Did you think I would forget the girls?
To expand on yesterday’s post on good books for boys (and girls!), I wanted to include some favorite books of mine for young female readers.
But I wonder how reciprocal these lists really are? Maybe these are just my own gender biases talking, but I can see a girl reading the “boy” books very easily (having done that myself), but I’ve never met a guy that’s read books that are more traditionally considered for girls. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I’d love to meet a guy who has proudly read “girl” books.
Maybe a lot of good would come from encouraging boys to read more girl-centric books. They should be able to enjoy a good story regardless if the protagonist if female or not. Maybe it’s important to read these kinds of books to boys before they develop antagonistic opinions towards “girl stuff?”
Anyway, I’m not sure I really wanted to step into the gender politics of reading, because I’m not well informed on the subject. So take everything I say with a grain of salt. Books for boys, books for girls – books for all would be preferable, but maybe unrealistic? I’m not sure.
Alright, let’s just get to the darn books. Here are some great reads for girls (and boys!) that feature intelligent, competent and brave characters doing their thing. You’ll notice there’s quite a bit of cross-over with yesterday’s list (and yesterday’s list still applies to female readers as well).
Good Books for Girls (and Boys!):
Homesick: My Own Story – This one is a memoir, and like Going Solo, would be great for a kid who is interested in history. In Homesick, we meet a young girl who is the daughter of American missionaries and has grown up in China for her entire life. What follows is her perspective of the political turmoil in China during the 1920’s that ultimately leads her family to return back to the United States, a place she has never been. It’s a well written memoir with a profoundly observational narrator. I read this book in the fifth grade and credit it for my interest in 20th century Chinese history and expatriate living in general.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond – This novel is set in 1687, during the early Puritan colonization of what would become the United States. Our hero, Kit, is a young woman born and raised on a Barbados plantation. However, circumstances cause her to be sent to live with relatives in the new Connecticut colony. She chafes under the dour religion and rules that govern everyone’s behavior, but eventually Kit becomes friends with an old Quaker woman who lives by herself. Unfortunately, things get bad when they are accused of being witches for failing to conform to their community. Find out what happens.
Boy - The first half of Roald Dahl's autobiography, which chronicles his life growing up in England prior to World War II. Much of the story discusses his experiences going to boarding schools, and what a far-cry that was from the romanticized version we see in the Harry Potter series. There are beatings and harassment by both teachers and older boys, but there are also funny stories of pranks and motorcycles, sports-teams and photography. If you have a kid who is interested in becoming a writer, Boy is excellent too because Dahl explains how and where he got many of the ideas for his future novels based on the experiences, big and small, that made up his life.
The Little House on the Prairie Series – This one almost goes without saying. It occurs too me now that my little brother enjoyed these books as well, so maybe this would be a great place to start boys on traditional “girl” books? The series follow the adventures of Laura and her family settling on the American Plaines frontier. It’s interesting to watch the progression of not just her family establish itself, but also the town that ultimately grows up around them, displacing the wildness of the frontier.
Hatchet - Another adventure story, but this one has higher-stakes A young boy, maybe thirteen years old, survives a plane crash in the middle of the isolated Canadian wilderness. With only a small hatchet as a tool, he figures out how to survive with no food or shelter, and how he can ultimately be saved. A very likable, rational main character.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles –If you have a kid who loves dragons and magic, this is a great series to get them hooked on. I previously wrote an expanded review here.
Where the Red Fern Grows - A classic novel about a young boy coming of age in the Ozarks. He earns enough money to buy two hound-dogs, who he trains to help him track and hunt raccoon, which he sells for fur. It's partially a story about poverty, and mostly a story about the love between a boy and his dogs. A warning, however, the ending is incredibly sad, but sometimes it's good to feel sad.
Catherine, Called Birdy – This is an epistolary novel (told in the form of a diary), in which we learn the inner thoughts of a very young woman in medieval England. “Birdy” is bright and independent and most of all, doesn’t want to be forced to marry a much older man, as was typical of that time. It’s an excellent account of what life might have been like for the upper-class during the medieval period.
The Midwife’s Apprentice – By the same author of Catherine, Called Birdy, The Midwife’s Apprentice takes place at the approximately same time and place, except from the point-of-view of a destitute young girl who lives in the village. She’s eventually taken in by the sour midwife and learns the craft of that trade. What follows are stories of making a few friends, finally feeling valued, and then having to overcome terrible self-doubt. It’s not a graphic story at all, but there are descriptions of childbirth which can get a little messy, so just be aware.
Island of the Blue Dolphins – A young pacific island girl is accidentally left behind, alone on her island, after her village is taken away on boats to a new, unknown world. She must figure out how to survive on her own, but she has more than enough intelligence, strength, knowledge, and training to figure out how to do so. Like Hatchet, this is an adventure/survival story and those kinds of books typically contain a lot of problem solving, which may be interesting for young readers who enjoy activities like girl-scouts/boy-scouts, Minecraft, programming, or similar analytical pursuits.
Bridge to Terabithia – This is a childhood classic about feeling alienated among your age-group and then that incredible thing that happens when you finally find friend to share a vivid imaginative world. It’s also a great story about friendship between boys and girls. Warning, it is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read, but I think kids both need and want to feel sad sometimes.
Edited to Add:
Shark Lady: The Adventures of Eugenie Clark - I can't believe I forgot this book! I was obsessed with it in the third grade, so much so, my friends decided it was fair that I kept it in my desk instead of in the classroom's bookshelf. Shark Lady is about the scientist, Eugenie Clark, who became a world famous fish and shark expert. Starting with her childhood fascination with aquariums, the book describes how she established her career and research in very approachable story-telling terms. I just remember being fascinated by the descriptions of her scuba diving and the fish and sharks she would see. This is a great book if you have a child who is interested in science and nature.
Ah! I have to stop myself or I’ll never finish this post! I’ll add more books as I think of them and include them in a list under my Books tab. In general, if you are on the hunt for good books for girls or boys, you can't go wrong with Newberry Award winners.
Any other suggestions?