And following the Guardian’s suggestion that Hermione is the sine qua non of female heroines in children’s fiction, here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head top ten female heroines who don’t fit into what the Guardian perceives as the fictional female stereotype of being all books and no looks or their alternative stereotype of a clingy impediment.
1. Dido Twite in Joan Aiken’s Willoughby Chase series of books. Dido is clever, engaging, and almost always more resourceful and brave than the men she meets. The books are superb and magical: a weird kind of alternative history in which the Stuart line still have the throne in 19th century Britain, and where wolves come through the Channel Tunnel.
2. Jo March in Little Women. The most famous proto-feminist heroine of all. She comes behind Dido only because I love Dido most of all. Spawned a million imitations – the most famous may be Joey Bettany in the Chalet School books.
3. Cassie in Roll of thunder, hear my cry and the sequels by Mildred D Taylor: brilliant evocations of pre-war Mississippi with an incredibly bright and strong black heroine. I wrote about these last year.
4. Pippi Longstocking in the books by Astrid Lingren.
5. Nancy in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books. Confident and impressive, she changes her name from Ruth to Nancy ‘because Amazons are ruthless’: compare with the bizarre (transgender?) depiction of George in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books.
6. Nicola Marlow in the school and family stories by Antonia Forest.
7. Alanna, the lady knight, in the books by Tamora Pierce. Brilliant feminist fantasy novels about young women trying to get on in a man’s world.
8. Anastasia, the eponymous heroine of Lois Lowry’s series of novels. (Anastasia’s mum is pretty fab too.) Lowry writes terrific, real women and girls – read Find a stranger, say goodbye or Rabble Starkey for others.
9. Rusty in Michelle Magorian’s Back Home, a sea-vacuee who returns from the US after the second world war to find that her mother is expecting the pallid, nervous eight-year-old she sent away. Magorian also writes great women in her wonderfully researched historical novels – other good books are A little love song and A spoonful of jam.
10. Rita Formica in Barbara Wersba’s Fat: a love story and sequels. No one ever seems to have heard of these books, but they’re the best of the quirky young adult literature popular in the 1970s – similar to the strange characters of Paul Zindel. Rita Formica is fat, and Wersba makes the character talk about the difficulties of being a fat woman with enormous humour and intelligence. These have stuck in my mind since I first read them at eleven.
I could mention a million other books: Katherine Paterson’s Jacob have I loved, Ursula Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan with its child-priestess Tenar, or the Little house on the prairie books. I could talk about the classic fairy tales and how many of them have resourceful, brave female heroines. But what I mainly want to do is get annoyed at how the Guardian can write such an ignorant leader.