Literary Gingers: Top 5 Redheaded Heroines
I somehow got a hold of English translations of the original Swedish books by Astrid Lindgren about this odd little girl who suddenly appears one day to make life strange and wonderful for the two children she befriends. Pippi Longstocking has fiery red hair and oodles of freckles, a pet monkey, and super strength. Who doesn’t love a redheaded super strong little girl?
I had the red hair and the freckles just like Pippi, and while I didn’t exactly have a monkey or super strength, reading a fellow ginger’s adventures was so exciting. What I loved about Pippi was that she was so self-confident and sure of herself, and the fact that she didn’t fit in with the rest of the town didn’t bother her a bit. When a shopkeeper offered to give her a cream to hide her ugly freckles, Pippi declared that she loved each and every one. What does it matter to Pippi if someone doesn’t like her freckles? She’s got nothing to prove. Pippi Longstocking is the best ‘screw you, I’m awesome’ role model in kidlit!
Anne of Green Gables
Yesssss! I beat everyone to Anne! (insert evil laugh here) You cannot have a best of Literary Redheads list without Anne Shirley! Especially since her haircolor was such a source of consternation for her. (Remember when she attempted to dye it? Also, I didn’t know they had hair dye back then until I read Anne of Green Gables.) Fortunately (or maybe not so fortunately), her hair softened out from a carrot-top red to an auburn, but still the first image that comes to mind when I think of Anne Shirley is the fanciful, hot-tempered freckle-faced carrot top. The Anne books are filled with whimsy and surprisingly progressive politics for the era (for more of that, you should definitely read L.M. Montgomery’s two adult novels The Blue Castle and A Tangled Web) and a lead female character who grew from a hot-headed, fanciful orphan to an opinionated, educated, and conscientious, and still fanciful, adult woman.
I’m going to blame Caddie Woodlawn for my thinking that Wisconsin sounded like this really cool, really historical place when I was applying for colleges and how I ended up going to Lawrence University, a tiny liberal arts school in Appleton, Wisconsin. Although the book plays into many frontier stereotypes, especially in regards to its portrayal of “Indian John,” it heavily influenced me at an age when I was being confronted with my lack of femininity, and what that meant for me as a girl. Although many conflicts and adventures arise, the crux of the story, for me, is how Caddie, initially a “tomboy” who ran wild with her brothers, resists the form of femininity presented by her cousin Annabelle, who comes to visit. She resists not because she’s rejecting femininity, but she’s rejecting adulthood and what it meant to go from child to adult. There’s a scene I never will forget, when Caddie decides that maybe she wants to try some of this “girl stuff” again and gets Annabelle to show her how to do embroidery on a quilt. In solidarity, Caddie’s brothers decide they’re going to learn with her, and they all spend the evening embroidering a quilt and laughing together. The narrative remarks that if Caddie was going to learn how to become a girl, her brothers were going to as well, and it was presented as not being strange, or weird, or effeminate for them to do this–which would be pretty remarkable today, much less in a book published in 1936. As a young teen, I also struggled with wanting to do certain traditionally feminine things but not wanting to be seen as “a girly girl” and not even knowing how to be a “girly girl” if I’d wanted to be one. Reading about Caddie’s struggle helped me deal with my own.
— Kate Tanski
Arguably, the Weasleys hold the title for the most beloved red-haired family, and Ginny is my favorite! Sure, most of the Weasley family members are memorable and endearing in many ways–except I could never come around to Percy–but Ginny is the best. I think that her character development through the seven Harry Potter books is wonderful. She starts off so shy, impressionable, and enamored with Harry because of his celebrity status. But as the books go on, she becomes a formidable witch of her own, recalling the Ginny her family knew before teenage awkwardness set in: playing Quidditch, naming Dumbledore’s Army, and fighting in numerous battles. I love that she is vulnerable and emotional even when Voldemort uses that vulnerability through his diary to get into Hogwarts. Then she uses that experience not to wallow but to gain strength. She is one of the characters in the Harry Potter universe that feels most like a complete, round character to me. She’ll always be a favorite Weasley, witch, and redhead to me.
Some of my favourite childhood tales began with that very line. I loved everything about Ludwig Bemelmans’s stories–from the boarding school, to Paris, to Madeline’s adorable little yellow coat and hat. Though all the girls at her boarding school school dressed in a similar fashion and followed the same daily routine, Madeline was the standout. She was the smallest but also the most brave and adventurous–she falls off a bridge and gets rescued by a dog, she runs away with her friend Pepito to join a group of travelling gypsies, she even made getting her appendix out look like fun. I wanted nothing more as a child than to run off to Paris and go on adventures with this bold little red head.
“And that’s all there is; there isn’t any more.”
— Christa Seeley