As a mom, it’s important to me to be true to who I am at all times. This includes showing my son how to respect women. It is about ending rape culture and gender inequality. We do this by providing our children with excellent examples of strong female characters, but they can’t just be aimed at girls. That’s why I called on my friend Tracy Babler. She’s an incredible mom and totally in the know about incredible children’s books. I’ve already put each and every one of these into my Amazon cart. Here’s to teaching our children about women in an intentional way.
Please note: This post includes affiliate links. This means I’ll receive a few pennies for your clicks. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a book myself eventually.
As a mom of two young girls, I take a lot of care in choosing which books they are exposed to. There are a lot of “classic” books that don’t have the most progressive themes on race and gender. Then there are the more recently published books that perpetuate the girls-as- princesses, girls-who- love-clothes- and-shopping, and girls-who- just-want- to-be-liked narratives. My daughters are often drawn to their pink and purple covers, but those books don't convey the messages I want reinforced for my girls—or any kids. I’ve found that the books I’m most excited about have strong female leads who aren’t there just because they’re girls. There are many wonderful girl-led children’s books whose stories will appeal to all children—including young boys who often get pigeon-hold into reading about trucks, firefighters and superheroes.
In the spirit of all books for all kids, here are my top recommendations for books with strong female characters that your girls and your boys will love.
Crafty Chloe by Kelly DiPucchio
We have never read a Kelly DiPucchio book we didn’t like. There are two books in this fun series about a young girl who solves her problems by creating things with her own two hands.
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
Why choose just one Kelly DiPucchio book when you could have two? Grace is an elementary school student who decides to run for president of her school. The book is fun, but it also teaches kids about the electoral process along the way.
Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light
My daughter loves art so we have read every. single. book. that features art, crafts or artists of any kind. This is a sweet story about a girl who loves creating art and loves her little brother Art. Most of the time. A second Louise book was just published in June—we can’t wait to read it!
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
A young girl in a drab, gray town comes across a box of bright, colorful yarn. She knits herself a sweater, and then some for her neighbors. Soon she is brightening entire buildings with giant sweaters. Somehow she never runs out of yarn—but an evil archduke steals the magic box and threatens to ruin all the fun.
Me, Frida by Amy Novesky
We had to throw a nonfiction book into the mix. We’ve read all the books about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. This one is special because it shares Frida’s journey of believing in herself and emerging from the professional shadow cast by her husband, painter Diego Rivera.
Want to be in a Band? by Suzzy Roche
We’ve had this one on repeat loan from the library. A young girl provides a step-by- step guide to starting your own family rock band from childhood, though the glory years and into old age. It depicts both the fun of fame and the hard work it takes to be successful.
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Dan Santat deservedly won the Caldecott Medal for the illustration of Beekle, the story of an imaginary friend who nobody imagined for a very long time. He is finally imagined by a young girl who has also never had a friend before. Finally united, the pair set off to find adventure and learn how to do this whole friendship thing.
Read aloud novels
The Imaginary by A. F. Harold
My six-year- old daughter claims the Imaginary is her favorite book of all time. Amanda Shuffleup imagines her best friend Rudger. No one else can see him, until one day an odd man shows up at their doorstep and knows all about Rudger. They learn the man hunts imaginaries, and the two friends have to work to keep the imaginary boy safe. The Imaginary is a little too scary for little ones, so read with caution.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
I never read Pippi Longstocking as a child, but when I saw this version illustrated by Lauren Child (creator of the Charlie and Lola series) I snatched it up. This classic book features an eccentric young girl living on her own and creating adventures for herself and her neighbors. I highly recommend this version because Child illustrated each and every spread in her signature style—even the youngest listeners will stay engaged.
When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad
This new book, just released in January, is reminiscent of Pippi Longstocking and has quickly become one of my most highly recommended read-alouds. Main character Inge Maria moves to a tiny island to live with her grandmother after her mother’s death. She tries to be good, but she ends up finding and creating mischief at every turn.
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
We aren’t the only ones who love Flora and Ulysses. It won the 2014 Newbery Medal for distinguished American children’s literature. Flora is a self-described cynic struggling with her parents’ divorce. Her life takes a turn for the better when her neighbor accidentally sucks a squirrel into her vacuum cleaner and turns him into a rodent superhero. A rodent superhero that writes poetry. (It’s good, I promise.)
There are so many great female characters that all children will love—we hope this list gets your kids started on a lifetime of reading about strong, funny, adventurous girls.
Tracy Babler is a freelance writer from Minneapolis, MN. She writes about children’s literature at luandbeanread.com and produces the Lu and Bean Read children’s story podcast with her four- and six-year- old daughters.