One of the perks of raising a girl today, in my experience, lies in the opportunity to provide her with an education that will expand her expectations of herself. Today, a rich literature on this topic is available. I very much enjoyed reading stories to my daughter which emphasized a girl’s strength and power of decision, because it also nurtured my own sense of womanhood. Many strong and inspiring characters are examples we both still refer to today. I am grateful for these intimate mother-daughter moments of reading stories together that were dedicated to lift us up, often inspire us, and mostly, entertain us. Reading books with heroines who conquered their fears and limitations created a bond of sisterhood between both of us, and created a world of possibilities and adventure. These messages have had a solid impact on my daugther as she has grown into a strong-minded, directed and assertive young woman today.
Robert Munsch’s books are examples of early fun readings for girls – and for boys alike. Munsch’s main character is always spontaneous, untidy, witty and utterly charming. She is never self-conscious, nor does she worry about the opinion of others. She is a fearless explorer, independent, and always compassionate. A must-read is The Paper Bag Princess. Princess Elizabeth sets out to rescue her prince who is snooty and spoiled. Then a dragon kidnaps the helpless prince. Elizabeth gives up all her possessions to keep her promise to him and herself to bring him back home. Stripped of all her belongings, she is left with only her character, intelligence, and her determination to follow her heart. She outsmarts the dragon and finds the prince – but in the end, she is turned off by his cockiness and ungratefulness. She speaks her mind and blows him off. The story ends that “she doesn’t marry the prince after all” and walks into the sunset. The illustrations by Michael Martchenko are very expressive, and the story is really fun.
Munsch and Martchenko together have published a good number of entertaining books, many of which we own here at the library. Another delightful one is Stephanie’s Ponytail. Stephanie sets a trend in her community with her changing ponytails, and outsmarts everyone at the end. Her character is innovative, assertive and independent. Loved it. Smelly Socks is yet another charming story of a girl who so loves her new socks, she never takes them off. The community is up and arms over the smell she leaves behind, but she does not listen. Here, our little hero is a free-spirited little girl whose willpower has no bounds and her joy is communicative. On a more serious note, Millicent And The Wind speaks of a socially isolated girl who befriends the wind, who in turn guides her to new and sustaining friendships. I liked this story very much as it addressed fitting in with others, and the ability to tune into nature to find guidance and comfort.
Another important book which left its mark in our household was Angela’s Wings (Eric Jon Jones). The story is about a little girl who has an exceptional gift, and slowly grows to embrace it. She wakes up one morning and finds that she has sprouted little wings on her back. She is horrified at the discovery of this new feature. Angela doesn’t want to be different from the rest of the world and so tries to hide them. When the wings grow big and graceful and she can no longer hide them, everyone makes fun of her. Angela is ashamed of herself, and sits alone at the playground. She then meets several individuals in her community who counsel her and show her that she has an incredible gift she needs to use for herself and the greater good. She hears about others before her who had exceptional characteristics but never used them, and therefore lived very unhappily. Angela’s Wings is about stepping into your own individuality and owning it, even if it sets you apart from your peer group. Angela eventually grows to enjoy her uniqueness and gains a whole new perspective on her life.
This story had a profound influence in my daughter’s life, who also journeyed with her own gift as a musician – and finally made it an integral part of her identity. She even referred to the book in her college essay to address her own development. The book is good for young children who struggle about being different. The illustrations are beautiful and the writing simple and conversational. Do take this book home – it has power in it and might enrich your child as it did mine.
For slightly older readers, Seven Brave Women (Betsy Hearne) and The Bravest Woman in America (Marissa Moss) place their heroines in a historical context. In Seven Brave Women, the story follows several generations of early American women who survive through difficult historical or environmental circumstances, all the while upholding their duties to their families and community. The book is about making a difference in the lives of others, simply by the power of your character, strength and endurance. The Bravest Woman in America is about a lighthouse keeper who grows up dedicated to save many people in distress.
Author Tamora Pierce builds her characters as introspective and self-aware young women who bravely overcome fictional but symbolic archetypes by making difficult compromises. Pierce wrote The Song Of The Lioness series in which the protagonist, Alanna, is determined to become a knight to follow justice and serve the highest and best in herself and society. Her calling takes her on a wide adventure in which she discovers herself, facing her own demons and doubts, keeping her conscience as her guiding light to make the right choices.
In Daughters Of The Lioness and The Immortals, she sets new standards for fantasy literature. Pierce’s characters are determined to break barriers in order to do the work they love. In The Immortals, the heroine Veralidaine, has a magical gift. This magic gives her a unique connection with animals. At the beginning of the series, she can communicate with animals, then the gift gradually evolves throughout the series – she can heal the animals, and finally she can shapeshift into an animal.
Patricia Wrede wrote the delightful story, Dealing with Dragons. This book is about a heroine who finds being a princess excessively boring so she takes a job working for a dragon. This is the first of a popular and humorous series.
If you like pure adventure, Island Of The Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) is a winner. Twelve year-old Karana must survive alone for years on a West Coast island. She is a resourceful girl, and through a rough odissey, she blossoms into a compassionate young woman who values communion with nature and animals. Throughout her journey, she makes new choices, becomes a vegetarian, and builds her own community from which she draws support and is able to nurture. Beautiful story!
For young adults, I recommend Isabel Allende’s book, The House of the Spirits. Allende’s books were published as adult literature, but I recommend them to a younger audience as well. The House of the Spirits remains faithful to the South American style of weaving fantasy with history and culture. The book is a family saga, following several generations of exceptional women of intelligence and character. I personally loved all of her books because Allende skillfully brings the reader into the mind of her inspiring heroines who follow their inner voice.
Come browse our many books and series that cover the topic of strong, wonderful girls, and about successful women that history has graced us with. They are a true mark of our time and remind us all that women possess within themselves endless resources which open them to an array of possibilities.