This fall, celebrities like Jewel, Emma Thompson and Michael Ian Black are releasing children’s books. Actress Julianne Moore, who’s been writing her bestselling “Freckleface Strawberry” series since 2007, has carved out her own niche in the genre with her sweet stories of self-acceptance and friendship—and it’s no surprise she was a pretty prolific reader herself as a girl. Problem was, she never found protagonists she could identify with (poor little radiant redhead that she was). She wrote a little something for Bookish about all the books she loved as a girl—and the one that finally changed her life.
Red-headed protagonists were hard to come by when I was growing up. Watching movies on television in the basement of our house as a kid, I noticed that redheads came in two persuasions: the comedian (Lucille Ball) or the siren (Rita Hayworth). Where were the regular redheads, like me?
I was not particularly funny or outrageous, and I was certainly very far from sexy, with my glasses and my near-skeletal frame. Wasn’t there something between Raggedy Ann and comic strip heroine Brenda Starr?
If I braided my hair, kids would always say, “Hey, Pippi! You look like Pippi Longstocking.” Who wanted to be like Pippi Longstocking? She had no parents, lived alone, her house was a mess, and her hair stood on end. Being ever the practical kid, I worried that she was really going to get hurt one day and there would be no one to take care of her.
“Madeline” was for babies, plus she was French, and, like, only 5 years old. I loved Meg Murry, the daughter in “A Wrinkle in Time,” and because I loved her so much, I convinced myself that she had red hair. In actuality, her hair was brown, but her mother had beautiful auburn hair and violet eyes, and I always thought that if Meg really concentrated, she could grow her hair red. Why not? It couldn’t be any harder than time-traveling using a tesseract.
I ceased trying to identify with redheads–I pictured myself as something else in the novels I read and loved: a brown-haired tan-skinned girl like Laura Ingalls Wilder, dark-haired girls like the March sisters in “Little Women” (with the exception of the golden-haired Amy). But then I read “Anne of Green Gables.”
Anne Shirley begins her journey on the comic side of the redhead spectrum–an awkward, unwanted, eager-to-please orphan, prone to breaking lamps and accidentally getting her best friend drunk on currant wine. Her adoptive family, brother-and-sister duo Matthew and Marilla, grow to care for her even though she’s a funny looking red-headed little thing who has a knack for getting in trouble. Then lo and behold! She grows up and one day becomes beautiful, gracious, talented and intelligent. And loving and kind–and her soul mate Gilbert marries her! Her hair is still red but somehow not as funny-looking anymore. Just regular. Like I wanted to be.