Alanna (from Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet) and Cimorene (from Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles): These books were two of my earliest big book loves. Girls who reject society’s plans for them and run their lives the way they want to, this speaks to me in so many ways. Alanna disguises herself as a boy and ends up creating a whole new route for women in her world. Cimorene takes control of her destiny in a world where, as in fairy tales, princesses like her are expected to only be passive characters in their own lives. The moral from both of these characters, it’s ok not to fit in with the societal norms around you, and you can make a happy place for yourself outside expectations.
Kestrel (from The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski): I get tired of girls being tough or empowering by simply behaving like men, e.g. killing people, physical violence. To me, it takes away from the power of traditionally feminine characteristics. Kestrel brings us a heroine who reminds us that there is power in being a smart girl, in loving art, in not gravitating toward physical violence. Girls can be tough in a lot of different ways, not just by emulating boys, and tough girls can be good at lots of things. Also: ignore this cover. I know lots of people love it, but a girl in a flooffy dress isn’t my draw. And I don’t think that it represents my mental image of Kestrel.
Lessa (from Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey): I have been very privileged in my life in many different ways, and haven’t had very many barriers or issues that many other people have to overcome or accept in themselves. However, one thing that I struggled to accept was that I am quite short. I am short, which is cool with me now (hello, buying children’s shoes!), but when I was 12, I was not happy about it. Until Lessa helped me accept it.
Lessa is the BAMF of this story (actually, of her entire planet). her family has been murdered, her home taken over, and she is hiding in plain sight, doing everything to extract her revenge on Fax. Until the dragonriders come looking for someone to be the candidate to match with the queen egg back at the Dragon HQ. Lessa’s cover is blown, but she gets some revenge on Fax and a dragon out of it in the end, and then she proceeds to shake up the dragonriders by being a BAMF. All, while being very, very petite.
If you think girls who are small can’t be tough, scary, and powerful, then meet Lessa. And, this is part of why I think that representation is so important, especially in kids books. Seeing someone who had an attribute I was struggle to accept in myself (albeit one that receives very minor prejudice) helped me to accept myself, and really underscores why all children and adults need to see themselves in stories.