By Nicki Richesin, The Children’s Book Review
Published: December 23, 2011
I would like my daughter to read about young girls as instructive role models who will inspire bravery and determination in her. I’ve spent a bit of time searching for books with bold heroines and these are the ones I’ve found most entertaining and even a little humorous. Enjoy and please let me know which books you’ve found for the girls in your life.
The Maggie B. was my absolute favorite book as a child. Irene Haas painted an enchanting water-colored world with her sweet verse I wanted to escape to. Margaret Barnstable was everything I wanted to be: bold, resourceful, a sailor and a violinist. When a storm strikes her ship, she single-handedly battens down the hatches and cares for her brother. All this while, fishing for “beautiful blue green lobsters” she prepared in a scrumptious stew as supper for two. After all these years, I would still like to sail on the Maggie B. (Ages 4 and up)
I suppose there’s almost nothing worse than having to face a new school and make new friends when you’re young, but Molly Lou Mellon will inspire shy children with her exploits. In Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, Molly Lou’s grandmother offers her some sage advice when she’s feeling self-conscious and being bullied by her nemesis Ronald Durkin. David Catrow’s illustrations are so playful and funny. This one’s a keeper. (Ages 4 and up)
Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke (illustrated by Kerstin Meyer) is a funny book about a little girl named Molly who is captured by Captain Firebeard and his crew of scallywag pirates on the Horrible Haddock. Molly outsmarts the captain and has her revenge! I like that this book doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Ages 3 and up)
Babette Cole created a whole series based on her original masterpiece Princess Smartypants. The princess is not looking for a husband, but her parents insist she challenge her suitors to win her hand in marriage. When Prince Swashbuckle performs all his tasks she must grant him a kiss, and he turns into a warty toad. There’s nothing more to life than marriage as the Disney Princesses of the world would have us believe, but this princess is more interested in playing with her animals and having fun. (Ages 4-8)
For older children:
With her luminous paintings and prose, Barbara Helen Berger (famous for Grandfather Twilight and most recently Thunder Bunny) created a beautiful adventure story for her heroine Gwinna. Born with wings her adopted family tries to hide, Gwinna feels lonely and a sense of longing each time she looks at the faraway mountain. This is a moving book about the hard journey she must endure to return to the Mother of the Owls, but it’s one of acceptance as well. Gwinna learns to embrace her difference and use her wings as a powerful gift. (Ages 6 and up)
In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel A Little Princess, Sara Crewe, a little girl who lives at a boarding school with everything in the world she could possibly want, is suddenly orphaned on her eleventh birthday. Sara’s wonderful imagination and courage help her to survive hunger, loneliness, and a cruel mistress who humiliates her. She demonstrates to the other boarding school girls how to endure and rise above terrible circumstances with grace and dignity. Of course, this book has a surprise happy ending. (Ages 9 and up)
Jo March is the bold heroine in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. A tomboy and aspiring writer, Jo dreams of one day leading an exciting life filled with the marvelous adventures she has written in plays and stories for her sisters. Set in New England during the Civil War, the close-knit family is poor, but generous. The March sisters eagerly await the return of their dear father from the battlefields. Devoted to her family, Jo willingly makes sacrifices on behalf of her father and sisters, but it’s the life she goes on to create for herself in Good Wives that will inspire readers the most. (Ages 12 and up)
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies,What I Would Tell Her: 28 Devoted Dads on Bringing Up, Holding On To, and Letting Go of Their Daughters; Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; Crush: 26 Real-Life Tales of First Love; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her anthologies have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Salon, Daily Candy, and Babble.
Thanks for a great piece, Nicki.
Thanks for the suggestions Nicki! We’ve found that books about courageous girls are hard to come by. Some of our other favorites are: The Princesses Have a Ball by Bateman, Violet the Pilot by Steven Breen, The Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett, My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Gossman, Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Winners Never Quit by Mia Hamm, Stagecoach Sal by Deborah Hopkinson, The Girl Who Wore Snakes by Angela Johnson, Swish by Bill Martin Junior, Insects are My Life by Meagan McDonald, Mighty Jackie the Strikeout Queen by Marissa Moss, Angela’s Airplane, Paperbag Princess and others by Robert Munch.
Also, a good book for parents, where I found out about many of these is called Great Books for Girls by Kathleen Odean. Although, I consider it just as important to read these books to my son as it is to read them to my daughter.
Daria makes a great point- books with strong female characters aren’t only for girls- they are for everyone.