In the real world, where less than four percent of the population has red hair, being born a redhead means you'll grow up feeling incredibly unique. Judging from a quick scan of my Facebook friends, only 2.3 percent of people I know are redheads, and a third of those people are related to me. But the percentage seems to be significantly higher in the world of children's literature. When I was asked to pick my top redheaded literary characters, so many ideas sprang to mind that it was difficult to narrow down my list. (I briefly considered saving time by listing all nine Weasleys, but that seemed like cheating.)
If you're a natural redhead, meeting another redhead is kind of like meeting someone who grew up in your hometown--there are certain things you inherently understand about each other. When you were children, strangers were probably always reaching out to pet you, as if you were a kitten. You've never been able to hide in a crowd successfully. The tiniest things make you blush from the roots of your hair to the middle of your chest. The sun is your mortal enemy, and you never leave the house without sunscreen. People sometimes fail to learn your name, assuming you'll answer to "Red." (And let's face it, you probably do.) If you're a woman, strange men often approach you on the street and tell you about their "thing for redheads." Everyone assumes you have a nasty temper.
Because of all these similarities, people often fail to look past the top of a ginger's head and realize that redheads are an incredibly diverse bunch. Perhaps my favorite thing about the group of characters listed below is that it shows just how different redheads can be. Underneath those fiery locks and freckles, there are introverts and extroverts, firecrackers and daydreamers, badasses and sweethearts.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present to you my top redheads from literature.
(If this list makes you hungry for more fictional redheads, check out my debut young adult novel, "RED," which hits shelves today! It takes places in Scarletville, Iowa, where your social standing is determined by the redness of your hair. I can count the non-redheaded characters on one hand!)
MOLLY WEASLEY (Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling)
I adore all the Weasleys, but I’ve always had a special soft spot for Molly. Strong-willed, fiercely protective, and overflowing with warmth and kindness, Molly is the mother Harry never had. Even in the first book, in which Molly and Harry meet for only a few brief minutes, she knits him a sweater and makes him fudge for Christmas. But underneath her loving exterior, Molly is a woman of steel. I will never get over that scene from the Battle of Hogwarts in the last book, when she kills Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange after Bellatrix throws a killing curse at Ginny. (“Not my daughter, you bitch!”) *fist-pump*
ANNE SHIRLEY ("Anne of Green Gables," L. M. Montgomery)
It should surprise no one that Anne was one of my personal heroes when I was a redheaded, freckled little girl. I coveted her world of puffed sleeves, ice cream picnics, haunted forests, and tea parties, but the thing I loved most about Anne was her vivid, unabashed imagination. I also admired her bravery and impulsiveness—I never would’ve tried to walk on a roof or act out poetry by floating down a river, and I certainly never would’ve broken a slate over my rival’s head (thought let me tell you, I wanted to.) The only thing I never liked about Anne was that she hated her red hair and freckles. It was hard knowing she wouldn’t approve of mine, either.
ELEANOR DOUGLAS ("Eleanor & Park," Rainbow Rowell) and REAGAN ("Fangirl," Rainbow Rowell)
Nobody writes deeply flawed, infinitely lovable redheads like Rowell. Unlike most of the gingers on this list, self-conscious Eleanor from "Eleanor & Park" is teased mercilessly about her red hair—her classmates call her “raghead” and “Bloody Mary” and stick Maxi pads colored with red marker to her locker. But to Park, Eleanor is perfect, and it makes me all warm and mushy to watch him alter her perception of herself, if only the tiniest bit. Auburn-haired Reagan from Rowell’s second YA book is Eleanor’s opposite—she’s abrasive and experienced and self-assured. Objectively, she’s actually pretty mean, but somehow she’s lovable without being likable. Reagan may show her claws a lot, but she’ll be there for you when you need her.
HENRY PAGE ("The Year of Shadows," Claire Legrand
Olivia, this book’s main character, spends about half the story hating Henry Page, the popular orange-haired boy from her class. But it’s clear to readers right from the start that Henry is a selfless, loyal friend any girl would be lucky to have. No matter how many times Olivia rebuffs him, he’s undeterred from doing thoughtful things for her, and almost imperceptibly, he manages to worm his way into her good graces. When Olivia finds herself haunted by the 50+ ghosts living in the town’s orchestra hall, Henry unflinchingly stands by her side and helps her, finally earning her friendship. He also gets extra adorableness points for being a major classical music nerd.
PAIGE TURNER ("Page by Paige," Laure Lee Gulledge)
Paige is the redhead on this list who’s the most like me. She’s a quiet, introverted Brooklyn girl, and she feels most comfortable observing the world from a safe distance and drawing everything in her secret sketchbook. She refers to herself as “a redheaded island” and likes to hide behind her “Little Mermaid hair.” But Paige has an enormous personality inside of her, and it comes out in her art. When she starts sharing her drawings with the people around her, she grows into a bigger, braver person than she ever thought she could be. I loved watching Paige come out of her shell and seeing her creativity blossom as a result.
FANCY NANCY ("Fancy Nancy" series, Jane O’Connor, illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser)
Robin Preiss Glasser
If Anne Shirley had grown up in the present and had access to glitter and sequins, she would have been Fancy Nancy. Like Anne, Nancy believes that most of the world lacks sparkle and flare, and she’s ready to do her very best to make it snazzier. She’s wonderfully imaginative and whimsical, and her outfits (which include flouncy petticoats, toe shoes, clip-on butterflies, and tiaras, often all at once) are pretty much the best things I’ve ever seen. Nancy even fancies up her language—her doll’s name is Marabelle Lavinia Chandelier, and she teaches her young readers all kinds of exciting new vocabulary words. When it comes to panache, you can’t beat Nancy.
7) GWINNA ("Gwinna," Barbara Helen Berger)
Barbara Helen Berger
This is my favorite book from childhood, but very few people seem to have heard of it. Gwinna is a winged, redheaded 12-year-old who was created by the Mother of the Owls, an ancient sorceress who talks to birds and animals. In order to break the curse that turned her parents to stone and bring summer back to her village, Gwinna must travel to the center of a mountain made of ice and capture the mysterious, rejuvenating music she sometimes hears in the wind. It’s such a strange, haunting story, and I was always desperately jealous of Gwinna’s ability to fly and make friends with owls, foxes, and griffons. (Okay, now that I’m trying to describe it, this book kind of sounds like a fever dream…)
8) ALBUS DUMBLEDORE ("Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," J. K. Rowling)
I hear you all going, “WHAT?!” Until a few weeks ago, I would’ve said the same, but in my recent reread of "Chamber of Secrets," I stumbled upon the following lines: “[A] tall wizard with sweeping auburn hair and a beard called to Riddle from the marble staircase …. He was none other than a fifty-years-younger Dumbledore.” So hear this, all you ginger-haters out there: WE HAVE DUMBLEDORE. YOU WILL NEVER DEFEAT US.
9) Bonus slide: CLAIRE FISHER ("Six Feet Under"), JOAN HOLLOWAY ("Mad Men"), DANIEL “OZ” OSBOURNE and WILLOW ROSENBERG ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
I can’t let this list end without giving a quick shout-out to my favorite fictional redheads who are not from books. Joan Holloway isn’t always the kindest human being, but she has an enviably unshakable exterior, and she knows how to get what she wants. (And that wardrobe!) Oz and Willow are one of my favorite couples in the history of television—I loved that a cool, quiet rock star (who happens to be a werewolf) and an adorable, enthusiastic nerd (with magical powers) could fall so hard for each other. And Claire Fisher, the artist with the prickly exterior and the soft center, never fails to make my heart ache in the best possible way.