12 Girls from Fiction Who Are
Their Own Heroes
by Kari Ness Riedel
The days where a young maiden waits longingly in the top of the tower for someone to come rescue her are long gone. Our girls — and boys — love to read books that reflect the strong and independent females they see in the real world, stories with young heroines who save themselves, and others, from the dangers of daily life or magical adventures with a combination of grit, intelligence, wit, and perseverance.
We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite female protagonists from children’s literature — a mix of popular favorites, classic heroines, and a few that you might not know about but should definitely explore with your young readers.
Part of the triumphant trio of wizards from the beloved J.K. Rowling series, Hermione is whip smart, hardworking, but willing to bend the rules to help her friends. She saves Harry and Ron countless times with her ingenuity and book knowledge.
Katniss is the loved tribute from District 12 and the leader of a rebellion to overthrow a corrupt dystopian government. She is equal parts fierce warrior, just stateswoman, and loyal friend. Initially perceived as an underdog herself, she is always ready to rescue those in need.
The leader and founder of the BSC, Kristy is confident, assertive, and full of big ideas. When her “big mouth” gets her into trouble, her smarts — and her group of friends — always help her find a solution.
The true adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her siblings, as they settle along the frontier lands of Kansas in the late 1800s, offer today’s kids an interesting perspective on the responsibility and freedoms that young people had at that time. Laura is clever, hardworking, and always thinks on her feet to get out of situations ranging from burning houses to mean kids.
Young readers have loved Ramona from Beverly Cleary’s bestselling series for over 50 years. She is spunky, unpredictable, and full of fun. Not the model of an obedient child, but an important reminder of the good that can come when you throw yourself fully into any situation and draw outside the lines.
Another classic plucky heroine loved by young readers, Pippi is fearless, innovative, and amazingly strong. Her bravery and loyalty save the day over and over again for her and her animal buddies as they travel the seas with her sailor father.
Under the Radar Picks
Lanesha is the epitome of hope, strength, and perseverance as she fights for her own life and the lives of her beloved Mama Ya-Ya and a new friend when Hurricane Katrina smashes into her home in the Ninth Ward. An incredible historical fiction account of current events with an inspirational heroine.
Evie is a true modern day princess who does not need a prince — or anyone — to save her. Her bravery, compassion, and cleverness help her battle witches, dragons, or any other foe that crosses her path. She is a princess that young readers will aspire to be.
Daring, bold, and courageous are perfect descriptors for Nell, an 11-year-old orphan who comes to Chicago to work for her aunt who happens to be America’s first female detective. Based on a true story, this young protagonist is a fast learner with no fear who plays an instrumental role in solving real crimes.
Mo is a plucky, determined, and hilarious young detective on a mission to find her mother and solve a crime that has overtaken her small North Carolina town. Mo’s charm and charisma mixed with her street smarts make her a force to be reckoned with.
Stargirl is the ultimate individual. Bright, vivacious, and kind, she doesn’t care at all what others think about her unique clothing or her outbursts of singing “Happy Birthday” during lunch. She has a significant impact on the other kids in her new school. This story and her character spark readers to think about what it means to be you. Stargirl definitely does not need — or want —anyone else to rescue her.
May has been compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder — courageous, unselfish, and a true survivor. Set in the late 1800s, May is forced to leave her parents at a young age to work in another home. Her dedication to her family is an inspiring reminder that heroines come in all forms and don’t have to slay dragons to save the day.
What other favorite heroines would you recommend to young readers?