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Books with Strong Girl Characters

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > The Arts, Books, Entertainment, & Media > Books with Strong Girl Characters


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Pro-girl books for 2 year old daughter

Jan 2010

please send me titles of children's books that are pro- girl for my 2 year old daughter. we are growing up and away from the hungry little catepillar and the other fun classics, and need some new material that ideally are pro- girl. if you also have suggestions for books on how to raise a strong girl-- please share. lisa


I don't have any specific recommendations for books. But I do suggest that you hit your local library. We've been going practically weekly since my daughter was 2 (she's 5 now). I pick one shelf each week and just browse (different shelf each week keeps things mixed up). There are lots and lots of good books out there. With picture books, you can practically read the whole thing on the spot to find the ones you think are appropriate. Eventually, your daughter will pick out her own books (but you can still pick some, too, as long as you are still reading to her).

Once nice thing about the library is that the books eventually have to go back, which puts a limit on how many time you have to read the same book over and over (she may want to check it out again, but you'll have a week's reprieve).

You didn't mention what city you are in, but the Oakland main library has a good-size children's library, and a very helpful librarian who can help track down specific books or recommend books on a specific theme (stong girls, for example). Carrie


Books for 4yo with positive female characters

Dec 2004

My partner and I have a 4 year old girl. She's recently begun to make remarks about people's bellies being ''too big.'' This concerns us considerably, and we've done a fair amount of talking with her about understanding that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that it's important not to judge people along these lines. We seek additional resources to help in this regard. Can people recommend books/stories for 4 and 5 yr old girls that include characters (especially female) of varying body types, where such diversity is either a non-issue or, ideally, discussed in a supportive way?

More generically, we are also looking for stories with girl characters who value being smart and strong as much, if not more, than being pretty. She's adorable, and hears as much from the world all the time, and we are eager to balance this by reinforcing the power of being smart and compassionate. Our concern is that she'll conclude that her looks are the easiest way to win praise, and that emotional or other intelligences aren't worth the effort, by comparison. We work with each other, her teachers, and other significant adult figures in her life along these lines, but would appreciate additional children's lit suggestions to supplement our efforts. Thanks. Anonymous


May not be exactly what you are looking for but your post made me think of ''The Paper Bag Princess'' by Munsch and Marchenko--a great antidote to traditional fairy tales. Ask a librarian for books with strong female protagonists. The children's librarians at the downtown Berkeley public are great. good luck
Regarding books with strong female protagonists, when I was a kid, I read the book ''The Ordinary Princess'' by M.M. Kaye and loved it. It is a book about a princess who is given, at birth, the ''gift'' of being ordinary. She isn't beautiful and demure like her six older sisters, she is freckled and adventurous. I won't give away the ending, but she does eventually meet her prince... sort of. I would guess that this book is appropriate starting at age 7 or 8, in terms of content, so a little old for your daughter, but put it on your list for a few years from now. Erin
One of my favorite positive girl books is ''The Paperbag Princess'', a sort of updated fairy tale which has the princess outwitting the fire-breathing dragon, rescuing the prince (who is quite ungrateful) and deciding in the end that she'd rather be alone than with him. Good luck Ruth
I wouldn't call this a ''body image'' book, but I really recommend the book *I Like Me* by Nancy Carlson. It is very simple: the girl character (she's a pig) talks about the things she likes about herself (''I read good books with me'', ''I like my round tummy'', ''When I make mistakes I try and try again'' etc). It's a very positive book and one of my daughter's favorites. She is also four and we've been reading it together for over a year. MG

Books with strong girl characters

July 2004

Can anyone update/add to the list of kids' books with strong girl characters that was generated in discussion here in 1997? We have profited from many of the titles recommended but would like to have more. Also, some of the resources described there are now out of date. It would also be interesting to know if there is some kind of newsletter or catalog reviewing such books. Thank you. Jennifer


My daughter who is entering third grade helped me put together this list (except for the middle school books.)

K-4

Mirette on the Highwire
Ride on the Red Mare's Back Ursula K. LeGuin (folktale, set in Sweden. Girl rescues brother from trolls.)
Catwings (& sequels) Ursula K. LeGuin (strong female kitten/cat characters)
Girls to the Rescue ed. Bruce Lasky (modern stories of brave girls by different authors)
Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (She wants to play with her pets, rather than marry & outsmarts her parents and the princes who come to call.) There's a similar book called The Paperbag Princess. I can't remember the author.
The Magic School Bus books by Joanna Cole (Ms. Frizzle is the teacher)

Grade 3-6

Tatterhood and Other Tales ed. Ethel Johnson Phelps (folktales, some scholarly footnotes)
Not One Damsel in Distress ed. Jane Yolen (folktales)
Birdie's Lighthouse by Deborah Hopkinson (a girl takes over the lighthouse in a storm when her father is gone)


My daughter is now 13 and is quite a reader. She really liked the Ella Enchanted books and Wolf Star books (trilogy-can't remember the authors name). Isabelle Allende recently wrote a children's book that my daughter liked a lot. There might be two in the series. I can't remember the title (what happened to my brain!).

How's that to start? I don't know how old your daughter is, these are for 10-13 year olds. nadja


I love the Olivia picture books by Ian Falconer and, for kids ready for relatively easy chapter books, the Ramona books by Beveryly Cleary. Both heroines have very active imaginations and very definite opinions. Pam
Every few years a resource is published recommending books with strong female characters. One from 2002 that I bought for my library is called ''Great books for girls : more than 600 recommended books for girls ages 3-14.'' It's by the children's librarian Kathleen Odean and is published by Ballantine. Also, don't forget that your local children's librarian can make *personalized* recommendations based on your reading tastes! This way you can find books not only with strong female characters, but that your family will really enjoy. Best of all, this service is free (your tax dollars at work) and the librarians love doing it. A Helpful Children's Librarian

Children's books with strong intelligent females

Nov 2003

I'm wondering if anyone out there has recommendations for children's books that have strong, capable, intelligent female characters and don't reinforce the crazy beauty focus, body-image neuroses and gender stereotypes that abound everywhere. For example, we have Princess Smartypants and The Paper Bag Princess, both a good start (although both books feature only white characters), and I would like to expand our library. Do y'all have any favorites? Carrie


I have enjoyed Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue, which is a chained series of old fairy tales ''in new skins'' that make them feminist without feeling preachy. Alexa
One of my favorites is called ''Rumplestiltskin's Daughter.'' It is a picture book but has a lot of text. A funny twist on the old fairy tale with a strong and clever lead character who outsmarts the greedy king. Also nice lessons about the distribution of wealth.... D. Moran
my favorite picture book in that category is ''A chair for my mother'' by vera williams; if you go to amazon.com and search it, you'll also get all sorts of lists, on the right hand side of the page, compiled by others (titles like ''books for feminist girsl and their moms'') with great recs... then of course you should buy those books NOT at amazon, but at your local book store (maybe Boadaecia's in kensington, a small woman-centered store that is in danger of closing!) jess
There is a great collection of stories, poems, and writings called Stories for Free Children published by the Ms. Foundation in 1982 (if you don't mind going back to the 70's era feminist mentality, and looking for an out of print book). My kids, ages 5 and 7, have all repeatedly enjoyed a story in the book called X by Lois Gould, about a family that doesn't reveal the gender of their kid to the world ''it's an x'', and the reactions of the world to x, and x to the world of stereotypes. Many of the stories are more for ages 6 and up. Melissa
For kids, I recommend Miss Rumphius and the American Girls series. I especially recommend the American Girls because it gives kids a framework of American history from a cultural point of view which makes schoolwork and textbooks more understandable. For Adults, you might want to try Reviving Ophelia and Schoolgirls by Peggy Orenstein. a reader
I am not certain what age range you are looking for, but I want to recommend for young adult readers (6-up, depending on reading ability) Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman Saga. This series of seven books focuses on a family who builds a home with their grandmother after being abandoned by their mentally ill mother. The women in the books are very strong, not sterotyped and the writing is beautiful. Another good writer with strong young women characters is Karen Cushman who wrote the Midwive's Apprentice and Catherine called Birdy. These are set in Medevial times, but do not have fantasy elements like so many books set in that period. Middle School English teacher
A fantastic resource is ''Great Books for Girls'' by Kathleen Odean. I have a young daughter, 2 nieces now 9 and 12 and 2 other girls I'm close to that are 3 and 6. The author is/was a children's librarian and former Chair of the Newbery Award Committee. This book has kept me in (very popular) Chirstmas and birthday gifts for many years. All the books the author lists feature strong female characters - she is even conscious of the lack of strong female animal characters in kids books and is sensitive even to weak background characters. Terrific! Odean divides her listings by age range, then by type (fiction, fantasy, biography, etc.), so you can find books for different interests or moods.

I have purchased several other books similarly billed, but theese others seemed to have a hard time finding good books, and listed many that they admitted were mediocre stories.(?!?) Don't miss Odean's book if you are interested in strong female messages. (She also has several other books about books for kids: books for boys, for babies and toddlers and books about things kids love).

I'm a big fan, Lisa


We just got out our holiday books and I was reminded of your post. Jan Brett's ''The Wild Christmas Reindeer'' has a tough, resourceful girl as the main character, and it has stunning drawings, too. I recommend Brett's ''The Trouble with Trolls'' for the same reasons. My 2yo and 5yo daughters are both big fans. Jennifer
Here's one list of where to begin with feminist books. I've arranged it roughly by age.

4-7
Abuela by Arthur Dorros. (A girl and her grandmother fly over the city.)
What Kind of Babysitter is this? by Dolores Johnson (mom has a night class, elderly female babysitter is a big baseball fan)
Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (nurturing male teacher, strong little girl mouse)

6-10
Michael and Rosie by Cynthia Voight. (A boy and girl are ''best friends'')
Princess Smartypants
Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen (Jane Yolen has written many other books with female and male characters who have the full range of emotions and behaviors.)
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lundgren
The Catwings books by Ursula LeGuin (brave little flying cats, well written and funny for adults as well as kids.)
A Ride on The Red Mare's Back by Ursula LeGuin (Big sister rescues little brother from trolls -- insightful into both of their motivations, though mostly about the sister and the red mare.)

10+
Inspirations: Stories of Women Artists by Leslie Sills. For older kids, though my 7-year-old likes it as a read aloud with plenty of discussion. Includes Frieda Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe, Faith Ringgold (who has written and illustrated a number of good kids' books herself), and Alice Neel. Tamara Pierce has written a number of series set in a medieval world where girls prove their mettle as knights.
The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursual LeGuin (explores the meaning of gender -- suitable for 12+. I think it was written for adults.)
In Code: A Young Woman's Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery. At 16 Flannery develops an important cryptography algorithm, winning Ireland's Young Scientist of the Year award.

Adults Too many choices but you cound consider books by LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Adrienne Rich (poetry), Marge Piercy, Lucia Berlin, Pat Murphy, Lucille Clifton (poetry -- has some books for kids), Fanny Howe (poetry -- some books for adolescents) are good starting points.

I notice my list is heavy on the science fiction -- partially that's personal taste, and partially that's because a number of feminists are writing science fiction in order to deconstruct our ideas about gender. Carol


Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren (there are three books featuring this character) and all of the Oz books by Baum! If you only know Dorothy from the movie, please check out the original books because they are completely different. Dorothy is confident, strong, brave, self-assured, and funny. After the first book, the wizard leaves the Emerald City and it is ruled after that by the rightful ruler, Ozma--a young girl who is wize and brave. I can't recommend these books enough, especially if you are looking for strong female characters. sidney

Chapter Books for 6-year-old Girl

2001

Our daughter is really into reading chapter books now, but has come home with a string of them which have all been situated in white, middle class, suburban families with siblings who bicker constantly, tell each other to "shut up!" and call each other "stupid" and "jerk." In the latest book, the main character invited some girls over for a slumber party for her 11th birthday and two girls would not eat pizza because they were on a diet! Please tell me there are chapter books out there where girls are not obsessed by body image, siblings do not fight and name call, and all the people are not white and middle class (or European and nobility -- princesses, etc). She loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but seems to want to read about girls recently. I would love any recommendations with either boys or girls as main characters that would be topically appropriate for a first grader. Thanks! Dana


Regarding chapter books for young girls--one of my favorite topics and makes me want a baby girl very badly: from my childhood (19070s), so some of these may be a bit outdated, harder to find, and some might be better at a slightly older age:
The "shoes" books, by Noel Streatfeild --Ballet, Dancing,
Theater,  Circus, Travelling, etc.
Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink
The All-of-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor (Tailor?)
The Little House on the Prarie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Betsy Tacy Tib books, Maude Hart Lovelace
The Anne of Green Gables books, by LM Montgomery (perhaps at a
slightly older age)
Little Women, Little Men, Jo's boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in
Bloom, An Old Fashoned Girl, plus a few others as well that I don't
recall off the top of my head, by LM Alcott
The Beverly Cleary books-- Ramona Quimby, age 8 comes to mind,
but they are all great.
Famous Five, Secret Seven (detective series), The St. Clare
girls, and Mallory Towers series, by Enid Blyton and anything else that
Enid Blyton has written
Encyclopedia Brown
The Five Little Peppers
Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
Madeleine L'Engle books (again, perhaps for older kids)
Charlotte's Web, by EB White (plus the rest of the the EB
White books)
Other great Authors, some of the titles are escaping me now:
Many books by Eleanor Estes: the Moffats (series), Ginger Pye
Betsy Byars (good for that age)
Elizabeth Enright
Other resources to find great kids books:
Newberry Book Awards
Caldecott Book Awards (Amazon has a list of all the books to
receive these awards)
The North Berkeley Branch of the Berkeley Public Library... almost all of these authors/books were there in the last millennium, and they have amazing children's librarians.

Good luck and happy reading. I enjoy re-reading many of these even now, so I hope you enjoy them as well! Sorry, I forgot to add Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to the list... (a must read!) and if anyone has a similar list from when they were young boys, I would love to see it! Shahana


In addition to the excellent list provided by Shahana (clearly my soul mate, as I'd read and loved almost everything on her list), I'd like to suggest the following books: Edward Eager: Half Magic, Magic or Not, Knight's Castle and a host of others Lynne Reid Banks: The Indian in the Cupboard books (series)

An additional plug for Beverly Cleary: Ramona the Pest, Beezus & Ramona, Henry Huggins, Henry & Ribsy, Otis Spofford, etc.

Lloyd Alexander: the whole Prydain Chronicles -- The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, Taran Wanderer, The High King, etc. Robert O'Brien: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Louise Fitzhugh: Harriet the Spy, Sport John Fitzgerald: The Great Brain books (series) Elizabeth George Speare: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Bronze Bow E. L. Konigsburg: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler And for the slightly older child, let us not overlook the much, and deservedly, lauded Harry Potter books. Any of the these books (possible exception of the Witch of Blackbird Pond, but even there I'm not sure) I would recommend with a clear conscience to kids who like to read, of either gender. Some might be a bit challenging for a 6-year-old. One thing I do find pretty annoying is the unthinking classification of some wonderful books as a "girl's" book or a "boy's" book, often simply because of the gender of the main protagonist. Boys especially are apt not to read a "girl's book" and thus miss out on really great stuff.

My husband read certain of the above (and the L.I. Wilder books) as an adult, at my insistence, and had to agree, they were swell. Harriet of Harriet The Spy is appealing to any kid. The fact that she's a girl is practically a non-issue, but boys don't tend to read that book. Anyway, I can't wait until my 3-year-old son can sit still for a story without too many pictures, so that I can start the indoctrination. And I too would love to hear about books I may have missed. Wendy


The Narina series by C.S.Lewis are terrific for both boys and girls. All the books feature at least one, sometimes two, girls and boys as lead characters. Lewis's themes are about good and evil and finding the moral courage to do the right thing in the face of adversity. There's a lot of magic, (trees and animals that can talk, dwarfs and elves, spells etc.), plenty of action and comedy. We read them aloud when my son was a little younger, but now at the age of eight he reads them himself and for the first time says things like "I can't wait to read more of my book". Helene
There are a few great series books that get more challenging as the themes and characters in them get older; the Betsy/Tacy/Tib series, and the Little House series.

Other books I remember loving: Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge (great family dynamics, some fantasy/magic)

Family Sabbatical and Family Grandstand (and Caddie Woodlawn) by Carol Ryrie Brink (Caddie Woodlawn has some uncomfortable native American Images) (these may be out of print, but available at the library)

The Saturdays, Four Story Mistake and pretty much anything by Elizabeth Enright.

The Moffat Series by Eleanor Estes (Rufus M is particularly charming!)

I also remember fondly the Carolyn Haywood Books but haven't read any recently to see if they hold up over time, but reading level and them wise they are *perfect* for an excellent first grade reader.

We've been reading Redwall (Brian Jacques) to our eight year old happily. We also read all of Narnia, though the earlier in the series are far more accesible than the later ones, and the Christian symbolism gets difficult. We'll probably start with Lloyd Alexander fairly soon. Myriam


This is in response to Dana who would like non-typical childrens books for her daughter. I remember loving folk tales from all over the world at that age. I had a bunch of them from Russia, India, Africa...they teach about cultures, have colourful pictures and different language styles. Im not sure about what your stand is on comics, but Asterix and TinTin used to be favorites as well.

We're very lucky to be in Berkeley where we have access to so many cultures. You should be able find these books in the used book stores on Telegraph. best of luck! Vaiju


Great books for girls, by Kathleen Odean, lists more than 600 titles, from picture books on up. Try the Girls to the rescue series, edited by Bruce Lansky. There are about 6 books in the series, all paperback, with different short stories about the many smart, courageous things girls can do. Check http://www.newmoon.org & also ask your local children's librarian. There are many resources for 'alternative' books. Happy reading! Rebecca
It's been a while since I actually read these to myself, and I just don't remember what seven year old girls are capable of reading, but my favorites as a child were by Zilpha Keatly Snyder. My absolute favorite was The Egypt Game, which had a very diverse group of young characters who created a fabulous pretend world. I probably read it about 15 times as a child, and I've read it a couple times as a grown up as well. These are the most memorable books of my youth. One other that I enjoyed was The Westing Game (not by Ms. Snyder), though I think it may be a couple years before she's ready for that one. Since I don't really remember how old I was when I read these, you may want to check them for age-appropriateness first... I'm not concerned with the content, just that they may be above her reading level. Heather
I know just what you mean about bickering siblings. Ramona and Beasus (?) drove me nuts as did any number of rotten little kids who put down their siblings. I liked books for my kids like the Boxcar Children who stood up for their brothers and sisters. Also, the Betsy and Tacy series (my grown up girls STILL discuss Betsy's life in great detail), the Little House on the Prairie series and my favorite non series book...."Understood Betsy." This last one is a very old book but still in print and last I knew available in local bookstores. In most cases I read the story aloud once and then my girls (and boy) read and reread on their own. Janet
We have recently read "The Stories Julian Tells" and "More Stories Julian Tells" by Ann Cameron about 2 young African American brothers. They get into mischief, the stories have a bit of fantasy to them, and their parents are there to set limits in a loving way. My son has really enjoyed these books. Jennifer
The Magic Tree House series has a strong girl character (no eating disorders) and some interesting science and history. It is about a brother and sister who time-travel in a magic tree house owned by a magic woman who is a librarian in King Arthur's court. Leslie
Books for a 7 year old girl: If you daughter loved (and was able to read) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, she should definitely try Matilda, and The Magic Finger (also by Roald Dahl). There are some very good authors who write about middle class white kids but without the body image focus and with realistic sibling issues that are resolved in reasonable ways.

The Beverly Cleary series are great, as are books by Johanna Hurwitz. Miriam Sachs has written many books over the years, many about middle class families, but others about families facing financial or health issues as well. As your daughter gets a bit older--my daughter and I have both enjoyed books by Lois Lenski. My daughter has also read historic fiction by an author whose name I forget, but who wrote one book called Lyddie about factory work in New England and another about a runaway slave making his way to freedom.

On a totally different note, my son loves books by James Howe. He has written a whole set told from the point of view of Harold the dog. They are "mysteries," starting with Bunnicula (a bunny found abandoned in a movie theater where Dracula was being shown and brought home; Chester the cat is convinced he is a vampire and begins to try to rid the house of him--very funny), and going on to Howliday Inn (Harold and Chester are boarded at a kennel while the family is on vacation), Return to Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight... you get the idea. He has enjoyed these from first grade through fourth. It's true all the main characters are male, but these are extremely funny, and my daughter loves them, too, even though she has far "out grown" them by now. And to the extent that people show up as characters at all, the women are generally sensible, direct people (the image of men tends to be less positive... quite a few bumbling fools, I'm afraid).

This list, as you will note, is very thin on books from other cultures/ethnicities/racial backgrounds. It doesn't reflect my preference, just what we found and what I can remember them reading. In the area of picture books there seems to be much more variety. Again, I can't remember the names of many authors, but two of our favorites are Faith Ringgold and Ezra Keats (I think I have these names right). The books of both of these authors go beyond a good story to beautifully illustrate childhood experiences and family relations, and my children have enjoyed them well past the stage when they moved on to chapter books. Cynthia


My daughter's long-time favorite was *My Side of the Mountain,* by Jean Craighead George. Although the protagonist is a boy who goes off to live by himself on a mountain, my daughter had no trouble identifying with him. The book is full of positive messages about independence and self-reliance. And it stimulated trips to the library to get books on foraging, which were followed up by dandelion salads and other delicacies. My daughter also read all the Redwall books. Dore
My daughter also became interested in reading about girls when she was around seven. I highly recommend looking at some series chapter books. That way when your daughter finds something that interests her theres are still more books to read. They are not great literature but for my daughter they really sparked her interest in reading. In first grade her teacher read "Meet Addy" from the American Girl series. Addy is a slave during the civil war era. She begged me for a copy of the book and read it over and over again. We finally got her some other books from the series. There are five in all. She then began to read books about the other characters. A girl from the Amercan Revolution, from the Victorian era, from the Great Depression, from the pioneers and from the Southwest. Unfortunately all are white except for Addy and Josefina from the Southwest. What is nice is that the books are attractive to young girls and although superficial give them a little taste of different historical events and past ways of life.

Some other series my daughter enjoyed at that age that are almost all about white kids but certainly much more wholesome than what you were describing are "Boxcar Children", "Magic Attic Club",and "The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashly Olsen" Other books my daughter has loved in the past few years, she is now 10 include, -books by Scott Odell "Island of the Blue Dolphins" "Carlota" -"Ella Enchanted" -"Anne of Green Gables" -books by Yoshiko Uchida "Journey Home" "A Jar of Dreams" -books by Laurence Yep "The Amah" -"Marisol and Magdalena" by Veronica Chambers -"Gwinna" by Barbara Helen Berger

A lot of these are about girls of different ethnicities and are all beautiful stories. My daughter has loved all of them and has read most of these stories several times. Some of these wont be appropriate until your daughter is a bit older but a few might make good read alouds so that you can help her understand the content. Anyhow, you might want to take your daughter to Codys or another bookstore with plenty of childrens books and let her look around in the childrens section. It is often easier for children to find books in a bookstore than in a library where book covers are more frequently on display. I hope this is helpful. There are many great books out there these are just a few. Have fun! Liza


The Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald are a fun read. There are seven in the series and they were originally written for adults but published for kids. They've got everything: history, mystery, adventure, humor, thrills...all written in a style suited to reading outloud or alone. If you ignore the covers and sample the first chapter of the first one in the series, The Great Brain, I guarantee you'll want to finish at least the first book. Adam and Deatra
The "Misty of Chincoteague" series by Marguerite Henry is still a pleasure for my girls, aged 9 and 5. Mary
This might sound like party-pooping on a great childrens' book series, but I have to say I have very mixed feelings about the Narnia books. One thing that troubles me is that there are no good women in any of the books. There are good female animals and good little girls, but all the women are witches; or, like Prince Caspian's poor mother, they get killed off or something and we never hear much about them. Also, if you pay attention to who the bad guys and good guys are, there aren't many dark-skinned good guys, but there are a lot of dark-skinned bad guys who seem to subscribe to a Muslim-type religion/philosophy (The Horse and His Boy is just crawling with them). This troubles me. I do like the books for being really great adventure stories that work out ideas around loyalty, hard work, doing the right thing even when it costs you. I read all of them to my kids and we talked about why we liked them and I also talked about these issues. Maybe it's not necessary to deep-six this series if you can talk to your kids and help them to think critically about what they are reading.
Another book I adored as a kid was The Sherwood Ring, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. It is a ghost story set in New England that is involved with dashing British spies and courageous women - great adventure, and yes, romance, set during the Revolutionary War. It is available at the Albany library but is not in print. My 9 year old boy read it and liked it alot, so it's not just for girls even though the main character is a girl. Lucy
One of my favorites from childhood is Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth -- by E.L. Konigsberg. It is a story about the friendship between the narrator, Elizabeth, and Jennifer, who claims to be a witch. Jennifer happens to be black, and Elizabeth seems to be white, though I don't recall that being a big deal in the book. Elisa

Story books with girl characters

March 1997

I have two sons - 3 1/2 years and 6 months - who love it when we read stories. The problem is that all of Pooh's friends are boys (except for Kanga who is often wearing an apron) and so are the trains on the Island of Sodor (except for Daisy who doesn't like smelly tunnels). You get the idea. I'd really like to have books with a wider variety of boy and girl characters. Any suggestions? Robin


I love "The Paper Bag Princess". Summary: A princess rescues her prince, who has been carried off by a dragon, then realizes what a jerk he is and decides not to marry him after all. Some parents may be distressed by the lack of a good male role model (the prince is quite a jerk), but I think it's a nice contrast to stories like Thomas the Tank Engine.

I also love the Frances books (Bedtime for Frances, A Bargain for Frances, A Baby Sister for Frances). These are old books -- I read them when I was a child -- but I like them even more as an adult because the parents seem so sensible and wise.

Sorry I don't know the authors, but I think any children's librarian or good children's bookstore could help you find them. Beth


Berkeley Public Library has a list called "Brave, Active & Resourceful Females in Picture Stories"...pick it up at any branch. Includes many of the books previously mentioned, as well as:

Best Friends for Frances, by Russell Hoban Banned from an all-boy baseball game, Frances organizes a "No Boys" outing with interesting results.

Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney Alice Rumphius has a career, travels to exotic places, retires by the sea, and becomes an interesting old woman.


I've noticed the very same thing about Pooh and Thomas, as dear as they are. Richard Scary Busytown books also tend to assume traditional gender roles. When I read it to my nearly three year old son I sometimes change the "he's" to "she's". "Go Dog Go" doesn't assume any gender in the text. But there seems to be some code in the pictures that I or my son respond to. I've tried talk about the action and say "See what she is doing?" Sometimes he goes with it, but sometimes my son will say emphatically "That's a daddy, not a mommy".

I recently found a book called "Allie's Basketball Dream" by Barbara Barber (?) which is really well written and beautifully illustrated (illustrator is someone else.) The main character is a girl who is given a basketball by her father. When she practices shooting baskets, at first she misses; nearby boys laugh, other kids ask what she is doing, even offering to trade a volleyball for her basketball since the volleyball would be "easier" for a girl to handle. Ultimately, she keeps trying and makes some baskets. The other kids want to play with her and even the older boys cheer her. I like it and my son loves it. It has actually helped him to not get frustrated when he misses a shot. He often says "I'm Michael Jordon" when playing b-ball. But just the other day while playing, he said "I'm Allie".

The Max board book series by Rosemary Wells is about a "boy" rabbit, but his sister Ruby is always present. My son likes those too. In the Carl the dog series, it is a little girl that Carl goes on adventures with. There is the Madeline series, but that may be for slightly older kids. I have a train book that has both male and female characters doing all the different jobs associated with trains. I can look up the name. Martha


for my daughter's first birthday i got a great book as a gift. the book is by Kathleen Odean & is called 'Great Books for Girls'. it describes more than '600 books to inspire today's girls and tomorrow's women'. it lists pictory-story books, books for beginning readers, middle readers to older readers. it also contains resources for parents (locating books, tips on empowering your daughter). i thought it would make a great book resource for *boys*, since they need to see girls/women as 'strong, free, bold and kind' too. carrie
books with girls. Owl Babaies, Martin Waddell, sarah, (big sister) and her two little brother owls are scared waiting for their mom to come back.

Madeline books, (which are for older kids)

In doctor suess books I often just write an "s" in front of "he" since the chracters are all weird creatures, this is especially easy in "one fish, two fish".

You're right though there aren't very many books for the under two set with any girls. liz


On books with female protagonists for young children, I don't think anyone has mentioned Russell Hoban's "Francis" books (Best Friends for Francis, A Birthday for Francis, Bread and Jam for Francis . . .). They're charming. Francis handles all sorts of common childhood challenges in believable but amusing ways, often breaking into little extemporaneous songs, like this one on poached eggs:
        I do not like the way you slide.
        I do not like your soft inside.
        I do not like you lots of ways
        And I could live for many days
        Without eggs.
I personally enjoy the contrast these books provide to Hoban's books for grownups (e.g. "Riddley Walker" and "Pilgermann"), which are as dark and strange as the Francis books are sweet and light. John
We really enjoy the work of Kevin Henkes--he has a number of books with "strong leading women." My 3 yr old son's favorite is "Sheila Rae the Brave," and there's another one I'm fond of about a mouse named Lily (I'm blanking on the title). Sheila Rae is about a mouse (as many of Henkes' books are) and her little sister who teach each other about fear and independence. It's a real charmer! [We actually got the book with the CD-Rom interactive version that includes some really delightful songs.] Natasha
I also highly recommend Kevin Henkes' books. My own favorite is the book I believe Natasha was referring to: "Julius, the baby of the world"-- it's hilarious. My 4-year-old daughter likes the "Angelina Ballerina" books by Katharine Holabird. She also loves Mark Tolon Brown's "Arthur" books; even though the title character is male, there are several prominent female characters as well. Greg San Francisco Public Library
Tomie de Paola (sp?) has two books which I like very much with strong women characters: Helga's Dowry, and Fin McCoul. Both are about creative, courageous women who overcome dire odds with miraculous plans and actions entirely of their own doing. The books are very short with great pictures. I think they would appeal to a wide age range. They're funny and definitely cast women in a positive light. Linnea
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