Let’s hear it for the girls…

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A lucky Reading Force family recently won a copy of Holly Webb’s exciting new book The Runaways. Holly is the author of 128 books, and we’re thrilled Holly has written our guest blog on her favourite books with standout girl characters…

I’ve always loved books with a historical setting, so starting to write books set in the past has been so exciting for me over the last few years. My new book, The Runaways, has a determined girl at its centre, a child who’s determined to save the animals she loves.

Here are some of the historical novels whose amazing girl characters have influenced my writing!

I read Back Home by Michelle Magorian over and over again as a child. I read her amazing classic Goodnight Mister Tom first, but I preferred Back Home – the main character, Rusty, is wonderful, and I adored her daring and determination. Back Home also has possibly the most awful boarding school ever… There are lots of children’s books about evacuees, but Back Home is set just after World War Two, when evacuees were returning home. This is even more dramatic for Rusty than for most children, as she’s spent the war safely in America, and she’s now coming back to England, so excited to see her parents and little brother. Rusty doesn’t realise how much she’s changed. Her parents sent away a quiet seven year old – and they’re getting back a sparkling teenager, who can’t stay silent when she sees the divisions and unfairness in her family life.

My youngest son, Will, introduced me to Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather books. Hetty is a wonderful character, desperate to find her own life away from the regimented and miserable Foundling Hospital. Hetty’s ability to dream of a different future – and then fight to find it – makes the first book fascinating. And once readers are hooked, Jacqueline Wilson has lots more books set in Hetty’s Victorian world too.

Eva Ibbotson is one of my favourite writers – she wrote wonderful, funny, romantic novels for adults as well as gripping children’s books – and Journey to the River Sea is probably her best known book. It’s set in 1910, and the heroine, Maia, is making an incredible journey up the Amazon to meet her future guardians in Manaus, Brazil. Maia is grieving for her parents, but she’s enthralled by the beauty and excitement of the Amazon. Eva Ibbotson writes amazingly about the natural world – the sights, sounds and smells of the Amazon are incredibly seductive. Brave Maia is balanced by her truly horrible twin cousins – characters you love to hate!

Lastly, I loved Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls, the story of three very different girls who take part in the fight for women’s votes. Evelyn is a privileged middle-class teenager, who realises that she’ll never be allowed to go to university like her older brother – instead, she’s supposed to settle for marriage and children. May’s mother is a committed Suffragist, and May has grown up as part of the cause. When May meets Nell, a girl whose family are far less fortunate than her own, she recruits her new friend to the cause. May has always been sworn to peaceful protest – but Nell is keen to fight for women’s rights. The three girls’ stories are woven together so cleverly, and each of them is utterly believable. This is a gripping book for older readers.


Thanks Holly! We’d love to hear from our Reading Force families about their favourite characters – you can send us a message telling us why they stood out for you – by email to info@readingforce.org.uk or WhatsApp on 07566 200 299