The world of writing can seem to be dominated by male authors and male lead characters. The trope of a woman (particularly a princess) needing to be saved by a big strong man is so overdone it has reached the point of mockery. I feel confident in saying that we women love reading about our own sex being the lead and/or the one doing the saving. I want to share with you a list of leading ladies that have stood out in my life, which were also written by women.
First on my list of wonderful women is Beverly Cleary. She is an iconic children’s writer (and still rocking at age soon to be 103!) I remember reading her books, especially the Ramona series, very early in elementary school though I can’t pin down which grade. Ramona stuck out to me because of her love of reading and as noted in Ramona Quimby, Age 8, her having “reached the age of demanding accuracy from everyone, even herself.” Cleary is fantastic at writing the minutia of everyday life for children and it was easy to become invested in her characters. She didn’t shy away from their flaws and showed that you can have mean thoughts or speak mean words but that you can come back from it and still be a good person.
Carolyn Keene and her Nancy Drew series are the dear to my heart. Reading these books in the second grade is when I firmly decided that I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. Every trip to the library felt like a mystery to me; what book am I going to find next? Can I find what I’m looking for in the card catalog? Will I get lost in a new world inside the newest book? The one I’ve reread most often is The Mystery at the Lilac Inn. Nancy Drew is an ever clever young lady who always notices the small detail around her. She’s also kind to everyone she meets and seems tireless when trying to solve a mystery, particularly when there are innocents involved. Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym used by a collection of authors from 1930-1985. Two authors wrote a majority of this series, Mildred Wirt Benson wrote 23 while Harriet Adams wrote 25.
Tamora Pierce is last but certainly not least in this group. I discovered her in my early 20’s and her presentation of female characters really have helped me grow strength in my own character. She has numerous series and there are strong women every direction you turn. Alanna: the First Adventure begins the tale of Alanna, the Lioness. She goes from hiding her gender so she can train to become a knight to becoming the King’s Champion! This four-book series is intriguing, introducing you to court politics and how secrets like that always come out but it’s not always a bad thing.
I can’t mention Pierce without bringing up the Wild Magic series. It follows Diane who finds out that what she thought was just her being good with animals is really some powerful and rare magic. She learns how to control it with a good teacher and does wonderful things throughout the Mortal and Immortal Realms.
My other favorite series of hers is the Protector of the Small series. It starts with First Test and Keladry, known as Kel, is the first female to want to train as a knight like the Lioness. She doesn’t have to hide who she is but she does have to go through a probationary year and learn how to deal with armfuls of sexism. Her growth from page to squire to Lady Knight is fantastic and quite encouraging.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are tons more out there! Your local librarian would be happy to point you in the direction of more or even their favorites. Happy Reading!