Many moons ago, before we were determined to have it all, including careers, families and gaps between our thighs. Before we mined Pinterest for the perfect nuptials, nurseries and organic moisturizers to make in mason jars. Before we were misrepresented by housewives who are anything but real. Before we were told to "Lean In."
Before we were modern women of the modern world, we were incredibly lucky to have a handful of heroines in print whose stories have stuck with us from adolescence to adulthood.
All of these fictional characters were very real to me as a young girl. When they hurt, I hurt. When they wanted more, I wanted more. When Pippi Longstocking lifted a horse with one hand, I wanted to lift a horse with one hand.
As my first novel, The Meaning of Maggie (Chronicle, $16.99), makes its way into the world, I remember the foremothers of my Maggie. The heroines who shaped her character and inspired her ambition from page to rewritten page.
I carry their stories with me because they remind me of whom I wanted to be before million hour work weeks took over. Before the most important thing became portraying a life that looks beautiful in every Instagram filter. Before I knew the complexities of being a modern woman in a modern world.
Here's a list of my very favorite childhood leading ladies. They offer lessons in perspective. They encourage curiosity and scrappiness in equal measure. And they remind us that even the biggest challenges can be overcome with gumption. And lemon meringue pie.
Amelia Bedelia was my first introduction to a woman who gave it her all. And she failed epically and beautifully and repeatedly. Domestically challenged from a young age, I wholeheartedly adored her confusion with chores and all of the charm that came along with it. Anyone who dresses a chicken in tailored trousers is a hero to me and many.
Pippi Longstocking made it okay to be weird. THANK GOD. I was a child filled to the brim with all kinds of weird, from a Cabbage Patch Kid I named HimHimSelf to extensive conversations with a tree in my front yard. I needed a weirdo hero. And Pippi filled those oddball-never-laced-boots perfectly.
Ramona Quimby totally got me. As much as any fictional person could. As the youngest of three girls, I too was a pest. It's hard not to be when you're aware from birth that there are at least two people on earth who are totally annoyed by your very existence. As Ramona matured and made amends without sacrificing her curiosity, I tried to do the same.
Harriet the Spy was an aspiring writer. Just like me! And she loved tomato sandwiches. Just like me! And she lived in New York City's Upper East Side. Just like me in my imagination! But what we had most in common was learning the hard lesson that words are powerful. And no matter how innocently they're written, they can be hurtful. Harriet took a huge fall and a big step up for all of us.
Scout Finch, you beautiful, beautiful soul. I've read To Kill a Mockingbird over and over and over again. I revisit it when I need a push to pull up my bootstraps. When I need a reminder of how integrity is the most precious thing to have and the easiest thing to lose. When I need to find that fight deep down in my guts, I return to Scout.
Charlotte is the only spider I've come to respect and love. She was a pure and motherly soul who went to the edge of her earth for a pig she barely knew. Charlotte's Web told a simple story of kindness and how deeply it matters. And it has always stuck with me that while it's easiest to identify with the challenges of Wilbur, it's important to take every opportunity to be kind like Charlotte.
Jo March was the first Gloria. The first Hillary. The first willful and wonderful woman to challenge gender stereotypes. And she did it all in a hoop skirt. The most poignant and understated part of her journey was that she made choices in a time when women had few. She created opportunity for herself. And Louisa May Alcott wasn't afraid to ruffle a few petticoats to tell her brave and brazen story.