As early as they will sit and listen, our girls should be reading about strong females who model curiosity, kindness and trailblazing. As a mom of two girls, I assumed my daughters’ bookshelves were bursting with stories of strong and resilient little ladies. But when I went to source examples in preparation for this article, I was amazed – because there weren’t that many! There were male Gruffalos and man-ish Cats In Hats, but… there were very few books about awesome little girls. This got me thinking- where are all the strong female voices and why don’t we have them? So I did some digging and found these five female characters that are essential additions to every girl’s bookshelf:
- Shen in The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson (age 4+)
Shen is a little girl living in Japan. She notices the poverty in her village and desperately wants to help. One day she is gifted with a magic paintbrush that has the power to paint things to life. But the condition is that it can only be used in service of people in real need. So when an evil emperor tries to steal the magic paintbrush for himself, Shen must think on her feet, save herself and her paintbrush, in order to help the town.
As human beings, creativity is the thing that binds trauma. Offering an enormous source of comfort in the face of adversity. Shen embodies someone who uses her creativity to literally paint herself out of all sorts of emotional binds. Teaching our girls to think creatively, be bold and even braver.
- Marisol in Ish by Peter H Reynolds (age 4+)
Ramon loves to draw, and so he draws all day every day. Until his older brother teases him for getting the exact likeness of a picture wrong. Prompting Ramon to give up drawing once and for all. But his younger sister Marisol sees things quite differently: She gathers up all his discarded drawings and creates a ‘crumpled gallery’ in her room. Celebrating that although not perfect, his ‘ish’ drawings (vase-ish, sun-ish, flower-ish) have a unique beauty all of their own. This inspires Ramon to embrace his own ish-ness, to give up trying to be perfect and paint another day.
Marisol is a powerful character who teaches us that perfection is not always the answer. She models that it is in our mistakes and other-ness that true happiness lies. And that sometimes it’s the younger ones who have a fresher outlook on life.
- Malala in Malala’s Magic Pencil By Malala Yousafzai (age 7+)
Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, writes this true tale. Here, she tells her own story about how she always wished for a magic pencil that would re-write the fate of all the girls (in her Middle Eastern town) who were not allowed to learn. She talks of her hardships, also showing how she triumphed and eventually found herself on a world stage where real change was possible.
Malala is a real-life hero who truly embodies girl power. She has single-handedly reformed education policies for girls in the Middle East and is someone all our kids should learn about. Teaching them that ultimately it’s not magic that makes change, but rather action. It also crystallises the idea that no matter how small you are, you can do really big things.
- The young girl in The Heart And The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (age 5+)
A little girl loves her grandfather; together they are curious and learn about the world. But then one day, her Grampa dies and she falls into despair. To save her aching heart she puts it into a bottle so that nothing can ever hurt it again. The rest of the story follows this young girl as she finds her way back to her feelings.
In this story, the young girl’s vulnerability really resonates with anyone who has ever loved and lost. It’s important for our girls to know that their hearts may feel soft in places but that this is ultimately what makes us strong. The girl in this story models great courage and shows us that every heartache can not only be felt but that it can also be managed.
- Clementine in Bears Don’t Read by Emma Chichester Clark (age 4+)
A bear in a forest desperately wants to learn how to read and so he heads out into the great town in search of the book readers. When he arrives people scatter in fear and call in the guards. But not Clementine. She isn’t afraid at all. She takes the bear in, becomes his friend and teaches him how to read.
This book is about the fear of Otherness and teaches how education remedies fear of the unknown. It also teaches our girls that they can extend a helping hand when no one else does.
Great girls need to read about other great girls!
These are just a few examples of really strong female characters in kids books, that every girl should read. There is also the added dimension that as we read these stories to them, there is a further endorsement of each of these themes. Reinforcing that it is okay to think about difficult things, to tell our stories and be the greatest version of ourselves that we possibly can be.
What are your favourite books to read to the little girls in your life?