“In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself.” - Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life
Here are some of my favorite books to read to and with children, especially girls. Why especially girls? Because it's important that girls encounter lots of examples of girls that break the mold. These books are full of girls who are honest, flawed, smart, and strong. They make us love them, and they make us love ourselves.
You could give these to girls to read by themselves, but then you'd miss the fun.
by L.M. Montgomery
If a girl finds this book in her hands at the right time, it will change her life. She will devour all eight of the books in the series, act out the crucial scenes with her best friend, and know how cool it is to be the smartest kid in the room. She might even take a trip to Prince Edward Island, so she can see where it all happened. (Not that I know anything about that.) Anne is an eleven-year-old orphan who loses herself in books to escape her life's hardships. When she is finally, accidentally, adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, they don't know what to do with this loving, strange girl whose romantic spirit gets her in trouble wherever she goes.
by Lois Lowry
Ten-year-old Anastasia is to writing what Anne of Green Gables is to reading. Anastasia expresses herself through entries in her journal, specifically lists called “Things I Love” and “Things I Hate.” Not surprisingly, some things move from one list to the other as Anastasia's mood shifts (one thing even appears on both lists at the exact same time).
This is the first, and best, book of the series. Lowry has written many wonderful books for children of all ages. For readers not yet ready for Anastasia, check out her series about the strong-willed Gooney Bird Greene and, for more sophisticated readers, suggest Number the Stars and The Giver.
by Louise Fitzhugh
In Harriet, we have another writer. Not interested in the activities and hobbies of more typical kids, the completely atypical Harriet is interested in one thing only: people. She busies herself by spying on others and writing her observations about them, and life, in her ever-present notebook. Harriet is curious, smart, and brutally truthful. When her peers get their hands on her notebook and read everything she's written about them, Harriet has to deal with the backlash. There are opportunities here to discuss friendship in a context that kids understand.
by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Matilda loves reading and learning, and is brilliantly smart. So what is getting in her way? Her awful parents, who just want her to watch the telly and be normal. My favorite part about Roald Dahl's books is the humor (and, of course, illustrations by Quentin Blake). Plucky Matilda teams up with her teacher, the beautiful Miss Honey (is she reason I went into education?), to foil their enemies.
by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Tracy Dockray
Ramona Quimby is one of the best literary characters of all time. She wants so much to be good, yet her boisterous and impulsive nature often get in the way. Ramona often acts especially naughty or angry when she feels embarrassed or hurt, making these books good starters for conversations about dealing with difficult emotions. You, ahem, I mean your young reader will want to follow Ramona through the whole series.
by Susi Gregg Fowler, illustrated by Jim Fowler
Each year, this was one of the first books I read to my third graders. It's a simple book; the language is not overly descriptive or beautiful. But Fowler writes about the workings of girls' friendships in a realistic and age-appropriate way. I never found a better text for illustrating important truths about friendships. Through the main character Molly's eyes, children see that we are all guilty of making snap judgments about people without being willing to give them a second chance. They also see that holding even our best friends up to standards of perfection sets us up for disappointment.
by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick
Ryan is an author whose books are only recently receiving acclaim and attention, but she already has several wonderful books for upper elementary children.
This one, simple enough for some third graders to read by themselves, is an exciting fictionalized biography of Charlotte, a 19th century orphan. Charlotte's ambition and determination help her to carve out a truly unique path for her life, and a spot for herself in history. She goes to great lengths – including posing as a boy – to realize her dreams. Girls will love the adventure, be inspired by Charlotte's story, and get a kick out of the fact that it is based on a real historical figure.
by Robert N. Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
This wonderful picture book is an anti-fairy tale. Rather than waiting for a prince to come to her rescue, the undaunted Princess Elizabeth (herself an anti-princess) is the one doing the rescuing. Readers as young as Kindergarten will get it, but its message only gets sweeter with age.
by Cornelia Funke
Is it just a coincidence that so many of the main characters in these books are readers and writers? Many girls who will relate to and enjoy these interesting stories are likely, themselves, girls who know well the magic of escaping into a good book or who feel the need to make their mark on the page, and on the world. Inkheart, the first of a trilogy, is a wonderful fantasy about Meggie, a 12-year old who discovers herself in a world in which the characters in books just won't stay where they ought to. Meggie, of course, has what it takes to save them all. Sort of like a younger girl's version of Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time.
by Kate Dicamillo
This book is a sentimental favorite of mine, another one that I read aloud to my third graders every year. There were many pages that inspired us to laugh out loud, and a couple that inspired us (or, at least, me) to cry. At the start of the book, ten-year-old Opal has just moved to Florida with her father, a preacher. They are both still smarting from Opal's mother's departure years earlier, and don't know how to heal their wounds. Opal has a hard time connecting to people until she meets Winn-Dixie, a stray dog that she decides to keep. Opal reaches out to others in her new town and discovers that they are also “broken” in some way, and all in need of healing. The story is sweet and optimistic, and Opal is a compassionate character making her way through a difficult time.
These ten books comprise some of my absolute favorite titles to recommend to girls of this age group. If GLI had a lending library, these books would be in it. Fortunately, there are many, many other wonderful books and authors that could easily be part of this list. If these books whet your appetite, check out the books of Sharon Creech (Walk Two Moons) and Karen Hesse (Music of the Dolphins). The Dear America series also has many fictionalized accounts of extraordinary girls' lives throughout history, written by a variety of talented authors.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Shannon Rigney Keane
Shannon first discovered the joys of reading under the covers with Where the Red Fern Grows. She lives in Brooklyn, where she frequently stays up reading well past her bedtime. Shannon is a reader, teacher, writer, mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. Shannon writes about her bookish life on her blog I'm thinking...
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