Welcome to another edition of Stories About Girls! As I’ve mentioned before, my goal with these isn’t just to give you stories for girls but to make some lists of great books for boys and girls that happen to have girls as main characters. They’re meant to supplement the long lists of great books (for both genders) that have boys as main characters, which tends to be a pretty long list.
On this list I’ve got some very old books and some very new ones; there are a few more comic books to choose from this time. If you’ve got younger kids be sure to check out my previous Picture Book Edition. This list has a few more for teens and young adults, though not exclusively so. (Also, click here for Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Can there be any doubt that Lewis Carroll was a geek? (Perhaps more accurately—he’s the sort of person who, if he were alive today, we would certainly call a geek.) He loved math problems, logic puzzles and wordplay, and incorporated them into his stories and poems. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has taken on many forms since its publication in 1865—including over twenty film and TV adaptations, comic books and even video games—but if you haven’t read the original you should definitely pick it up. You really have no excuse—it’s in the public domain and can be had for free at a number of places, including Project Gutenberg or the free Kindle edition.
Alice doesn’t always make the right choices—and indeed makes very wrong choices some of the times—but she’s still a great character who tries to think for herself despite being thrust into this world where the regular rules don’t apply and everything is topsy-turvy. I think most of us think of Alice as a book for little kids, but when reading it to my daughter I was reminded of how sophisticated much of the humor is, and it may be best appreciated by older kids (who probably think they’re too old for it).
If you’re looking for a hard copy of the book, there’s a huge selection to choose from. I actually own two, one that is annotated and has the original illustrations by John Tenniel. The other (pictured here) is illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger with her wonderful, somewhat understated watercolors. And though you can’t buy a book yet with Meg Hunt’s illustrations (seen at the very top of this post), you can visit the Picture Book Report to see more of her take on this classic of children’s literature.
Target age: 7-10
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders (illustrated by Lane Smith)
Giant semi-sentient burrs that crawl out of the sea and stick to goats. A widower who will only eat white food. Two brothers who can’t really sing, two sisters who are entirely too concerned about what boys think and one little girl named Capable who lives up to her name when nobody else will help. That’s just a little bit of what you’ll find in George Saunders’ silly-but-profound fable, with spot-on illustrations by the talented Lane Smith. Click here for my full review.
Target age: 7-12
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Zita the Spacegirl is brand-spanking-new, the first full-length graphic novel from Ben Hatke, who has published stories (some also featuring Zita) in the Flight anthologies. Zita is a spunky little girl who ends up transported to another world through a portal—and this new world is filled with all sorts of fantastic creatures, excitement and adventure. Read my full review.
Target age: 8-12
Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke
Anyone who loves the magic of reading out loud should check out Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy. Meg and her father Mo have a rare gift: the ability to read characters and things out of books into the real world. But long ago, when Meg was only three, Mo read a book called Inkheart and released a trio of characters into the world: the villain Capricorn (whose heart was as dark as ink), his knife-wielding henchman Basta and the firebreather Dustfinger. Now Meg is twelve, and Dustfinger has turned up in their lives again, much to Mo’s dismay. It’s a wonderful trilogy about the magic of storytelling and the love of books. Click here for my full review.
Target age: middle grades
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Do you like your stories with a nice big side of creepy? Then Coraline may be right up your alley. Coraline lives with her parents in a big rambling house (with some other odd tenants in the other flats). One day she discovers a door into a parallel world, where her Other Mother and Other Father seem like much more fun, other than the buttons they sport for eyes. You’ve got a couple choices here—the original novel with illustrations by Dave McKean, a graphic novel version illustrated by P. Craig Russell and Henry Selick’s stop-motion movie. Click here for a full review.
Target age: middle grades and up (Note: might be a bit creepy for some kids)
Princess Novels by Jim C. Hines
For fans of remixed fairy tales, Jim Hines’ Princess series may be worth checking out. Starting with The Stepsister Scheme, Hines takes various traditional fairy tale characters (Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White) and recasts them as “blade-wielding, magic-using lead-don’t-follow heroines.” Check out John Booth’s full review from last summer.
Target age: teens
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
If you haven’t heard of Katniss Everdeen and the Hunger Games, you probably haven’t been in a bookstore in a while. The first book in the trilogy was published in 2008, and since then it has taken the Young Adult world by storm, with a movie adaptation expected to come next year. It’s a dystopian future story in which teens are sent from various districts to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised deathmatch. While it is marketed as a young adult series, many adults have been sucked into these books as well, including our own John Booth. Check out his full review here.
Target age: teens
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Set in Germany during World War II, The Book Thief is a fascinating story about death, words, a little girl and a Jewish fist fighter hidden in a basement. It is an oddly-written book (for one, it’s narrated by Death) but is a powerful story that will stay with you for a while. It’s a book that is marketed as a young adult novel but would hold its own against much of the better adult fiction I’ve read as well. Zusak makes use of interesting typographical methods and Death makes for a fascinating narrator, but the title character Liesel Meninger is the key to unlocking the story. Click here for a full review.
Target age: young adult
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales by various authors and illustrators
This is a new hardcover collection that includes a mix of older stories and more recent ones, set in the Buffyverse but, for the most part, not featuring Buffy herself. There’s a section about various Slayers throughout history, and then a longer section called Tales of the Vampires which takes a closer look at the vampires themselves, from their point of view. While not all of the stories are about female main characters, the section on Slayers of course features several strong girls and women, and the section on vampires is a mixture of both. The content is similar to what was in the TV show, so it’s best for high schoolers and up. I wrote a full review last month on Buffy’s birthday.
Target age: teens and up
Moving Pictures by Kathryn & Stuart Immonen
I debated whether or not to include Moving Pictures on this list—after all, there are scores of other books that are ripe for inclusion, and this one is definitely not for younger readers—not necessarily because of the content but because of the reading level. Ila Gardner is a curator working in France during World War II, trying to hide artwork from the German Military Art Commission. It’s a story told from several different angles, and the Immonens don’t spell everything out for you, but it’s a gorgeous graphic novel about artwork, war and dangerous relationships. Click here for my full review.
Target age: teens and up