There’s a rumor that boys prefer stories with male lead characters. I’m not sure when that’s supposed to kick in. We’ve gone five and a half years and I see no signs of Boy Detective shying away from appealing stories with strong characters just because they’re led by girls. Which is great, because I like our reading to be as diverse as possible. It helps make up for the days when all he wants to talk about for seven hours straight is Ninjago.
Here are a few of our favorite fantastic children’s books about girls, in stories that I enjoy reading just as much as Boy Detective does. If you’ve read any of my previous kids book posts, you know that I read my kid a LOT of books, but I have strong feelings that not all kids’ books are created equal. These are the ones I’d sit down with myself for a spell, even if I didn’t have a kid handy to read them with me.
Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin, with art by Ana Juan. If the kiddo in your life likes magic of any kind, this one’s a win. Elena’s father scoffs at her desire to follow in his glassblowing footsteps, because she’s a girl. She’s not willing to take no for an answer. Her journey to Monterrey to learn the art is filled with enchantment, and her eventual triumph has us saying “See? Told ya so!” In a nice way, of course.
17 Things I’m Not Allowed To Do Anymore, by Jenny Offill with art by Nancy Carpenter, is just hilarious. The faux innnocent narration, the sly humor in the art, the antics of the narrator. Also, the badgers. Some of the parent reviews I’ve seen express horror at the unrepentant main character, but even at a very young age Boy Detective was crystal clear that this gal’s stunts are NOT very good ideas – and that’s what makes it so funny! The follow-up, 11 Experiments That Failed, is also quite pleasing, especially for science fans.
Madam President, written and illustrated by Lane Smith, is a must for any child with dreams of leading the free world. I would vote for this girl any day of the week. See if you can spot all the tributes to great female leaders of the past sprinkled throughout the pages.
Sense Pass King: A Story From Cameroon as retold by Karin Tchana, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Gorgeous detailed art in this girl-power retelling of a folktale. Young Ma’antah is widely known to be more clever than the king. Clearly he can’t stand for that! But trying to outwit the most clever girl in the kingdom is probably not his best move… I especially loved how Ma’antah raised up another girl too during the story.
Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim, with art by Sophie Blackall. I cannot read this book without tearing up. It’s made storytime challenging! Ruby’s Wish is based on the story of the author’s grandmother, one of the first women to attend college in China. It’s such a quiet book and conveys such love, even though there’s a family conflict at the core of the plot. Ruby is a distinctive character and her story is a positive tale about progress in gender equality. Love it!
Mary’s Penny, written by Tanya Landman and illustrated by Richard Holland. A quiet, reflective book. I didn’t know if my son would go for it, since he was in a heavy superhero-explosions-robots phase, but I brought it in the car one day when we went on errands. He was captivated. It’s a good introduction to discussing how people had different beliefs in the past, and how far we’ve come (or haven’t). I particularly liked how Mary doesn’t reproach her father and brothers – even when they’re kind of jerks. Um, I mean, they have what our family calls “strange ideas” about what women can and can’t do. She just shows them calmly what she has to offer. Nicely done.
Raising Dragons, by Jerdine Nolen with illustrations by Elise Primavera. Stole. My. Heart. Black girl magic at its finest. I wish more people knew about this book, but I think 18 year old picture books have a hard time making it to the “diverse books” lists? The narration sounds a little American rural without being overdone or stereotyped, and it’s just lovely to watch this gal’s “click” moment about her destiny when she discovers a dragon egg on her family farm. I also admire her quiet self-assurance and competence in her chosen vocation.
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully begins when Mirette, who works in her mother’s boarding house, meets the great high wire walker Bellini and realizes she must become a high wire walker herself. So it’s practice, practice, practice for Mirette as her friendship with her teacher grows. Eventually he’s the one who needs what she can offer: faith. I love the genuine master-apprentice dynamic here, and the art is beautiful.
Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen. Violet can fix or build anything. What she really wants, though, is to win the upcoming Air Show so that maybe the other kids will stop teasing her. On her way to the Air Show, though, trouble strikes, and she has to accept a big personal disappointment in order to help others who really need it. There’s a LOT to talk about in this book, and Violet is a really good girl character.
Zephyr Takes Flight by Steve Light. The drawings in this book are exquisite, from Zephyr herself to the blueprints and flying machines she finds through a secret door behind her dresser. The story is simple but it doesn’t need to be any more complicated. It’s just perfect, and Zephyr is one clever little cookie.
(Hey, do you think Violet and Zephyr should have a playdate?)
That Rabbit Belongs To Emily Brown, written by Cressida Cowell and illustrated by Neal Layton. Her Highness Queen Gloriana the Third keeps interrupting Emily Brown’s adventures with her rabbit Stanley. The Queen is the poshest person on the planet, you see, and she simply MUST have Bunnywunny. Whose name is Stanley, thankyouverymuch, and he’s not for sale, says Emily! Unfortunately the Queen is a bit of a sneak. What will Emily do to get Stanley back?! Cute book, and I especially enjoyed all of Emily and Stanley’s adventures.
Min-Yo and the Moon Dragon by Elizabeth Hillman, illustrated by John Wallner. The moon is falling to earth. What to do? The king sends the lightest person in China, a little girl named Min-Yo, up the ancient and fragile cobweb staircase to the moon to ask the dragon who lives there for help. I’m not sure that was a responsible decision on his part, but Min-Yo is clever and brave, so it all works out in the end. Pretty, pretty watercolor illustrations and a well-written story.
A Pair of Twins by Kavita Mandana, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath. Sundari the girl and Lakshmi the elephant were born on the same day, almost the same minute. They grew up together, and Sundari became an expert in all things elephant. However, as a girl, she wasn’t in line to inherit her father’s role as chief mahout, responsible for all the elephants of the palace. I won’t tell you how Sundari gets to a happy ending, but it’s no spoiler to say that she does – and the rich and elegant art bursts with joy for her and Lakshmi. I don’t remember how I ended up with this book in my bag, but I’m so glad I did.
And that’s the list of our favorite children’s books about girls who rock! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!