Courage & Compassion: How Reading Teaches Girls to Be Brave

By Kali Wallace

By the time I was twelve years old, I had learned a number of valuable lessons from books. I had learned how to make dessert for a dragon dinner party. I had learned how to argue with fairies. How to find a magical world on a concrete patio or an abandoned cow field. How to pronounce Welsh. How to know which rules are worth breaking, and how to break them. How to run away from home. How to go back. How to kill the Witch-King of Angmar. How to cross the universe and face down powerful evil. How to know if your pet rabbit is a vampire.

(That last one hasn’t yet turned out to be terribly important in my adult life, but you never know.)

I was a voracious reader as a child. Young readers often feel a deep, special connection with the stories they read. It’s a connection that’s easy to lose as we grow up — grow older, more cynical, more weary, more doubtful — which makes it all the more important to cultivate and protect in children. When I was a child, the books I loved most weren’t the ones about girls like me muddling through our boring, mundane lives. They were fantasy books about girls getting into all sorts of trouble.

Good trouble, that is. The kind of trouble that girls need to get into. The kind of trouble that gives a girl power in an unfair world that wants her to be meek and passive.

When I read as a child, I became Princess Cimorene stepping away from her staid and predictable life to make her own fate. I became Eowyn wielding her sword in a battle only a woman could win. I became Kate Sutton out-stubborning the fairy queen in an underground lair. I became Meg Murray facing down IT armed only with her wits and her love.

I didn’t know I was learning about courage and compassion when I read those books. I was having adventures in magical lands, and those adventures were often easier for me to face, the triumphs of their characters easier to believe, than the mundane troubles of my own life.

But the lessons were there all along. Every example of a girl facing evil or indifference and prevailing was another weapon added to an arsenal I find myself needing more and more every day. Cimorene taught me that I didn’t need to follow the path set out for me. Eowyn taught me that sometimes a woman can and must do what an entire army of men cannot. Kate taught me that sense and stubbornness can defeat adversaries who have power and history on their side. Meg taught me that there is strength in love, beauty in diversity, and awesome power in the minds of girls who think they aren’t all that special.

Those experiences of pure imagination and powerful empathy were a gift, one that I very much hope I can pass on to girls who want to both lose themselves and find themselves in fantasy stories today. The world is a terrifying and uncertain place for children right now — and especially for children of color, especially for girls, especially for those whose lives are constrained by poverty, hardship, and fear. If even one child reads my stories and dreams of being more than what the world expects her to be, demanding better from the adults in her life, and finding her own ways of being strong, then I will have done my job right.


About the Author:

Kali Wallace is the author of two novels for teens and many short stories. She studied geology for years, but now devotes her time to writing. She lives in southern California. Learn more about her latest book, City of Islands: