Lucy Mangan chooses her favourite fictional childhood heroines

Author and columnist Lucy Mangan recalls her most cherished childhood literary heroines, all of whom played their part in turning her into the unrepentant bookworm she is today

Harriet Johson in White Boots

Dull of feature, plainly dressed and outshone at every turn (at least off the ice) by her effortlessly charming and glamorous friend – I was Harriet and Harriet was me. Ballet Shoes is Noel Streatfeild’s best-known work, but it was White Boots (and later Curtain Up) that captured my heart. Streatfeild’s insistence on the power of the work ethic (it is never enough in her books just to have talent – you must be a grafter too) was always deeply satisfying to me, and Harriet is the nonpareil of gifted grafters. Quiet, dogged, disciplined – I could do that. I had no talent for anything at all, but in all other important respects we were the same, and she kept me going.

Ramona Quimby

Ah, Ramona! I was twice her age when I first encountered Beverly Cleary’s four year old protagonist on Klickitat Street but I was in awe from the off. I loved her stubbornness, her inexhaustible curiosity, the noise she made, the exuberant fun she had and the space she unapologetically took up. I knew I would never be able to emulate it, but reading about her was like running through a strong, fresh breeze. She was also an antidote to the girls at school who were changing all around me and becoming, bafflingly, soppier and sappier by the day. Ramona’s spirit ran counter to it all. She hadn’t got the soppy-sappy memo either, and still preferred to wear trousers, still threw herself at the monkey bars and still sported the resulting scabs on her knees with pride. What’s not to worship?

George from The Famous Five

Look, sometimes you don’t need to overthink these things, okay. Sometimes you just need an unrepentant tomboy with a dog and her own island to revere. And I did. Also, I have always admired the self-confidence of sulkers. Yes, George for the win, every time.

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