After slogging through The Lord of the Flies and A Separate Peace, middle school girls deserve books that put them center stage. While schools are getting better at varying some of the subject matter, girls as narrators or protagonists are still fairly rare. And when we do find them, they aren’t nearly as fun as the adventure stories that keep showing up on the bookshelves for boys.
Keep girl readers reading with these unique finds that your 9 – 13-year-old will love. Take a peek at our list of books with strong female characters.
- Trixie Belden and The Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell. Try not to judge Trixie by her name, which is much cuter than the self-possessed 13-year old who roams the pages of this mystery. She’s also much stronger, smarter and more interesting than her Nancy Drew counterpart. Written in 1948, this novel began a long series with several writers, and the early ones are surprisingly progressive for the time they were written. In fact, there is fan fiction still being written for the Trixie Belden series.
- The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. A National Book Award finalist, this novel is set in 1847 and is told from the point of view of Omakayas, a young Ojibwa girl who has been adopted by a family of fur traders. Despite the often difficult conditions of her life, she remains calm and pensive but is still a girl with fire inside. Erdrich writes serious fiction for adults as well, so don’t expect the grittiness of frontier life to be watered-down for the kid-set. This is a historical tale as well as one girl’s incredible story. Set near Lake Superior, this is a must-read for any kid who lives in the upper mid-west.
- Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. A winner of the Newberry Honor Award, An Edgar Award Finalist and an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book, this book has gotten a lot of praise from critics and readers. One of the most compelling aspects of this book is the unique relationship the main character, Mo LoBeau, and her sidekick, Dale, share. While on the surface this is a compelling mystery, it’s also a study in family and friendship, and the deeper mysteries that surround those ties.
- Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. I’m confounded as to how Pippy Longstocking invaded our culture, but not the more strident rebel, Ronia. Ronia is the only child of Matt the robber, who, together with Matt’s band of robbers, live in a castle in the woods. This is a captivating story about the complex relationship between fathers and their strong-willed daughters. Amazon Prime just released an adaptation created by Studio Ghibli, which was famously founded by Hayao Miyazaki. I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m excited about it.
- When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This novel’s protagonist, Miranda, is a latch-key kid who is helping her hardworking mother get onto the gameshow, The 10,000 Pyramid. Set in the 1970s with beautiful nods to Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, this book surpasses its inspiration. Buy it for your middle-schooler, and read it while she’s away during the day, because this Newberry Winner is equally satisfying to adults who appreciate a bit of magic and redemption in their life.
What did we leave out? There are plenty out there. Let us know which books we should include on our next list, or find us on Facebook to stick up for Pippi Longstocking or L’Engle’s master opus.