What I Learned Growing Up With Female Characters 

Alice in Wonderland , original illustration (1865) by John Tenniel.

Alice in Wonderland, original illustration (1865) by John Tenniel.

As all people who have been bookworms since childhood know, children are always on the lookout for characters that are just like them or characters that they can aspire to. I was no different of course. Growing up, I always looked for friends in the pages of my books and I am fortunate enough to have been surrounded by plenty of them from a very young age. These girls led me into their world and allowed me to stay immersed in their lives for as long as I pleased to stay there. Whether these characters are widely heralded as role models for girls or  even criticized for their flaws, I was able to learn major lessons from each of them, finding not only diversion but inspiration which has influenced me long past childhood. 


Anne Shirley

Embrace adulthood, but never let go of your imagination! 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery was the first novel I ever read, and I instantly felt an affinity with Anne Shirley, mostly due to her dislike of mathematics and her love for creating stories. Anne is loved by many as her storyline is one of an outsider who eventually wins the hearts of everyone who had doubts about her. After being adopted into a family that had originally wanted a boy, Anne quickly becomes an integral part of their lives by merely being her earnest and vivacious self. Anne motivated me to care about school from a very young age, since she herself grew up to be extremely studious and hard-working. As she grew up, she had to let go of her recklessness and carelessness, but I always thought it was important that Anne never let go of her imaginative spirit and consistent pursuit to see beauty in everything.


Nancy Drew

Be tenacious in your pursuit of the truth.

Nancy Drew and her many adventures were my first introduction to the mystery genre and immediately piqued my interest. Each novel features its own stand-alone story and most of them are set in the fictional town of River Heights, where Nancy lives with her father and housekeeper. Nancy Drew books have been ghostwritten since the 30’s to the present day, in various formats. Nancy is a character who is both original and versatile enough to truly stand the test of time. My 9-year-old self was deeply impressed by Nancy’s fervent devotion to uncovering the truth and her fearlessness in the face of danger. Maybe most impressive of all, Nancy always managed to always remain poised and refined no matter what mess she had gotten tangled in. It was all the more striking  because in most of the stories, Nancy is only in high school and manages to complete work that the authority figures around her did not think her capable of. (As a bonus, my love for vintage fashion and all things relating to mystery and intrigue come from her!) 


Alice

Stay curious, but also stay wary. 

Curiouser and curiouser! Alice from Alice in Wonderland was another female character that I delighted in. While she’s sitting outside with her older sister, Alice spots a white rabbit who she follows until she tumbles down a hole all the way into a place called Wonderland. Here, Alice encounters several strange and nonsensical talking animals and creatures who bewilder her.  Alice is probably the sassiest and wittiest conversationalist in children’s literature, which is precisely why I liked her from day one. Whenever Alice comes across something that does not sit well with her, she calls it out without hesitation – something that is seen as her flaw but is undeniably a strength. Her adventurous spirit combined with her healthy dose of skepticism was always what made her extremely worthy of admiration for me. It’s also worth pointing out that Alice was also terribly young when she tumbled down the rabbit hole, which makes her confusion and indignance understandable! Despite all her troubles, Alice marches her way through Wonderland with head held high. 


Amy March

Revel in what brings you joy and create the life you want for yourself. 

My last literary role model may be seen as a bit of an outlier: Amy March from Little Women. Little Women is a Civil War era novel that features four close sisters with very distinct personalities and ambitions for the future. As they grow into adulthood, they each take a different course in life, but their devotion to each other and their family remains steadfast. Since I’m a writer, most people assume that Jo is my favorite. While I admired Jo greatly, I always had the strongest affinity with the youngest March sister. Even though Amy did some unforgivable things as a child (who burns their sister’s manuscript?!), I always thought that her honesty and unabashed nature made her extremely charismatic. Amy March gets the most hate and criticism, but she is headstrong and creative, not only in her art but also in her ways of getting things done. Amy knows what she wants from day one, and she sets out to do and get exactly that. I loved witnessing how Amy matured with time and eventually became the elegant and refined lady she always knew she would be. 


While all of these characters were created by very different authors and inhabit even more different worlds, they all have managed to withstand the passage of time, growing along with admirers and continuously being adapted for the screen without necessarily needing to be updated. What unites all of these girls according to me is their vivacity, inquisitiveness, and their ability to be their authentic selves from a very young age. Growing up with their stories has inspired me and their lessons have taught me the importance of staying true to myself, which is the most important thing a young girl could learn! 

Thoughtfully created and complex characters are a huge service to young readers and the lessons they teach carry through into adulthood. Who are the characters that most impacted you when you were a child? 


Grusha Singh is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, where she studies English and media. She is an editor for a literary journal on campus and is also the captain of the student blogger team. She spends her days reading, writing, drinking copious amounts of tea, and watching period dramas.