10 Life Lessons I Learned From Children’s Book Heroines

by Lily Myers

Remember when you were young and malleable, and kickass female protagonists told you anything was possible? These ten children’s book heroines taught me incredibly valuable life lessons, and I still return to these books as a grown woman to remember their timeless wisdom. From Matilda’s magic powers to Pippi Longstocking’s superhuman strength, these ten fearless females give us the keys to live out our most enchanted and exuberant lives.

1. Reading gives you magic powers.

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Matilda Wormwood is the ultimate heroine. Born into a family that doesn’t love or understand her, she dives instead into the world of books. I’ll never forget how she reads every single book in the kid’s section of her public library— before moving on to the adult section. At the age of four, she reads Dickens, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Bronte, Austen, and more. How insanely badass is that? Matilda isn’t challenged at school or at home, so her incredible brainpower turns into a magic power. This was the book that taught me, at a young age, a lesson I’m incredibly grateful for: reading is magic.

2. Be a rebel.

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Pippi Longstocking, the famous redheaded rebel created by Astrid Lingren, marches to the beat of her own drum. She’s a little girl who lives alone, supports herself, has braids that stick straight out, and is so strong that she can lift a horse over her head. In other words, she doesn’t play by the rules. And that’s what makes her so amazing. She creates her life exactly as she wants it, unfettered by limitations that say what kids can and can’t do. Pippi reminds me that I don’t have to live by any rulebook. Let your freak flag fly; living as a rebel is way more fun.

3. Indulge in life’s pleasures.

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Eloise is the darling of the Plaza Hotel. She’s always ordering room service and charging it, unbeknownst to her mother. At six years old, she knows what so many of us have to constantly remind ourselves: we’re worth the indulgence. We deserve to pamper ourselves without any guilt. Eloise knows she’s fabulous; why on earth should she hide it? She gives us permission to lead our own lives as glamorously as we wish to. Embrace your fabulosity and never apologize. And charge it!

4. Pursue your passion.

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Harriet M. Welsh is a damn good spy. Her mission in life is to “know everything about everybody.” Every day, she follows her spy route and records her observations in her beloved notebook. I still remember how furious I was when her notebook got taken away. It’s her lifeline, her best friend, her passion and hobby; Harriet’s notebook is what gives her life sparkle and spunk. Of course, she should pursue it! And we should pursue whatever it is in our lives that gives us that same sparkle, however strange or unique it may be. Harriet refuses to put down her notebook, and we should refuse to abandon our beloved pursuits as well. Follow what sparks your intense passion, and you’ll live an enchanted life.

5. Be curious about everything.

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Alice, the brave wanderer who strolls throughout Wonderland, teaches us that our lives are ongoing adventures. She reminds me that nothing is mundane; we live in a crazy world full of caterpillars and mushrooms and doorknobs (even if they don’t always talk to us). Things can get scary in Wonderland, but Alice always retains her curiosity, so she’s able to navigate the wild world and learn so much on the way. Her motto is “curiouser and curiouser,” and that’s how I want to live too: driven not by fear of the unknown but by curiosity and openness. What could be behind that next door? What message might this stranger have for me? What new and wild adventure could be in store? Anything is possible!

6. Have a signature move.

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Turtle Wexler, one of the stars of Ellen Raskin’s fantastic mystery The Westing Game, is one tough broad. She’s snarky, brash, and intelligent (at thirteen years old, she develops a talent for playing the stock market). She’s a tomboy, to the dismay of her mother. But Turtle’s not afraid to show her toughness to anyone who crosses her. She’s got a signature look: a single long dark braid that she’s never seen without. She’s also got a signature move: she’ll kick anyone in the shins if they piss her off. Throughout the book, characters are seen limping, and everyone can tell it’s the work of Turtle’s kick. I’m not condoning violence, but there’s something cool about signing your work, no? And there’s something very cool about showing your ferocity in a world that doesn’t expect you to have any.

7. You’re a wild part of nature.

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Jane Langton’s gorgeous fantasy The Fledgling stars five-year-old Georgie, who’s obsessed with flying. Everyone tells her she can’t fly, but she knows that she can. Proving her right, a magical goose starts showing up at her window every night, and they go out flying together over Walden Pond. It’s clear that Georgie can fly precisely because she doesn’t harbor any doubt; she knows she’s just as wild as the goose, just as connected to nature and its wild possibilities. The book is infused with magic, and it connects us to the natural world and to our animal selves.

8. Don’t hide your attitude.

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Ramona Quimby is not a polite and agreeable little girl. In fact, she’s a pest. But that’s what makes her so lovable. In a world that tells girls to smile and be quiet, we can all learn something from Ramona, who is always loudly and spunkily herself. Ramona scowls, makes messes, and refuses to sit still. She’s got a totally unique personality, which is why she feels so alive on the page. Ramona never even considers being limited because she’s a girl; she’s just utterly herself. Sometimes we all need to speak up and be pests! Let your attitude shine through, ladies. Even if it’s not polite. Especially if it’s not polite.

9. Choose your own identity.

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Anne Shirley, heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, is actually named “Ann.” But she’s not down with that. Her caretaker Marilla tells Anne that “Ann” is “a real good plain sensible name.” But Anne doesn’t want “a real good plain sensible name”; she wants to be herself! And her true self wants to be “Anne spelled with an E.” That’s what feels right to her. She’s imaginative and self-possessed, and she wants to pick her own name to match. Anne reminds us that we have permission to be anybody, to call ourselves anything we want. Who says we can’t give ourselves entirely new names and identities? It’s your life, lady. No one owns your identity but you.

10. Your worth comes from inside.

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Sara Crewe, heroine of A Little Princess, goes from super-rich to super-poor in the blink of an eye. Her rich father paid for her luxurious lifestyle at Miss Minchin’s boarding school, but when he dies, she becomes penniless and must work off her large school bills. As you can imagine, it’s a hard transition. I’m not wishing that type of financial situation on anyone. But Sara discovers a wealth of inner strength that she never knew she had. She used to be called a princess because of her riches; now, she discovers, she’s a princess because of her imagination, kindness, generosity and resilience. Her economic downfall reveals that she’s always had the magic inside of her. No matter the material challenges you’re facing, Sara teaches us that our royalty never really leaves us. We are princesses because of our inner qualities, not our incomes.

Images via Amazon

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