Girl Heroes


Book 16 in my EJ12 Girl Hero series is released this month. In a special flashback mission, TIME TO SHINE takes readers back to when eight year-old Emma Jacks was first recruited to the SHINE Agency. SHINE recognises and nurtures its young agents’ potential, giving them both the skills and spirit to do amazing things – it gives them their time to shine.

Untitled1Which is I always wanted the series to do as well, in its own little way. I wanted it to show young girls, like my daughter, Emma, who was nine when I began the series, that they could do pretty much anything – and particularly things they might have thought only the boys could do. They could jump out of planes, indeed, fly the planes, drive the train, crack the codes, save the world, follow their hearts and their dreams.

And it’s so happy-making when they email saying that the series has inspired them, help them overcome their fear of the dark, of singing at a school concert or, best of all, standing up to a mean girl, probably one of the most heroic thing you can do when you are nine years old.

Which has got me thinking that we need to make more of the many excellent ‘girl hero’ female role models for our girls so I’m going to start a regular post on the blog, telling the girls about the girl heroes of history and today – and to encourage them to find more.

Who should feature? Amelia Earhart, Malala Yousafzai, Mother Teresa, Evonne Cawley, Helen Keller, Marie Curie are some that spring to mind – who else?



Can you be a princess and a good feminist? Does the big dress and tiara get in the way of getting things real, non-self-preening things done? I think so. Lots of little girls love dressing up as a princess or fairy and you wouldn’t them to stop – but perhaps just gently remind that princesses do stuff too. Indeed one of my favourite pictures of my daughter when she was around 3 years old was of her dressed up as a fairy princess with full tiara and tutu – plus gumboots as she rode purposefully in her toy car.

Modern princesses do stuff and know their own minds – and certainly don’t need rescuing by a prince. In fact, they just might be the ones doing the rescuing. I think that’s the message. And here are three of my favourite picture books that help re-style our and our daughters’ princess perceptions.

  • The Paper Bag Princess – Robert N Munsch and Michael Martchenko
    First published in 1981 and hard to find here but this is a classic re-imagining of how a princess should behave – and how a prince definitely shouldn’t!
  • The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas – Scholastic Australia
    The clever words of Tony Wilson and quirky illustrations of Sue de Gennaro have created a wonderful re-telling of the fairytale, The Princess and the Pea. What’s is a real princess? This story will show you.
  • Princess Smartypants -Babette Cole -Puffin
    A classic picture book from the wonderful Babette Cole. Princess Smartypants is a modern girl shunning potential princely suitors and following her heart. She doesn’t want to get married: ‘She enjoyed being a Ms’ but lots of chaps wanted her to be their Mrs. A fun, full-throttle feminist (and I mean that only ever in a good way) princess story. I don’t think she’s a smartypants though, just a princess who knows her mind.

The paper bag princess

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas

Princess Smartypants


Books For Ou rGirl HeroesThere’s a lot of discussion about gender stereotypes in kids’ books at the moment and I think it’s true to say that younger fiction, particularly series fiction, does tend to divide along pink and blue lines. Here, on the whole, boys rush around battling baddies and beasts and generally saving the world while the girls gently stroke puppies and tame unicorns and naughty goblins or sing their way to adolescent celebrity. The boys are preventing the imminent destruction of the world while the girls are dealing with heady issues of lost teeth and mushrooms.

Many publishers, myself included, have contributed to this imbalance, stressing the importance of getting kids reading, to get them loving reading and everything it offers. We need to make books that kids will want to pick up rather than ones they grudgingly drag from their school bag because they have to. We need to have covers that will appeal to them rather than their middle-aged parents but perhaps we need some balance.

As with life, so with reading and one should have a little of everything – a few puppies, the odd prince or princess, a lunchtime friend crisis – and maybe a little adventure and world-saving. And I’m talking about both boys and girls.

There should be books that reflect all their moods and dreams and indeed help form the shape and limits – or lack of limits – of those dreams. Of course I want my daughter to be caring, nurturing and I certainly wouldn’t want her to leave a unicorn stranded but I also want her to be able to kick some butt if she needs to. I don’t want my daughter to want to be brand-touting reality TV celebrity, I don’t even want to her know that it is an option.

I like princesses and unicorns -–they help keep childhood close for a little longer – and Disney princesses are actually all strong women-in-the-making but they have limits. Perhaps tarred by their own tiaras, they are locked in the princess paradigm where rebellion can only go so far. They need alternative role models.

The first step to being able to do anything is to believe you can and to see other people doing it. If you never read of a girl saving the world but constantly read of James, Zac and Alex doing it, you could be excused for thinking that global rescue was one for the boys. But yet it seems that there is something scary about girls taking control and kicking butt.  Too often their assertiveness is portrayed over as bossy or cross and just a little difficult.  Two books I love also have a hint of this: Princess Smartypants might just be Princess Speaks her own Mind; and Olivia the Pig in her excellent opinionated fashion,  might be seen as less as difficult and more strong if she was Oliver.

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write EJ12 Girl Hero. I wanted an adventure series for girls about girls saving the world and I love the way girls are responding to it. As a young fan ED12 wrote, ‘EJ12 puts the girl in hero. I love her!

And now I want to start a sharing list and a conversation about the great books that are out there showing girls in all their multi-faceted glory. Some from me, some from my daughter, Emma, 13, and I hope, some from others who will add their picks. So let’s make a start and let’s start with the naughty ones because you shouldn’t be good all the time. I don’t like my girls to be perfect – or even polite all the time. Here are some of my favourite misbehavers

  • Pippi Longstocking – The original Swedish book image is for my Swedish husband and it was inspired to put this original can-do girl in the hands of Lauren Child to re-imagine Pippi for a new generation.
  • The Naughtiest Girl in the School – Elizabeth Allen was a personal favourite – she was very naughty and such a ‘hot-head’ but with a heart of gold – and, golly, she did shake the school up. It was almost sad when she became a monitor…
  • Lola and Charlie – I love Lola! I love her defiant determination not to sleep, not to eat vegetables, not to do anything she doesn’t want to. And I love her brother’s cunning in persuading his suspicious sister to do otherwise.

Pippi LongstockingPippi LongstockingPippi Longstocking

The Naughtiest Girl In The SchoolThe Naughtiest Girl In The SchoolThe Naughtiest Girl In The School

Charlie and LolaCharlie and LolaCharlie and Lola