This is definitely an eclectic selection of heroines – 24 of them in all. They include Enid Blyton’s much-discussed George Kirrin and rarely-discussed Margery Fenworthy, a range of characters from older Girls’ Own books, from Jo March and Anne Shirley to Pollyanna and Rebecca Randall, and from Bobbie Waterbury to Mary Lennox; fairytale characters such as Gerda from The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid and Kate Crackernuts; Proserpina/Persephone from the Greek myth, girls from fantasy-eque novels – Alice and Dorothy – and, bizarrely considering that the title says “children’s books”, the wonderful Jane Eyre and the horribly irritating Catherine Earnshaw. (Full list below!)
Whilst I’d certainly class, say, Bobbie and Gerda as courageous, I’m not really convinced about some of the others – Mary Lennox isn’t really courageous, and Catherine Earnshaw just needs a good slap! Some of the extracts chosen seem rather odd as well – even if it was her one beauty, was having her hair cut really the bravest thing that Jo March ever did?! A lot of authors are featured twice, which seems rather unimaginative, and I think some of the books were chosen more for being famous than for anything else. And it’s just really a collection of extracts, with no discussion about why they’ve been chosen, and very little background information for readers who aren’t familiar with particular characters. However, the Kindle version was going for 99p, and for 99p it was worth a read.
Full list of “courageous girls”, FYI (if anyone’s reading this!). The order of these felt as if someone’d drawn them out of a hat. Maybe the idea was to provide contrasts between one girl and the next, but surely it would have better to have arranged them by genre, or maybe by publication date? Anyway. Here we are:
- Jo March from Little Women. I’m OK with the choice of character, but not with the choice of extract, Whilst I get that it was her one beauty and hair was a woman’s crowning glory, was Jo having her hair cut really braver than moving to New York on her own?
- Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – again, a poor choice of extract. Instead of a scene with the Wicked Witch, it was just a scene with Dorothy meeting the rest of the gang.
- Gerda from The Snow Queen – rescuing Kay. Go Gerda! Although this story used to frighten me when it was serialised in Twinkle when I was about 6!
- Bobbie Waterbury from The Railway Children. Stopping the train with red flannel petticoats. Absolutely iconic scene!!
- Jane Eyre. Seeing as this is supposed to be about children’s books, they went for the Mr Brocklehurst bit. I talk about this scene a lot, because I think it’s a brilliant example of how bullying religious Victorians could be. Who’s the actual heroine of it – is it Jane or is it Helen Burns? I think it’s probably both of them.
- Kate Crackernuts. I don’t think I’d heard this story before. It’s a Scottish fairytale – and it’s great, because Kate saves her sister, who’s been put under a spell, and sits up with a sick prince, whom she later marries, rather than a prince rescuing a girl which is what usually happens. Quite a contrast to have a fairytale straight after the Jane Eyre/Mr Brocklehurst episode!
- Rebecca (Randall) of Sunnybrook Farm. I’m not big on these preachy-type books, but Rebecca isn’t bad compared to the likes of Elsie Dinsmore and Cousin Helen Carr, and this is a nice scene in which she gets the better of a bully.
- George Kirrin from Five on a Treasure Island. I read this book when I was only about 5 or 6, and the word “ingots” fascinated me. I have no idea why! George can be really annoying, but she can be really brave as well. And, let’s face it, compared to Anne, she definitely seems like a heroine!
- White Chrysanthemum. I didn’t know this one. It’s a Japanese fairytale. Kudos for the inclusion of stories from different cultures, but, as the heroine is rescued from bandits by her brother, I’m not sure why we’re meant to think she’s being courageous!
- Understood Betsy. Another one I didn’t know, but it involves Betsy rescuing a girl from a pit, so, yep, that classes as courageous!
- Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Queen of Hearts/”Off with her head” scene. I would never have picked Alice as an example of a “courageous girl”, but, when you think about it, she really is very brave in this scene. Hmm. That’s one to think about.
- The Princess Who Loved Her Father Like Salt. This is an Indian fairytale. It’s a nice story, and, again, kudos for including stories from different cultures, but no-one really does anything very courageous.
- Sara Crewe from A Little Princess. Sharing buns with a “little ravening London savage”. I do find this book a bit sick-making, but I do also acknowledge that Sara is brave in the way she copes with the situation in which she finds herself, so, OK, fair enough.
- The Phoenix and the Carpet. Er, who is actually being brave here. Is it Anthea? No idea why this is in there!
- The Seven Ravens. Nice little fairytale in which a girl rescues her brothers, but very short.
- Pollyanna. Again, I’m not big on preachy books, but I suppose she was brave to go to the home of scary-ish John Pendleton. But would you really choose Pollyanna as an obvious example of a “courageous girl”?
- Anne (Shirley) of Green Gables. The bit where she saves the baby with croup. I’d say that that was more about being bright and keeping her head than being courageous, but, on the other hand, it was pretty brave for a young girl to give medical assistance like that. And I love Anne!
- The Pomegranate Seeds – the Proserpina/Persephone story. When I was 6, I had a nice shiny hardback book of Greek myths, and this one was my favourite! But I’m not sure that Proserpina’s “brave” as such. Still, I’ve always liked the story.
- Wuthering Heights. WTF? If it’d been Cathy junior, coping with evil Hindley, OK, but what is courageous about Catherine Linton? She needs a good slap, if you ask me. I think this was just included because it’s a very famous book, and that’s a lazy/sloppy way of doing things. Not impressed! How can Catherine Linton be called courageous? She’s a nasty little madam!
- Emily of New Moon – in dispute with a nasty teacher. I don’t mind Emily, but I’m not sure you’d say she was “courageous”.
- The Wise Princess – a fairytale, but one written in modern times. Girl drowns trying to rescue baby. Moral of the story is that she learnt how to be happy. Er, no, me neither!
- Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. The bit where she meets Colin. Like a lot of these girls, Mary has to learn to become a better person, but … I don’t know, is that “courageous”. I suppose it is, in a way, but I’m not sure how meeting your cousin makes you an “inspiring heroine”.
- Margery Fenworthy from The O’Sullivan Twins at St Clare’s, rescuing another girl from a fire. I’d half-forgotten about this – probably because Margery isn’t one of the major characters in the series. It’s actually one of the most dramatic scenes in any of Enid Blyton’s school stories, though. Poor old Margery – no-one ever talks about her. I’m quite glad she’s been included here!
- The Little Mermaid. Not the animated film! The real story, in which she rescues a prince … although, weirdly, it didn’t include the actual ending, just said that she’d rescued him but he’d never know, and left it there. That missed the whole point of the story!
In summary – it was a good idea for a book, but it just wasn’t very well-executed.. There’s been a big swing towards Disney princess stuff for young girls, and, whilst there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it’s important to have strong, courageous girls as role models as well. But I think there are far better examples than some of these, and I’d have liked a bit more discussion and commentary on why these particular girls and these particular examples of their “courage” had been chosen. Great idea. Not such a great book.