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6 Young women in literature every girl should know

WOMEN,LITERATURE
Photo courtesy of Everett Collection
Left to right: Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern-day Emma; Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew in Nancy Drew.
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These classic great reads, starring admirable female characters, are ideal to give our daughters.

Recently, my daughter transformed herself into Laura Ingalls Wilder. She changed her name and everything, not only rechristening herself “Laura,” but also making us dinner from the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook, sewing bonnets to wear, and ordering a hoop skirt from an obscure internet hoop skirt seller.

Her transformation didn’t happen by accident. Her mom and I made the naïve mistake of purchasing her the Little House on the Prairie books. We guessed she would like Laura, but we had no idea she would actually become Laura.

Books have the power to fire the imagination, to draw us intimately into the thoughts of another person and empathize with them. Because of this, it isn’t uncommon to identify strongly with a character from literature, or have a book profoundly affect your life during a formative period. For a child specially, having new people and places revealed through a book is an exhilarating experience. It’s like meeting a best friend, so much so that a child can take on some of the personality of a beloved character.

Research shows that the brain doesn’t distinguish greatly between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (also a published novelist), says that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality—especially fiction.

Books can have a profound effect on us, especially on a young person, so as a parent, I’m eager to put good books with admirable female characters into the hands of my daughters. Here are a handful on our bookshelf:

Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE
Photo courtesy of Everett Collection
Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert playing Laura Ingalls, 1974–83.

We’ll start with Laura because she has the ability to transcend time and space (and she loves her Daddy, a trait I highly encourage in my girls). It doesn’t matter that Laura lived a hundred years ago on the frontier; my modern, city-dwelling girls find her relevant to everything they do.

A while back, I wrote an article about how Laura has turned our home upside-down, and the response to it was surprising. It turns out that Little House On the Prairie is universally beloved and still incredibly popular. As a result of that article, I encountered a whole group of Laura fans, not the least of whom is Michele, whose Little House Mothering podcast is worth a listen. I asked Michele for her reason for the passion and she replied, “When I was a child, I appreciated the strength and courage of Laura’s family, and was jealous of her childhood adventures!”

Laura Ingalls Wilder writes both about childhood and coming of age, so she continues to be a role model even as children grow into adulthood.

“Laura and her family are a beautiful model for my girls of a healthy family life … I hope that they can look to her with admiration,” says Michele. “She’s a very real character, one who we see struggle with typical childhood struggles—learning to be obedient to her parents and remorseful when disobedient, learning how to get along with her sister and be more selfless, scared, and shy in the face of new situations, but facing them anyway—and I hope that seeing her struggle and triumph can help my girls to be strong, too.”

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