Stories About Girls, Part 2

Geek Culture

Sally Bear worksheetSally Bear worksheet

My second-grader makes her own story edits on her classwork. Image: Jonathan Liu

(Did you miss Part 1? Here it is!)

Every day when my second-grader comes home from school, she hands me a stack of schoolwork to look at. I go through it fairly quickly, checking to see how she’s done, making sure she’s seen the notes that her teacher has written. I especially love to see the pictures she’s drawn on the backs of her papers or when she has to write her own sentences. And sometimes I get something like what you see above: on a worksheet about Paul R. Bear’s secret identity, my daughter wrote “Sally” over the name, then changed all the “he”s to “she”s and “his” to “her.” She also drew some long hair on the bear (and added a mask, because obviously a superhero bear needs a mask).

It made me stop to think—because the general wisdom that I’ve heard when it comes to kids’ books (and movies and TV shows) is that girls will like stories about boys, but not vice versa. I know my daughter reads plenty of stories about boys and enjoys a lot of them, but it’s apparent that she doesn’t think about them in the same way. It’s still easier for her to picture herself as a character when it’s a girl.

So that’s one reason I’m making these lists—because girls deserve to have books they can get into. I do want to reiterate what I said in Part 1, though: just because these stories are about girls doesn’t mean they’re only for girls. I think a lot of boys would really enjoy some of the books on this list, and I think it’s a good idea for any kid to have stories about boys and girls.

Without further ado, ten more excellent stories about girls!

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert MunschThe Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

This is a classic from 1980 which I only discovered last year at our library, and is a really fun and funny picture book about a self-rescuing princess. When a dragon comes and burns down Elizabeth’s castle and carries away her beloved Prince Ronald, she dons a paper bag (the only thing she could find) and sets off to rescue Ronald. She outwits the dragon, rescues Ronald … and then learns an important lesson about self-worth. The drawings are delightful and I like the story because it’s about a girl who is smart, resourceful and not afraid to speak her mind. (Prince Ronald, on the other hand, is a jerk, but he gets his comeuppance.) Ok, there’s a little bit of inconsistency in the size of the dragon from drawing to drawing, and it doesn’t make sense that a paper bag is the only thing that didn’t burn, but hopefully you can get past those and enjoy the story anyway. I did.

Target age: 4-8

April and Esme: Tooth Fairies by Bob GrahamApril and Esme: Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham

April and Esme: Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham

Here’s another find from my library—but this one is a new book. April and Esme are tooth fairies, off to deliver their first tooth. It’s a very cute story that puts them in the modern world with cell phones and highways and anxious parents, and I think the story does a great job of portraying a modern tooth fairy family in a very sweet way. Click here for a full review.

Target age: 4-8

Ramona Quimby series by Beverly ClearyRamona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary

While I know my other elementary school teachers must have read stories to me, the one I really remember is my fifth grade teacher, who read to us a lot. We heard about Ralph and his motorcycle, a magical cupboard with an Indian in it, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and—of course—Ramona Quimby. I would guess that a lot of us who are parents now probably grew up with at least some of Beverly Cleary’s books. Ramona is quite a character and I imagine that a lot of spunky little girls (Junie B. Jones, for instance) have been inspired by her. There are a whole bunch of books that feature Ramona (and her big sister, “Beezus”) but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

Target age: early elementary to middle grades

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia FunkeIgraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

I told you Cornelia Funke would make another appearance on my list—this time in a book for middle-grade readers. Igraine’s parents are great magicians and keepers of the singing magic books. Her older brother, Albert, is training to be a magician as well. But Igraine—who is turning twelve—wants to be a knight more than anything. Well, when Osmund the Greedy shows up at their castle in order to steal the singing books for himself, Igraine finally gets her wish.

Funke has a lot of fun with the names of the characters: Rowan the Heartless (aka the Spiky Knight or the Iron Hedgehog), or Sir Urban of Wintergreen, the Sorrowful Knight of the Mount of Tears. Igraine tries very hard to live by the rules of chivalry as set out by Sir Urban, despite the fact that Osmund the Greedy is a dastardly, dishonorable fellow. The plot is also quite funny—on the morning of Osmund’s arrival, Igraine’s parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs—which means they can’t do any magic, and it’s up to Igraine and Albert to defend the castle, fix their parents and protect the Singing Books of Magic.

Target age: middle grades

Half Magic by Edward EagerHalf Magic by Edward Eager

Half Magic by Edward Eager

Edward Eager is another great author who wrote several children’s books in the 1950s and 1960s, and Half Magic isn’t a bad place to start. A family of three girls and a boy discover a magic charm that grants wishes—but only in half, and they have several adventures as they try to work out how the magic works. Each of the four kids has their own distinct personality and it’s a lot of fun to see where they end up. I first discovered it through Matt Blum’s recommendation, and since then have gotten myself—I mean, my daughters—the next book Magic by the Lake as well. As Matt pointed out, there are some remarks that are dated now and are a bit racist or sexist, but nothing too severe, and they could be used as good conversation starters with your kids.

Target age: middle grades

Any Which Wall by Laurel SnyderAny Which Wall by Laurel Snyder

Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder

Laurel Snyder was inspired by books like Half Magic and Edith Nesbit herself, and Any Which Wall is sort of her ode to those books. Four kids—this time two girls and two boys—find a mysterious wall in the middle of a cornfield. Eventually they figure out that the wall can take them to any place and time where there’s a wall, and they take turns picking the location. This one is also great pro-reading propaganda, and encourages the idea of being your own person and not just becoming the person other people think you should be. I wrote a full review back at the end of 2009.

Target age: middle grades

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne BirdsallThe Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall

This series rounds out my trio of “four kids having adventures.” The Penderwicks are four girls, ages four to twelve, who live with their widowed father. The first book takes place in the summer when they go on vacation to a cottage owned by the snooty Mrs. Tifton (who, come to think of it, is a bit of a Tiger Mom to her son Jeffrey). The second book is about the girls’ involvement in their dad’s romantic life—his sister-in-law gives him a letter from his deceased wife, telling him that it’s about time to think about dating. This, of course, alarms the girls and they do their best to implement their “Save Daddy Plan.” Even though there is a lot of conflict among the sisters (who are quite different from one another), the books do seem real and there’s no doubt these are four strong female characters. Read my full review here.

Target age: middle grades

Amulet series by Kazu KibuishiAmulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

If you’re looking for a great graphic novel series for middle grade readers, check out Amulet. It starts off in our world but quickly moves into another, with elves and magic and steampunk-ish flying machines. The adventure and action should surely interest comics-loving boys, but the main character is a girl named Emily. Her younger brother Navin is also featured, but Emily is the keeper of the Amulet, which grants her powers but also has a will of its own. One interesting thing about the story is that, so far, you can’t be sure who can be trusted. Everyone (including the voice of the Amulet) seems to have their own agenda, and Emily has to walk a difficult path among all the warring opinions. Vincent Jankowski reviewed the first book back in 2008, and I wrote a full review of the first three books last year.

Target age: middle grades to teens

When You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Last year when I wrote about When You Reach Me, I gave it the GeekDad Seal of Approval. But Rebecca Stead was probably more excited about the other honor the book had just received: the Newbery Medal. It’s a fascinating story, set in New York City, about a girl named Miranda who starts to find some very odd messages. It’s a story that incorporates some sci-fi without really feeling like a sci-fi book, and it’s hard to describe in too much detail without giving away some of the surprise. Read my full review here.

Target age: sixth grade and up (including teens and adults)

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike CavallaroFoiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro

I’ll round out this batch with one more graphic novel: Foiled was written by the extremely prolific Jane Yolen and it’s her first comic book. It’s about Aliera Carstairs, who feels out of place in high school. She’s a fencer and throws her entire being into fencing. Then this new kid shows up at the school, and suddenly everything changes. Bonus geek points: Aliera plays RPGs with her wheelchair-bound cousin. I’ve read that a sequel (Curses, Foiled Again) is in the works but haven’t seen a release date yet. Read my full review here.

Target age: teens

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