom actually took out a subscription for American Girl for me, and I loved the books as well. At one point I had quite a large collection. Don’t think I had the actual dolls, but I remember having the paper dolls for at least several of them (like Molly!).
    Some of these books I’ve discovered at a more advanced age, like To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s a good book, but not one of my childhood heroes. If I would sum up my early reading I would say orphans, hard lives, american, english, boarding schools and then from the age of eleven also huge amounts of fantasy. Btw, anyone else find it interesting that there’s always at least one token tomboy in Enid Blyton’s books?
    I’m sorry for the length of the post but I’m just happy to find people who can relate to my reading. Wheeee! :D

    (And I love Meg Murry. Now I’ll stop.)

    • I was definitely a Babysitter’s Little Sister fan for a while, but then I got older and kind of crazy about Kristy, so I segued on over to BSC for more of her. I did love Karen, though. We got glasses and bad haircuts and believed in witches at the same time!

    • Oh hey, you’re from Sweden, so that means you’ll recognize one of my favourite childhood book heroines that nobody else ever knows about: Ronia the Robber’s Daughter!

  48. Saving this article (and all these comments). If I ever have daughter, they’re reading every book here. Hell, if I have sons they’re reading every book here!

  49. Okay, it might be a horrifically middle-class British answer, but my favourite character will always be Nancy from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series. She’s so unapologetically strong (without needing any sort of conflict or trials to encourage it), even if you don’t consider that the books were written in the 1930s.

    A short clip from the film version: http://youtu.be/BnXMuAJKDv0?t=2m20s
    And the obligatory wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Blackett

    • I loved those books so much!!! Nancy rocks and her curses are brilliant. I felt more like Titty though because I was obsessed with stories too.

  50. I am also Ramona Quimby, and have been told so many times. My best friends grandma used to call me a ragamufin back in elementary school, and I think it might be the best compliment I’ve ever gotten.
    I also got a lot of inspiration from Lyra in the His Dark Materials(The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The amber Spyglass) series. She was such a strong, stubborn girl, and I totally looked up to her in my early teens.

  51. This is pretty obscure, but does anybody else remember a book called The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig? It’s about a family that is exiled to Siberia, and the young daughter has to figure out how to support her family during incredible deprivation and harsh conditions. There’s one scene involving her re-knitting a sweater (and then the woman cheating her) that I will remember all my life. It isn’t a cheery book at all, but the girl was just so strong and brave – a real inspiration.

    • I totally remember that book. My 5th grade teacher was from the Ukraine and she read us that book every Friday afternoon because it reminded her of her childhood in the Soviet Union.

  52. Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain? She was one of my faves. Also, Vicky Austin from Madeline L’Engle’s books, and any Robin McKinley heroine ever. Just sayin’.

    • Yes, Eilonwy! My only problem with her is that I was never sure how to pronounce her name. Since I read some of those books aloud with my sister it got a bit awkward. I think we each settled on a different favorite pronunciation and argued about it a lot.

      • I don’t know how to pronounce it either, and remember being totally mad when I saw The Black Cauldron ’cause they said it wrong, i.e., not what was in my 12 year old head.

    • Glitching Woo from five and a half years ago, I see you! This whole list is making me feel so seen. Dicey, Mina, whatshername who became the Jackaroo, I still have all those books. And Heidi, Laura, Meg, Jo, Anne, Lyra, Pippi, Nancy & George…check.

      Am I the only one who obsessively loved Anne McCaffrey’s dragons but just wanted to shred things because of all the sexism? Is it normal to fill an entire notebook with dragon names ending in -th, and of course WAY more colors of dragons than just gold, bronze, brown, blue and green (“dark cold purple” is OBVIOUSLY a dragon color that would exist), and both boys and girls can Impress any damn color dragon, and ride them, and who rules has nothing at all to do with whose dragon can catch the queen dragon while they fuck the queen’s rider in an ickily rapey orgy scene, and of course you have to have a bunch of countries to justify all the dragon names, so then you have to draw a map and make up a language and figure out the colors for all the countries and which dragons live where and all their riders’ names and the language has to have formal, familiar and intimate modes because you’ve just started learning French and you think the whole vous/tu thing is cool, and also verb inflections are neat, and making up alphabets is fun? Asking for a friend.

  53. I think 2013 is going to be “the year I read only books for young people.” I’m going through an existential malaise and really need to hit the reset button on my optimism.

    • Every year is that year for me, I can sit for hours in the kids section of the bookshop. I generally claim its because Im a primary school teacher, but probably its because the covers are more eyecatching.

    • Ain’t no shame in that! YA is the shit. I recently read the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfield (who writes awesome fantasy/sci-fi YA), with a kickass female character who has to disguise herself as a boy to become an airman on a living steampunk-ish genetically-engineered airship…

  54. Soooo, I came from a very blue collar family of teenage parents who barely made it out of high school. Meaning I’ve only actually read “Roll of Thunder” (for school in 6th grade) and the Molly books (because my grandma bought them) because my parents didn’t think a kid could actually enjoy reading…. but, when I came out to my mother she said she’d known since I was a kid because I always cried when watching Harriet the Spy (with Michelle Trachtenberg). And because I couldnt stop staring at the women in uniform on my brother’s military base, which isn’t relevant but whatever.

    So there’s that.

  55. What about Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy, Tacy, and Tib books?

    Because really HOW GAY was Tacy? So gay. For Betsy. Or maybe Julia.

  56. An excerpt about George from Nancy Drew, courtesy of Wikipedia:

    “She has short black hair and brown eyes. She is an athletic tomboy, and is not easily scared when involved in Nancy’s sleuthing.”

    Sup Fam.

    Also, what about Sally from the Encyclopedia Brown books? Also, wouldn’t Encyclopedia Brown be amazing if he was a really dapper gay lady? I would date Lezcyclopedia Brown so fast you guys.

    • Yes, yes, and yes!! This is now the third time I’ve mentioned Nancy’s friend George in these comments because she had *such* an effect on my childhood.

      And please. I never bought that shit about her dating Burt or whatever his name was. Never.

  57. This is further proof that I was always already meant to be a lesbian. YES YES YES TO THIS WHOLE AMAZING LIST.

  58. OK, this is going back a ways, but has anyone out there read the “Swallows & Amazons” books? Because one of the Amazons is named Nancy. Only her name is actually Ruth, but she goes by Nancy because you can’t be a ruthless pirate if your name is Ruth. She is awesome and I always wanted to be her. Also, there is a character named Titty, which is unfortunately hilarious, but she’s a total nerd and I love her.

  59. Was anyone else really into the WWII/1940s time period as a kid? I loved this book called “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, it’s about a 10-year-old girl who lives in Copenhagen during WWII and how she and her family help her Jewish best friend escape after the Nazis invade Denmark.

    I also loved a book called “As the Waltz was Ending” which I think I’ve posted about on here before. It’s a true story of a girl who was studying to be a ballerina in Vienna when the war hits Austria.

    (Side note: All of these WWII-set books made me want to visit Europe a lot. When I went to Vienna on my post-college travels I had to find the opera house just because of As the Waltz was Ending.)

    • ohh man, Number the Stars. read that one a million times, because we read it one year and then my mom taught that same grade so I kept “borrowing” it from her classroom.

      Actually I read a ton of stories about kids surviving the Holocaust, street kids in Dickensian London, pioneer-era orphans, refugees from various wars…basically a lot of semi-depressing historical fiction. But hey, I’m really good at history now!

    • I was obsessed with Number the Stars, but I went through a big WWII phase as a kid that combined with my religious upbringing had me convinced that Nazis were going to kill me in church

  60. RAMONA HAD SUCH AN AFFECT ON ME. Hence the av. But I actually wasn’t much like Ramona in that I wasn’t too adventurous, and didn’t speak my mind all that much, and obeyed and was rather quiet. But then, I was awkward, and I had a lot of opinions, and bad things happened to me, and who couldn’t see themselves in Ramona in some ways? There are a lot of ways in which I grew up to be a Ramona, and I really do appreciate Beverly Cleary for giving that role model to me. And now I have to go contemplate getting a Ramona tattoo YET AGAIN.

    I will also mention – even though this is a bit after my time – that Junie B. Jones was an awesome little lady, too. My kid sister loved her, and I would always sneak those books to read in the car and just laugh my ass off. She was like Ramona, if Ramona was in a sitcom.

    And also Lyra from “His Dark Materials.” Just… super bad ass.

  61. Island of the Blue Dolphins! RAMONA. Harriet the Spy! Man, my Harriet the Spy/burn book hybrid got me in so much trouble in the fifth grade. Worth it…?

    Also, did anyone else read “The Long Secret” aka the sequel to “Harriet the Spy” where Harriet and Janie hang out in Montauk one summer, Janie gets her period, Harriet solves more mysteries, and everything is AWKWARD AS HELL? I think I liked it more than the first book tbh, just for sheer weirdness.

  62. Reading this article and the comments totally made my day. I used to spend soo much time reading all the boxcar children, babysitters club and little house on the prairie books. I remember I was in the French Immersion program in elementary school and I was only allowed to take out french books from the library but I convinced my mom to come in and speak to the librarian so I got special permission to take out 3 english books at a time!

    And I never got into the American Girl series, but I did read and manage to amass the whole collection of “Our Canadian Girl” books which were beautiful historical fiction hardcovers with ribbon page markers that, each told a story of a young girl and her family immigrating to Canada. Most of the stories spanned from the 1700s to the 1900s and were SO awesome to read because I got to learn about different cultures and could put myself in the place of these girls who were moving to a brand new country and trying to build lives there and it seemed like the ultimate adventure to me.

    Here’s a link to the site for that series if anyone would like the check them out and read character bios :)


  63. okay no, oops. Got the Canadian girl series completely wrong, realized it once I started reading some of the bios. Even though I’m sure that series was good, what I meant to refer to was the “Dear Canada” series. Still great historical fiction and here’s the site for those ones.


    Did anyone else read the series?!

  64. Menolly from the Harperhall Trilogy, especially circa Dragonsong. Yes. Tomboy who plays music even though it’s forbidden to girls, so she runs away and lives in a cave with some tiny dragons. What’s not to love?

    Also, it’s entirely possible that I wrote erotic Laura Ingalls Wilder fanfiction when I was a kid.

    • OH MY GOD YES. I didn’t know anyone else READ those! I loved Menolly and used to fantasize about being her all the time! I read all those books, including some Anne McCaffrey books I probably shouldn’t have been reading at that time… but oh what a fascinating world Pern was. God I want to read those again so badly… I’m so happy someone else was reading those too!

  65. Nobody wanted to be Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game? She was clever and grew up to be an attorney who played the stock market. My other favorite was There’s a Bat in Bunk Five (the sequel to The Cat Ate My Gymsuit) because it wasn’t such a downer as the first book and was set at camp, which it made me want to attend…cough, cough. :) I imagined I was a kid in the bunk and Marcie Lewis was my camp counselor. I also thought I WAS Encyclopedia Brown. And I read a version of Two Years Before the Mast adapted for kids (required by the Girl Scouts) when I was 11 that made me think I was Richard Henry Dana.

    • marry me! i thought i was a GENIUS for being the only person on the planet (as far as i knew) reading The Westing Game! for One, i always imagined Vincent Price as the old man, because i loved vincent price mare than any small child not named “tim burton”. i remember HBO or showtime or some cable channel made it into a TV movie, i thought it would be awesome. i was disappointed, a recognizable faces but none of the intrigue that the book gave me. SUCH a great mystery. i need to reread it, add it to the list of movies i want to make one day

    • Turtle! Oh you all are bringing back memories of books I had forgotten I loved! (And aye for Menolly from a couple comments ago though I’m always so torn about books where Girls Can’t Because. I get that it’s supposed to be inspiring that they do anyway but it always just ticks me off because – for me at least – those books always feel like “even in a work of fiction, it will always be the case that Girls Can’t Because.”)

  66. You forgot MATILDA!!! She was smart, sassy and developed super powers because of her impressive brain! She used her wits to deal with an abusive home Hand school situation and ended up with the mom of her dreams….another powerhouse lady in Ms. Honey :)

  67. In addition to all the awesome girls mentioned up above, I always loved Lucy Pevensie from the Narnia series. I thought she did really well at being her own person, even if the others didn’t take her seriously. That was really important to me at the time.

    • I thought no one was going to mention Lucy Pevensie! To this day I still have dreams about opening my closet to find it leads to another world – or at the very least, a secret room. And we mustn’t forget Jill Pole!

  68. Ramona is one of my all time (queer) heroes. Two life altering reasons. 1 not so gay and 1 rilly gay.

    Ramona taught me that it was not within the realm of possibilities that I was alone on this earth. The you’re weird insults started in pre-school – I took it as a compliment from the stupids. Ramona was the first person I ever knew who shared this unconventional affliction with me. She was my very first compatriot (except for the part where she was very very stupid). Finding Ramona in a Published Book meant it was absolutely quantifiably impossible that I was alone on this planet. B’c Published Author’s must make monies from their audience – which must include other “weird” girls like me.

    Reading this article today, thru my new queer view, I can now see that Ramona totally had a crush on the girl with the blonde curls. AND it is now obvious to me that an older Ramona would have totally tried to get with the girl with the blonde curls. BOIIING!

  69. The fact that you extracted all these books’ cover arts from my memory is so fantastic. This article is like a time machine.

    Also, I definitely played Boxcar children with my friends at recess. Nothing’s more fun than pretending you’re impoverished orphans :)

  70. Amber Brown and Anastasia Krupnik forever! (Also, I shipped Anastasia and Henry Peabody like burning.)

    I didn’t read it as a kid, but Nobody’s Family is Going to Change by Louise Fitzhugh has a pretty amazing protagonist: Emma Sheridan, a fat, black, sarcastic eleven-year-old who wants to be a lawyer. Her seven-year-old brother Willie wants to be a dancer on Broadway, and since it’s the 1970s their separate ambitions make their parents’ heads spin. It may be the only YA novel I’ve ever read with the moral, “You can’t spend your whole life waiting for your parents to change and love you unconditionally – if they don’t love you the way you are, screw them.” Also look out for Emma’s friends Goldin and Saunders, who are all but explicitly stated to be a pair of baby lesbians.

  71. My favorite childhood memories (I was a rather neurotic child, and definitely a loner) were of sitting wedged in the space between my bed and the wall, under my favorite blanket, with a stack of books to read. This is how I spent pretty much all my summer and Christmas school breaks. I can’t even count how many times I read and re-read the Ramona books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Little House On the Prairie series.

  72. Pingback: Autostraddle — 14 Girls We Wanted To Be Back Then: Kickass Heroines From YA & Children’s Books Of Yesteryear | Per ogni generazione...

  73. “To say I looked up to Ramona Quimby would be, in fact, incorrect. I did not look up to Ramona. I looked directly at Ramona, square in the eyeholes, and saw myself.”

    YES. This list speaks to me on a spiritual level. I devoured these books as a kid and lamented how boring and mundane my real life was in comparison. I feel like I learned how to be a person in society from ages 7-12 on these characters.

  74. I’m tired and definitely read #5 as “I especially remember reading ‘The Long Winter at Pizza Hut'” as if the whole thing were the title. And my initial response was “I don’t remember that one.” Y’all, my 18 little 1st/2nd graders have stolen my sanity/are amazing.

    Also, A+ for this article as a thing.

  75. The first Scott O’Dell book I read as a little was Sarah Bishop, and it blew my tiny mind. It’s in the Revolutionary War and she basically watches her dad get tarred and feathered and her house burnt down and decides, fuck this, I live in the woods now. I also felt great affinity with Kit from the Witch of Blackbird Pond and Mary from the Secret Garden.

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