Empowering Books for Young Girls

Line-art drawing of a girl holding a stack of books.

In their most recent post, girl-empowerment site Toward the Stars is featuring a Top Ten Empowering Books for Girls list, supplied by “Mother-Daughter Book Club fanatic” Lori Day.

Quoting Lori’s daughter (written when she was in the eighth grade):

“The discussions we engage in during the meetings often begin as conversations about problems in the text that the protagonist encounters and overcomes, and inevitably shift seamlessly to conversations about similar problems we have experienced and dealt with while growing up.”

When Lori started to take notice of the books her daughter was reading, she noticed that the vast majority did not feature female protagonists. After doing some research and talking with teachers and librarians, she understood why this was the case. Girls, it seems, are happy to read and watch stories about boys, whereas the latter isn’t so true. Producers of media for children were making more money by producing books and films about boys that could attract children of both genders. So Lori took it upon herself to make sure that her daughter, and the daughters of her close friends, were getting exposure to inspiring female literary role models, and that was how her book club was first formed.

As much as they both love to read, I can see Julia and Anna in a mother-daughter book club in a few years. In the meantime, I’m saving Lori’s list and putting together one of my own for younger girls.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s just a handful of books (or book series) that Anna really enjoys, and that feature girls around her age as either the primary or secondary protagonists.

The Night Pirates

The Night Pirates

A book about “rough, tough, little girl pirates.” The main character is a boy, but the whole pirate crew including the captain are girls and together they manage to defeat a crew of big, bad grown up pirates and steal their treasure. This book encourages girls and boys to play together and use their imaginations.

I was so impressed by this book when Anna first brought it home from her school library that I reviewed it on this blog. Since then she got her own copy for Christmas, and last fall I read it to one of the other first grade classes at her school. They loved it too.

"Pinkerton Behave!" cover

Pinkerton Behave! (and other Pinkerton books)

A book about a lovable and thoroughly untrainable dog named Pinkerton, owned by a girl and her mom. The mom tries futilely to train Pinkerton, but in the end the girl figures out she can get Pinkerton to do what she wants him to, she just needs to adjust her commands a bit. Together they save the family from a burglar and Pinkerton is loved for who he is.

The book shows how a resourceful, intelligent girl figures out a problem, and how to love dogs (and people) for who they are in spite of their so-called flaws. Other Pinkerton books follow him and his family through their many adventures.

"The Paper Bag Princess" cover

The Paper Bag Princess (and other Robert Munsch Books)

Robert Munsch makes kids the center of all his books. The Paper Bag Princess is the classic fairy-tale turned upside down. The prince is the one in distress, and the princess defeats the dragon and rescues him. It’s a fun story that teaches girls to value themselves for who they are not for how others see them.

Many of his other books, like Get Out of Bed!, The Mud Puddle, Smelly Socks, and Zoom! feature girl protagonists who Munsch always treats like real kids.

"Zoom!" cover

Zoom! in particular impressed me. It’s a about a girl in a wheelchair, but Munsch never explains why she needs one. She’s depicted throughout as a typical rambunctious  preteen girl. In the book, her family go shopping for a new electric wheelchair, and she refuses to get anything but the fastest wheelchair she can find and then gets pulled over for speeding! It an incredible way to teach acceptance of special-needs kids by showing how they love to do crazy things and can get into trouble for them just like all kids do.

"Best Friends for Frances" cover

Best Friends for Frances (and other Frances books)

Frances is an opinionated little badger. And her family takes her opinions seriously while helping her to figure out life’s lessons on her own. I’m singling out Best Friends for Frances because of how it examines sibling relationships (between two sisters), and breaks down the traditional difference between “boy” and “girl” games. In the book, Frances tells her little sister Gloria that sisters can’t be best friends. But then Frances’ best friend Albert excludes her from a “boys only” baseball game. Frances doesn’t like that. She teaches Albert that girls can play baseball, and learns herself that her sister can join in and be a friend too.

So far, I’ve only considered picture books. Anna still loves picture books, but she’s getting older and her reading is improving. Soon she’ll be moving on to chapter books. While I’m not familiar with many of these yet, I’m very fond of one series, which is honestly closer to middle grade level. But Julia and Anna are on their third time through, and Anna loves them. I am speaking, of course, of…

Ramona Quimby

The Ramona Series

Beverly Cleary’s well-loved series about the imaginative girl with questionable spelling skills who is definitely “not a pest!” The books follow Ramona Quimby from preschool to fourth grade, and despite a few dated references (Cleary began writing the series in the 1950s) much of the story is still relatable to any young girl navigating her way through the grade-school years of her life. And when Anna starts middle school, older sister Beezus will be there for her.

As will the books on Lori Day’s list.

Again, this is just a handful of books (and book series) off the top of my head. I know that there are other out there. Do you have any to suggest? If so, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!

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