There’s a lot of testosterone in my home, but that doesn’t keep us from reading about strong girls. The books below feature female protagonists who demonstrate courage, intellect, perseverance, wit, and strength! My Preschool Bookworm loves each of these heroines at age 3.5, and they are suitable for bookworms up through the early to mid elementary grades.
Books mentioned in this post should be available at your local library, or at the Amazon affiliate links provided. Thanks for supporting Librarian in the House!
One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi. While the exact mathematical concepts of doubling and compound interest are a bit above Preschool Bookworm’s head, he was entranced by this book, jumping in anticipation on our second reading as the plot grew! Long ago in India there lived a king who, though he thought himself wise and fair, greedily hoarded stockpiles of rice for himself while his people suffered through a famine. Enter Rani. Wiser and fairer. After performing a good and honest deed for the king, she is offered any reward she chooses. “Just one grain of rice” is her reply… doubled every day for 30 days. A small and foolish idea, the king surmises, until he learns how quickly things add up! By the end of the month Rani has collected more than a billion grains of rice, teaching the king a lesson while saving the villagers from hunger.
Imogene’s Last Stand by Candace Fleming. I adored watching my history loving husband read this with the boys. Imogene is a tiny history buff, quoting a range of historical figures from Abraham Lincoln to Paul Revere as she embarks on a lonely quest to save a centuries old house from being torn down to create a shoelace factory. She works tirelessly to educate her town that, “In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘We are made by history,‘” but to no avail. That is, until she makes a surprising discovery that brings the (female) President of the United States to her aid. The end papers provide additional historical background. Imogene is strong, determined, and passionate for her cause, even in the face of greedy political figures and the apathetic masses.
Insterstellar Cinderella. In this fractured fairy tale, Cinderella is a space mechanic who fixes the prince’s space ship, leaving behind her socket wrench before rushing off. When the prince pursues her with his classic invitation to marriage, she scoffs that she is too young to get married but would be open to a position as royal mechanic. Perfect.
The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch. Who doesn’t like pizza? Or stories about its yummy deliciousness? My boys certainly do! Princess Paulina has recently found herself out of the princessing circuit due to her father’s career move, and she misses it! She decides to return to her calling, joining in a competition to become Prince Drupert’s wife. In the final round the princess competitors are tasked with making a meal, and Paula has only a few sad ingredients (story of my life). She rallys and invents… you guessed it. Pizza! She wins the contest but ends up finding she has discovered her true calling instead, so she opens a pizza shop rather than walking down the aisle. A clever story with some fun word play for older readers. (Look for Mary Jane Auch’s other picture books, too! She’s a master at puns & word play.)
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams. In the “tall tale” tradition, this book was one I used to share with my second graders; I recently picked up a copy at a library book sale and found dozens of inscriptions as it had been a retirement gift. I think that sums up the range of readers Lil will appeal to! Literally a strong girl (“her strength might have come from carrying all those books around”), Lil is the local librarian in a town obsessed with television. She takes advantage of a two week power outage to match each towns-person with a book, literally pushing an ancient, broken down bookmobile from door to door. She’s a larger than life character who even wins over a motorcycle gang, standing her ground against their ego, and eventually breaking up their brawl over The Mouse and the Motorcycle. It’s a fun and dramatic read aloud!
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. This award winning historical fiction book captivates both Toddler Bookworm and Preschool Bookworm; TB loves the bright, inviting illustrations, and PB is music obsessed so it was sure to be a winner in his book! Their Librarian Mama Bookworm loves the beautiful message of perseverance and female empowerment, the poetic text, the expressive artwork, and the accessibly of this Pura Belpre winner! Based on the life of the Chinese-African-Cuban musician Millo Castro Zaldarriaga in Cuba during the 1930s, a time when “the brave drum dream girl dared to play tall conga drums” despite being chastised that “only boys should play drums.” Her tenacity, talent, and an open minded teacher eventually led to her sharing her gift where “everyone who heard her dream-bright music sang and danced and decided that girls should always be allowed to play drums and both girls and boys should feel free to dream.” (An end note shares that Millo went on to play at a birthday celebration for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, where the First Lady enthusiastically cheered her!)’
Journey by Aaron Becker. This Caldecott Honor book is a masterpiece. Armed with a magical red crayon (in the tradition of Harold), a bored girl makes an adventure for herself, finding her way into a dangerous and exciting world. Witnessing a villain’s act, she responds with compassion and bravery, landing herself in danger in turn. An exciting tale featuring a clever, kind, and courageous heroine. Oh, and it’s a wordless book!
Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne. A spin on the Jack & the Beanstalk tale with the added plucky heroine Kate who “fear[s] nothing as long as I am doing right.” Kate is chosen to right the wrongs that the murderous giant committed, risking her life for the welfare of a stranger. Or maybe someone a lot more familiar… This one kept my storytime crowd on the edge of their seats when I shared it in the elementary library, and transfixed Preschool Bookworm as well. And who doesn’t love bellowing those famous words”Fe Fi Fo Fum!”
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. I’m surprised this hasn’t won any major awards, but #1 bestseller counts for something! We love this story of a budding female engineer who digs deep to reveal her creativity and tenacity. Doesn’t everyone need encouragement in the area of grit and overcoming the negative voices of life? I sure do.
What would you add to this list? I’m working on a sequel post even now, of non-conventional princess stories and even stronger “girl power” messages! Subscribe (see this page’s footer) or follow Librarian in the House’s facebook page so you don’t miss it!