I hope my series of Stories About Girls has given you a good place to start — but honestly, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are tons of classic books that I haven’t mentioned yet (Judy Blume’s books, the Little House on the Prairie series and Bridge to Terabithia are just a very short list) and piles of newer books that deserve to be included as well. There are webcomics (like Girl Genius recommended by Jeff Cooper or Gronk) and iPhone apps (7Wonderlicious or a few others that I’ve reviewed) that feature girls as main characters. And obviously I haven’t had time to read them all myself … yet.
So, here’s a collection of suggestions that you have sent to me. I can’t vouch for these personally but these are all books that GeekDad readers have praised, so I’ll let the readers speak for themselves! In the meantime, be sure to check out the first five installments if you haven’t already (links at the bottom of this post), and stay tuned for more in a couple months!
Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce, recommended by Brian Little
Pierce writes with honesty and conviction about the coming of age of Keladry of Mindelan (aka The Protector of the Small). It’s swords and sorcery, so naturally there’s violence involved. Pierce doesn’t flinch from matter-of-fact descriptions, but she’s not gory about it, either. Pierce also discusses, in more or less general terms, menstruation, breasts, pregnancy and similar biological aspects centering around puberty. Kel and Alanna’s relationships with various males—mostly emotional, only very occasionally physical to the slightest degree—are frequent topics. Again, though, the discussions are very matter-of-fact, and not painted in graphic or off-putting ways.
My daughter adores Keladry. She’s tough-minded, independent, and takes no guff from anyone, boys or girls. She stands up for herself, and teaches others to do the same. She’s brave not because she’s fearless, but because she learns to overcome her fear. Keladry grows into the kind of adult I hope my own daughter will become, and I’m glad Pierce gave me the chance to introduce the kiddo to both fantasy and a worthy role model.
Salamander Dream by Hope Larson, recommended by Joel Becker
This wonderful comic book is about a girl named Hailey, who “lived on the furthest edge of a very small city, in the exact place where the suburbs began turning to countryside.” The woods beside her house is the setting where she is befriended by Salamander who would tell her magical stories as they walked together through the forest. As Hailey grows older her interests slowly shift away from the woods and Salamander. After many years Hailey visits the woods again and finds Salamander. This time she shares a story with him. Afterwards, she bid farewell to Salamander and moved away.
The younger set may not get some of the ideas in Salamander Dream but the artwork is just beautiful. I would think that elementary age up through the middle grades would find this book enjoyable. What makes this book especially geeky is that scattered throughout the book are the common name identifications of the flora and fauna found in Hailey’s neck of the woods.
Chiggers by Hope Larson, recommended by Joel Becker
Larson’s third comic book follows Abby as she returns to summer camp. Abby was expecting camp to be the same but it seemed that everyone had changed and the only person that she seems to get along with is the new girl, Shasta. This is a story about Abby growing into her own person and reevaluating relationships and finding new ones. The book chronicles Abby as she walks that tenuous line between her old camp friends and her new friend, Shasta.
Chiggers has the camp drama between girls which may not be the kind of thing boys would like to read and is geared more to the middle grades than the younger ones. It’s a great read for the budding geek girls in the family as the main characters like reading fantasy novels and role playing games. As in Salamander Dream though less so, Chiggers has some neat trivia about lightning and chiggers as well as instructions on how to make friendship bracelets and play Egyptian Rat Screw.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, recommended by Gina Gagliano
This story is pretty much all about girls being excellent. First you’ve got Sylvia and her aunt, who love each other desperately but don’t have enough money for anything. So they’re both slowly starving themselves to let the other one live. And then you’ve got Bonnie, who’s the archetypal child of privilege, right up to the point when her parents die (sort of) and she’s forced to use all her child-of-privilege-induced skills to save herself and her cousin (Sylvia) and then get revenge! All of which is achieved through lots of lovely England in the late 1800s/early 1900s, wolves, evil governesses, goose-boys and secret passageways.
Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer, recommended by Gina Gagliano
This is a book of which the plot is: magical hot chocolate apparatus in the wrong—very wrong—person’s hands! Two cousins, Kate and Cecelia, correspond to each other, Kate sending letters from London to her cousin in the English countryside. Their mysterious magical occurrences don’t seem to be connected—but clearly if you’re forced to dance with someone called The Mysterious Marquis, not everything is happening in the traditional sort of way. Sorcery and Cecelia is filled with lots of wonderful girls, including Kate (who has magically-induced clumsiness!), Cecelia (who knows how to dress for camouflage in the British countryside!), and the Mysterious Marquis’ mother, who can make girls’ hair stay up just by talking to it sternly. Now that’s a useful skill to have.
The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, recommended by Jenny Williams
Not your typical princess story, this book’s main character is a 14-year-old girl, Miri. The storyline takes her away from her home in a close-knit mining community and puts her in a new and challenging situation, learning how to become a princess at a school specially set up for this purpose. Cut off from their home village by the rough winter, Miri and her fellow students have to find ways to cope all while competing to become the next princess. Most of the other characters in this book are also female. The Princess Academy was a 2006 Newbery Honor Book. Target age: 11-15
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, recommended by Jenny Williams
The Goose Girl is another story about a princess, but this royal who can speak with animals and doesn’t quite fit in to her family is sent off to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom. On the journey, danger and treachery intervene, and the previously pampered princess has to fend for herself to survive and thwart an overthrow. Target age: 11-15
The Witches of Karres by James Schmitz, recommended by Andrew Todd
Like all good children’s literature, The Witches of Karres is written on two levels, one for the child, and one for the adult, at the same level as, say, The Wind in the Willows. It doesn’t use baby vocabulary and recognizes the existence of amorality and divided loyalties.
The Wikipedia page is substantially accurate, though it’s written in non-spoiler fashion, and doesn’t talk about style and characterization. The style is basic horse opera. There’s a slinky evil dance-hall-girl character (Sunnat), of the type you commonly find in an old TV western, who wants to steal everything and torture everyone. The ten-year-old heroine, Goth, eventually, and after abundant provocation, magically transforms Sunnat into a were-pig, telling her that if she wants to look human, she has to start thinking human, instead of being so greedy and hateful. “She works at it, she could look pretty much like she was in about a month.” From the point of view of Goth, whom the juvenile reader would naturally be encouraged to identify herself with, Captain Pausert (the good guy) is so idealistic that he is chronically naive about the dishonest motivations of other adults. Put him in a straightforward gunslinger situation, and he’s in his element, but at other times, Goth finds herself running interference for him.
The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett, recommended by Caroline Gray
The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight
Tiffany is a great character; when she reads that a monster has “eyes the size of soup plates,” she gets down a soup plate to measure it. Throughout the books, Tiffany is learning to be a witch and learning that it is mostly hard work helping and listening to people with very little magic sparkle. But somebody has to do it. Along with Tiffany are a clan of Wee Free Men, six inches high, blue and inclined to fight anything, steal anything or drink anything.
The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson, recommended by Matt Killeen
There is one gaping hole in your list, albeit an understandable one as I’m uncertain if she has the same profile in the States, but Jacqueline Wilson is a prolific writer of strong female characters. Some might be regarded as a ‘bit girly’ but it’s all in the packaging. Her standout work, IMHO, is The Illustrated Mum. It is a heart-rending story of a manic depressive (bi-polar) mother told from a young child’s point of view without ever quite failing to entertain. As a parent I found it incredibly distressing reading—in a good way if such a thing is possible—and it avoids the cop-out of the easy happy ending. I regard it as a hugely significant and important work. Whenever people describe my writing for children as ‘too dark’ I point them in the direction of this book.
Clarice Bean series by Lauren Child, recommended by Matt Killeen
Much as I’m a fan of Charlie & Lola, Lauren Child’s best work is the Clarice Bean canon, which begins as a picture book series and then swells into an increasingly complex series of novels. It’s perfect for developing readers. It’s less well known as it’s less obviously marketable. They’re also clearly slightly autobiographical.
Previous Stories About Girls lists: