Tuesday, February 19, 2013


1 b : a woman admired and emulated for her achievements and qualities
2 a : the principal female character in a literary or dramatic work

My virtual book club recently read The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  While the book was one that struck me as a great concept that struggled to execute well, it got me thinking about what a heroine is and what books I would choose to have my daughters read to help them see ways they can live heroically.

The structure of The Heroine's Bookshelf was that Blakemore selected a heroine and a character trait that each heroine embodied.  For example, Anne of Green Gables illustrated happiness and Scarlett O'Hara showed us fight.  The traits Blakemore associates with heroines are self, faith, happiness, dignity, family ties, indulgence, fight, compassion, simplicity, steadfastness, ambition and magic.  Late in the book it became clear to me that Blakemore and I envision heroines differently.  When I think about a heroine's bookshelf, my mind goes to books that I want my daughters to read in order to see richly imagined characters who meet life's challenges with grace, strength and resilience, amongst other things.

So here are the heroines on my bookshelf (links will take you to my Goodreads review of the book):

Anne from Anne of Green Gables:
There is just so very much to love about Anne, but I chose her first because she feels deeply and isn't afraid to show it.  As she matures, Anne learns to listen to her head, but not at the expense of her heart.  Yet it is the bold Anne in the very first book of the series whom I fell in love with.  She is imaginative, resilient, earnest and loyal - all traits that I would love for my daughters to witness both in life and in books.  If you don't already know Anne, I highly recommend you become acquainted with her.

Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird:
Scout is not your typical girl and she wants you to know it.  Yet she embodies a trait I want my daughters to possess all of their days: hope.  I clearly remember reading this book in the ninth grade.  As the story of the trial unfolded in the book, I recall thinking, "Surely they can't convict him.  Look at all of the evidence."  Like Scout, I had hope that the characters would do what is right, not what is culturally acceptable.  And I was heartbroken when they didn't.  I want my daughters to read books like this one - books that show even when good people take a stand, things don't always go the way we want.  Books that are populated with characters who choose hope anyway.

Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia was my favorite book in fourth grade.  Fourth grade was many and many a year ago, but I remember how much this book captured my imagination and broke my heart.  Leslie is the heroine in this book and her imagination is unparalleled.  She's the kind of character I want my children to know because I hope they will cling to their imaginings long past the age when others set aside such things in favor of "real life."  Leslie knows (and teaches Jesse) that life is in the imagined.

Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars
It may be ironic that I recommend a book about a teenager with cancer to help you appreciate living fully.  Yet Hazel will help you see the beauty of the everyday and the way it inevitably melds with the painful.  Not long ago I was thinking about the fact that I can't honestly pray for my daughters to be hurt in order to grow.  I'm not sure any parent can.  But I do pray that any pain they experience will be put to good use.  I can't know how long or short my life or their lives will be, but a heroine like Hazel reminds us all to soak up every minute we have.

Liesel from The Book Thief
How could Liesel not be on my heroine's bookshelf?  She is brave, resilient, hopeful in the face of tragedy, compassionate, a survivor.  And words save her.  Liesel is a heroine who shows us heroism takes place in the small, everyday acts - in painting clouds in a basement, in a crossword puzzle, in a kind word, in a stolen book.  Liesel reminds us that words matter, that we can make a difference and that life is not life without both the beauty and the pain.

What heroines are on your bookshelf - literal or imagined?  Who do you spend your literary time with?  Who do you want to make sure the young readers in your life get to know?


Abby said...

I love this follow up, Shannon. You've articulated your choices so clearly and convincingly - maybe Blakemore should have asked for our feedback ;). I've already put The Fault in Our Stars on my "to read" list.

WordGirl said...

Thanks, Abby! I can't wait to hear what you think of The Fault in Our Stars.

artstuckinmyeye said...

Hi Shannon --
Anne of Green Gables came to mind first for me, too. Scout - yes, for sure. I'm also thinking of Little Women, though that seems to be somewhat out of fashion. Just recently heard of The Fault in Our Stars - that does seem to be the way it goes -- but not sure I can take that book right now. Thanks for a thought-provoking post and a reminder of some old favs!