Growing up is tough. That’s why children and young adults need great tools to guide them as they navigate the world. Here, we’ve selected a few titles to inspire, challenge and encourage any little girl in your life – as well as your own inner child.
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, Kate Pankhurst
When it comes to female role models, you can’t go wrong with this illustrated book. Leave fiction aside for a moment, and let your girl(s) be inspired by the true stories of strong and influential women such as Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie and Jane Austin, along with many others who changed the course of history by attaining excellence in their chosen field. The perfect book to read together as a bedtime story, since we’re sure you’ll enjoy it just as much as your children will.
The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett
Yes, comic fantasy is a literary genre, and one that can bring wonderful surprises. The Wee Free Men, part of the Discworld series, tells the story of a little girl, Tiffany, who befriends a group of tiny men, the Nac Mac Feegles. The tiny population, who wear kilts and speak with a Glaswegian accent, sets off to help giant Tiffany fight the Queen of the Fairies. A great introduction to Pratchett, and much-needed proof that coming of age can be fun, too.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
Hermione Granger is the epitome of the empowered girl. With her discipline, courage, intelligence and sense of responsibility, the Muggle-born girl is the undisputed protagonist and leader of many of the trio’s adventures. According to fan site Pottermore.com, however, it’s in the series’ third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, that Hermione truly shines, skilfully manipulating time to save the lives of two important characters (no spoilers here!). As if that wasn’t enough, she tops it all off by giving nasty Draco Malfoy a bit of a comeuppance
Our House is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet, Jeanette Winter
This illustrated book, aimed at children aged 3 to 8, tells Thunberg’s story in a simple yet compelling way. Including real quotes from the young climate activist, it is both a great example of what an empowered girl can do, as well as an introduction to climate change for young children. Outspoken about her autism, Thunberg is also a role model for kids on the spectrum.
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Penned by the brilliant author of The Secret Garden, this novel tells the story of Sara Crewe, a 7-year-old who is sent to boarding school in London. The daughter of a wealthy military official, Sara is given lavish treatment and luxurious amenities until her father – her only living parent – goes missing in battle. The newly destitute girl is forced to work as a maid in the school. Cold, hungry and with a rat as her only companion, Sara doesn’t despair, but instead uses her endless imagination to improve her life and that of everyone around her.
The Storm Keeper’s Island, Catherine Doyle
The first book in the Storm Keeper series narrates the story of Fionn and Tara, brother and sister sent to live with their grandfather – the Storm Keeper – on a remote Irish island. There, they learn about the magic that the Keeper uses to protect the world from darkness. Will young Fionn manage to overcome his fears and rise to the role of new Storm Keeper? Hope, mystery and adventure intertwine in this captivating journey of self-discovery.
The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
We know, Bastian is a boy, and the Empress needs him to save her. Yet, the protagonist needs to overcome the same age-old hurdle with which every child struggles: fear. When facing many difficult and dramatic obstacles – including the infamous unforgiving swamp – Bastian not only triumphs over his fear, but becomes a hero by using his imagination. Now that’s some potent inspiration.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Powerful and disarming, this book speaks directly to children’s hearts. In a world that often seems shallow, The Little Prince reminds us that “the essential is invisible to the eyes”, and encourages readers to look beyond – with the heart. A wonderful kind of magic to gift a child, and one that will permanently stay with them.
A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories, Angela McAllister and Alice Lindstrom
We’ll admit it: We love the Bard. His stories address many of mankind’s big questions – and aren’t children trying to do exactly the same? This illustrated anthology telling 12 of Shakespeare’s greatest stories, adapted for children between 8 and 12 years old, is a great addition to any budding literature-lover’s bookshelf. Plus, they’ll get a head start at school, and you’ll get to secretly brush up on your Shakespeare. Win-win-win.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum
We all need a heart, a brain and loads of courage from time to time, and no book teaches how to tap into these inner strengths better than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy evolves from a scared little girl to a determined witch-battler, she gradually overcomes her doubts and fears – and isn’t that the best thing we can teach a child? Defined Baum’s chief biographer M.P. Hearn as the “earliest truly feminist book for children”, this novel has a long-lasting influence on each and every one of its readers.
Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend
An 11-year-old girl is transported to a magical parallel universe, where four impossible trials will establish whether she is worthy of joining The Wundrous Society. Perfect for Harry Potter fans, this novel has won 6 awards – and dedicated readers will be delighted to hear that it has also gotten a sequel. You can’t really go wrong with this book, though it’s best suited to children aged 9 to 11.
Matilda, Roald Dahl
Three decades have passed since its debut, but Matilda is more relevant than ever. A girl with superpowers who feels misunderstood by her family, yet is still determined to do things her own way? Just about every child has felt like this at some point – superpowers included. Add in the elements of injustice, and the title character’s need to understand the world around her by learning as much as possible… need we say more? Its important message also teaches girls that it’s okay to be angry; in fact, one writer reports in The Independent that the book changed her life – and argues that it spurred a generation of women into activism.
The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, Will Mabbitt
Kidnapped by the crew of pirate ship the Feroshus Maggot, Mabel joins her enemies in hopes of getting home once they complete their quest. Full of milk-drinking contests, funny puns, scary enemies and even a time machine, this book is an endless source of amusement – and the first in a series of three that narrates the unlikely adventures of the accidental piratess.
The Invisible String, Patrice Karst
It’s not easy to talk about death, especially with children. This illustrated book, aimed at kids between 4 and 7, approaches the subject gently by telling of an “Invisible String”, made out of love, that connects loved ones beyond space and time. There is something so universal about this concept that will resonate with every reader. Recommended by therapists and parents to help kids cope with loss, it empowers children to do something vital in the face of death: love.
The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne
The little-known sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea narrates the story of five castaways on an unknown island, learning to survive solely on their own skills. While it doesn’t feature female characters, the story conveys a great faith in the human ability to withstand adversity, and shows the resourcefulness that everyone of us needs to learn to tap into. A book designed for young adults, but great to read (and reread) at any age.