Motivational speaker and life coach Robin Sharma says “You are a product of your environment, surround yourself with the best”. By this, he also means books about people worth looking up to and admiring. About ten years ago his website used to have a list of book recommendations from Robin. Try as I might I can’t find it on his website anymore, and I don’t remember all the titles either, but these words of his, have remained in my head for years. And so whenever I come across a worthy book about someone (fictional or real) or by someone worthwhile, it goes into my library, and also my all-time list of recommended books.

This being March and the time of year we celebrate women and in some part of the world books (UK’s version of International day of the book – actual world book day is April 23rd); here’s a list of ladies both real and fictional who I have met only through the medium of a book, but who has managed to leave a great impression on me. By knowing them through books, I am able to actually surround my self (like Robin says) with these amazing characters, simply by having these books on my shelf, and consulting them and returning to them whenever I feel like it. All I have to do is open the pages of a book, any time, anywhere (ah… the unique portable magic of books as Steven Speilberg said).

So without further ado…

Michelle Obama

I don’t know about the politics associated with the name ‘Obama’; politics never interested me. But why I admire this lady is for her drive and hard work to get her self out of her declining neighborhood and into a better life. Nothing was handed to her, she had to work hard and study hard to get to where she did – a well paid executive job at a prestigious Chicago Law Firm and from there to many other places. I admire her courage, her poise, how she conducts herself and how she uses her education and intelligence. ‘Becoming by Michelle Obama’ is a book that is definitely on my bookshelf.

Maya Angelou

While there are several books written by this great lady, the one on my shelf is “I know why the caged bird sings” – The first in a seven-volume series, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature helped overcome racism and trauma. Maya Angelou was a formidable lady, with a career spanning over fifty years. She was a victim of sexual abuse at a very young age and spent several years after the incident as a mute – afraid to speak. However, during her years of silence, she developed a love for books and literature, and she developed the ability to listen and observe. Maya Angelou also became the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She married a man of Greek origin during a time where interracial marriages were condemned, she was a singer and calypso dancer a night club in San Francisco, she was proficient in many languages as she took to learning the languages of the countries she visited when on tour with an opera company.

Malala Yousafzai

The story of a young girl who was shot because she stood up for the girl’s right to education. How can this book and this character not make this list? I can’t even begin to write here as I’m feeling so overwhelmed and I can’t see the keys or the screen. Yes, she has since then won awards, her name is well known now, and she is safely set up in a new life in a new place. But at the time when this incident happened, how did someone so young have so much courage (here I go again…. ;( ). I have been rendered speechless. So I shall stop now.

Anne Frank

Oh gosh here’s another one. ;(

Anne Frank was a stateless German-born Jew, who lived in Amsterdam at the time of the Holocaust. She and her family were in hiding for two years, when Anne was just eleven or twelve years old. She made diary entries throughout these two years until she and her family were caught and sent to a concentration camp in 1944. The diary suddenly stops, the last entry being made on August 1, 1944. History tells us that Anne and her sister were separated from the family and sent to a different camp, where they died – at the age of fifteen, approximately.

Now for some fictional characters

Anne Shirley

Anne Shirley is the central character of the book Anne of Green Gables and seven other books that follow in the series. She is smart, funny, feisty, loyal, passionate and has an uncanny ability to get her self into all sorts of messes. Anne also made the best of bad situations and was never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. This is a character that I have loved ever since I met her when I was about twelve years old. This is one book that has traveled with me as I moved from country to country. It was always in my bag with me. While I left all my other books to follow in shipping containers and boxes, Anne always traveled with me.

Hermione Granger

From the beloved Harry Potter book series, this character has real gumption. She is not afraid to be herself – a nerd. She was not afraid of showing up the boys either, and always put her hand up to answer questions in class. Hermione stood up for herself and what she believed in; even if sometimes she was standing alone ( Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare – or SPEW for short).

Josephine (Jo) March

Jo from the Little Women is the most memorable of the four March sisters and by far my favourite. I love her no-nonsense, get on with things attitude. I also love her love for writing, reading, and dreaming. She is smart, impulsive, argumentative, and willing to do anything for her family, even cut all of her hair off to raise some cash. She was best friends with a guy, and that friendship continued past an awkward situation mainly because Jo made sure the friendship lasted and into many years to come – even after both she and her male friend were married to other people – that to me is admirable as much as anything else.

Lisbeth Salander

From the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and consequent books. Lisbeth has one of the strongest moral codes of any literary heroin – albeit one that is all her own. She lives by these moral codes and rules, she sticks to her beliefs no matter and she is not afraid to be who she is. Her powers of self-understanding are second to none and aren’t afraid to take control and be the boss (not bossy). All I can say is, she fascinates and scares me in equal measures.

Sara Crewe

Better known as “A Little Princess”. From a rich family, Sara was enrolled at a fashionable school for young ladies in London. However, after the death of her beloved father Sara is stripped from her classes and forced to become a servant at the school. During all of this, she befriends two other students Lottie and Emmerdale and also a poor scullery maid Becky. She keeps her spirits up along with those of her friends through her imaginations and storytelling ability. She’s also brave, classy, kind, and generous no matter what.

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