Stories About Girls, Part 1

Geek Culture

Self-Rescuing Princess - KidsSelf-Rescuing Princess - Kids

"Self-Rescuing Princess" shirt from ThinkGeek

Back in December, fellow GeekDad Jonathan Knudsen asked the question “Where are the stories for girls?” We got several responses from readers, but it really got me thinking about the subject. I also have two daughters, and I love finding books with great female characters to read to my kids. Over the years I’ve built up a pretty good list consisting of new books and classics, novels and comics, and I continue to discover more all the time. (In fact, since I missed a lot of the classics—I didn’t really read many “girl” books growing up — my wife has been introducing me to some of her favorites as well.)

Since December when I started thinking about a response, my list has gotten longer and longer. So I thought I’d better spread them out a little so I don’t overwhelm you (and also because the more I read, the more daunting it seems to write about all of them at once.) I’ll try to offer a mix of genres, age ranges and subject matter each time, to show that it’s possible to find girl leads in books no matter what your kids’ tastes. And one other note: although these are books that feature girls, many of them would still be great stories for boys as well. Who says only girls should have strong female characters? So while these are all stories about girls, they’re for both boys and girls.

By the way, if you’re raising a “self-rescuing princess” (or are one yourself), the T-shirt pictured above is available from ThinkGeek, in both kid and adult sizes.

Here are my first ten recommendations with brief descriptions, and where possible I’ve linked to more in-depth reviews.

The Princess Knight by Cornelia FunkeThe Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke

The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke

You’ll probably see Cornelia Funke again on my next list as well—she has several books with good girl leads, for several age groups. The Princess Knight is a picture book about a little princess with three older brothers, and the widower King teaches her the same things as the princes: jousting and fighting and so on. Jennifer’s full review can be read on GeekMom.

Target age: 4-8

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee BurtonKaty and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

This is a classic from the author/artist of the perhaps better-known Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I guess it’s assumed that little boys like trucks and construction equipment and little girls don’t, but my four-year-old loved this story of Katy the red crawler tractor who digs everyone out when all the truck snow plows break down. And for all of you who just experienced your own Big Snow this month, it’ll be a familiar topic for your kids. The illustrations are great, with lots of little details around the borders of some pages, and a quite detailed map of the town of Geoppolis with various locations marked.

Target age: 4-8

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Originally published in 1911, The Secret Garden is a classic in children’s literature that has generally been categorized as a “girl book.” I’d never read it myself until just this past month when I read it to my seven-year-old, and was surprised to discover that aside from the main character Mary Lennox there were two boys who play a fairly large role as well. There are some things that are dated, but overall the book holds up really well and has a great message about positive thinking. As a bonus, it teaches a parent-approved anti-spoiling message. Here’s my review. Bonus: Got a Kindle? There’s a free eBook version.

Target age: middle grades

Millicent Min: Girl Genius by Lisa YeeMillicent Min: Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

Millicent Min: Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

Lisa Yee’s first novel was about a Chinese girl genius who’s about to start her senior year of high school at the ripe old age of eleven. It’s particularly interesting to read now in light of “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua because Millicent’s parents are definitely not tiger material. Millie is one of these kids who is extremely book smart but has no clue when it comes to making friends and interacting with people, and Yee does a great job giving her a voice. Yee later went on to write many more books about geeky kids and invent new ways to torture Marshmallow Peeps. Here’s the full review.

Target age: middle grades

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizziThe Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

Eva Nine is a precocious young girl who’s grown up underground, raised by a robotic mother-figure. But when she’s forced to go aboveground for the first time, she quickly discovers that the world is not at all what she expected. The Search for WondLa is a superb sci-fi tale that somehow retains the feel of a classic fairy tale. Full review here.

Target age: middle grades

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. WredeDealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Dragons, brave princesses, magic and cherries jubilee—this series sounds like a winner to me! I haven’t read these myself, but during Princess Week GeekMom Kris Bordessa notes that she read this to her sons to introduce them to strong female characters that aren’t just helplessly waiting for a prince to rescue them. Be sure to read Kris’ detailed review here.

Target age: middle grades

Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas SiddellGunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell

Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell

I got a glimpse of Gunnerkrigg Court at Comic-Con last fall but didn’t get around to reading it until just this week. It’s not a brand-new comic book (the first volume was published by Archaia in 2008) but I hadn’t seen much about it before. Antimony Carver has just started school at Gunnerkrigg Court, which appears to be much more than just a school. Almost immediately strange things begin to happen, like the second shadow that starts following her around. Antimony becomes good friends with fellow classmate Kat Donlan and together they explore the bizarre world of Gunnerkrigg, which is inhabited with robot birds, body-stealing demons and dragon-slaying teachers. There’s a lot of humor that’s just a little off-kilter, and you never know what to expect next. Antimony, unfazed, takes it all in stride. You can actually read the whole story online as well, so I won’t do a more detailed review here — just go check it out! Volume One: Orientation collects Chapters 1 to 14, and Volume. 2: Research continues the saga.

Target age: middle grades

The Various by Steve AugardeThe Various by Steve Augarde

The Touchstone Trilogy by Steve Augarde

I’ve mentioned this trilogy before as one that really hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves—and may not because of the way it’s been marketed in the U.S. It’s a story about the tribes of little people who inspired the legends of fairies and leprechauns, and there are several amazing female characters in it, both human and non-human. More detailed review here.

Target age: middle grades to teens

Smile by Raina TelgemeierSmile by Raina Telgemeier

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Did you have to get braces as a kid? I did — and I had a lot of teeth pulled to make room for them. But that hardly even compares to what happened to Raina Telgemeier when she was in sixth grade. Smile is Telgemeier’s comic-book account of her middle school and high school years, a coming-of-age story told through the trials and tribulations of extreme orthodontics. Here’s a full review.

Target age: teen

Plain Kate by Erin BowPlain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

All of the books listed here are ones I’d recommend—but this one may be one of my personal favorites. Plain Kate is the orphaned daughter of a woodcarver and a pretty good carver herself. But with the hard times come whispering suspicions of witchcraft, and Kate makes a plan to leave her town and strike out on her own. She meets a real witch, falls in with the Roamers for a while and discovers her own gifts. It’s beautifully written and the story is haunting. Please read the full review here.

Target age: teen

I hope that’s enough to get you started! Coming up next: more picture books, classics, scifi and comics.

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