I don’t know about y’all, but every now and then on a cold, rainy day, there is nothing better than a cup of hot tea and a couch upon which to curl up and read something you’ve read a thousand times already. Books can function almost like comfort food in that manner – every time you experience them, they are still delicious and satisfying. These are some of my favorites from childhood that I highly recommend as nostalgic reading material, or an excellent way to keep a preteen occupied on a rainy afternoon. With strong female leads, of course!
1) A Little Princess
This 1905 classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett features Sara Crewe, an orphan (aren’t they always, in children’s books?) who has been left at a British boarding school by her adoring father, who provides for her every need and want. Some of the other girls at the school are jealous of Sara’s wealth, but she is always generous and gracious to them. One day, it is revealed that her father has died, and that he has lost their fortune on a failed business venture. Sara becomes an indentured servant at the school where she once reigned, but she continues to remember what her father told her – that all girls are princesses, no matter what they look like or what they have, and they should behave as such.
There is an adventurous element to this childhood classic, facilitated by Sara’s character and the bond she forms with everyone around her against the evil boarding school headmistress, Miss Minchin. Sara loves to make up stories and tell them to a crowd of fascinated listeners, and she stays strong through her imagination and her compassion for others. An excellent lesson to be learned in this story, but it’s also a journey of fun, fantasy and transformation.
2) Pippi Longstocking
Nine-year-old Pippi Longstocking lives every little girl’s dream; not only does she inexplicably possess superhuman strength, but she lives all alone in her house by herself, with no parents to tell her what to do or how to do it. According to Pippi herself, she has a father who is away at sea, and will eventually come to whisk her away. Pippi wants to be a scurvy pirate when she grows up (who doesn’t?) and has a pet monkey and a pet horse. When twins Annika and Tommy move in next door, Pippi turns their mundane lives into a whirlwind of danger and hilarity, from which they always come out on top.
The Pippi books, originally in Swedish, are interesting in that there is no singular antagonist, and the chapters function almost independently of each other as little short stories. The nonconfrontational, feel-good nature of the stories make it an excellent read for a younger child, or just a day when you need a pick-me-up. Pippi will bring you back to the days when you thought if you tried hard enough, you wouldn’t have to grow up.
3) The Moorchild
This book seems to be off the beaten path a little bit, but is nevertheless an absolute staple in a well-rounded child’s literature arsenal. The main character, Moql, is inspired by ancient European folklore about fairies. She and her kind, usually referred to as The Folk, live a carefree existence of playing trick on humans and fooling around, but she has always felt out of place. It is discovered that Moql is half-human, and she is forced to be reborn into the human world against her will, to a human couple who have a hell of a time raising her. She fits into the human world no better than she ever fit into the Folk world, and comes to realize that while people will always be cruel to those who are unique, love can transcend all differences.
I was taken with Moql ever since the very first time I read this book. She is compelling, strong, fierce, independent, and everything I aspire to be as a woman. She stands up for herself and her family, and she is a remarkable judge of character. Plus, she plays the bagpipes on the roof every morning. My hero.