When I became a mother to a daughter, I became a bit more aware of the messages that some of the classic books send to little girls (and boys). I grew up on princesses, and damsels in distress. To six year old me, it seemed fairly reasonable that I should focus on happily ever after, once I had been ‘rescued’ of course.
I wanted to share the books and stories of my childhood with my daughter. But I wanted to make sure that the messages she got were a fairer mix. She could be the princess of her story, if that is what she wanted. She could also be the hero though, wave a sword and do the rescuing.
A friend gave me a copy of an amazing little book called “The Paper Bag Princess”, which was written by Robert Munsch. In this story, the princess digs deep against the odds and does the rescuing. There is no happily ever after with her prince. Though she does live happily ever after anyway. The story tickled me and delighted my daughter who wanted it read all the time.
Another feisty character is Babette Cole’s “Princess Smartypants”. Being forced to find a suitor, Princess Smartypants makes it quite an impossible task. After all, she is having too much fun living life on her terms and hanging out with her gaggle of pets.
These books were excellent for my daughter when she was in pre-school and still held their charm into primary school. A great series of books for older kids (late primary to middle school) are the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Patricia C. Wrede’s Cimorene is the perfect princess for those girls who don’t want to sit on the sideline. She is a self-rescuing, smart, and very practical princess!
Adventures in a Strange Land
Going classic, L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” are both great stories featuring an adventuring girl and a wide range of strange new friends.
Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time” has to get a mention here. Best for ages nine and up, this story has been turned into an awesome movie too. The book follows Meg, her gifted brother Charles Wallace and a friend Calvin as they move through worlds looking for Meg’s father. Parts of the book get a little creepy, but more like a tame episode of Dr Who. There are some religious themes to this one as well.
My other absolute favourite series, for intermediate to high school aged kids are the Fairyland books by Cathrynne M Valente. The first book is called “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, which is the best book title I have ever seen. The book follows September as she is whisked away from her boring life by the Green Wind to have an adventure. She makes her way around Fairyland making friends and enemies and doing noble deeds. As an adult, I loved these books. They are so rich, and just like falling back into childhood. There are so many great passages about growing up, or perhaps not needing to.
Can you really mention books about a girl who goes to a strange land without mentioning “The BFG” by Roald Dahl? Oh the horror of the bean-eating giants, and snozzcumbers! This one is probably my favourite Dahl story, though “Matilda” is also very good.
Another childhood favourite for me was Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers”. I was fascinated by the idea of little people living in my walls. I related to Arrietty quite a lot as well – that sense of growing up and out-growing your place, and then trying to find where you fit.
Stephanie Burgis’ “The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart” was a book my husband picked out. Our daughter loves anything with dragons, so she was immediately drawn to this story. It’s an excellent book about facing changes and challenges and learning more about who you are because of that.
Tiffany Aching is a frying pan welding witch-to-be in Terry Pratchett’s “The Wee Free Men”. This one is best for middle to high school aged kids. It’s hilarious and had our daughter in stitches, while also providing an entertaining adventure.
Jill Murphy’s Mildred Hubble is the worst student at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches in “The Worst Witch”. This one is also a Netflix series and it’s one of our favourites to binge.
For younger children, Julia Donaldson’s “Room on the Broom” is a magic adventure with a lovely witch and the many friends she makes as she travels on her broom. It’s an easy read, which is good because you’ll be re-reading it a lot!
Now, although these books have girl characters in the lead, that doesn’t mean they are stories solely for girls. Remember that many books are read by both girls and boys that have male lead characters in them – Harry Potter, anyone? So, feel free to introduce boys to these awesome stories too.
Pick up some of these titles today!
Written by Kym Moore
When she isn’t herding kids or cats, Kym loves to drink craft beer, or share a whine and a wine with friends. She is also partial to a well-made cocktail. Her happy places include sitting on couch watching British Comedy and daydreaming. Lots of daydreaming.
Favourite artist: Bowie