Picture Books About Strong Girls

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I have always tried to expose my son to strong girl characters, but now that I am a mom to a little girl, providing her with a strong base from which to grow is imperative. Already at 2 she is into princesses , begs to put on my makeup, and can match her bows to her clothes better than her dad. I won’t stop her from exploring these stereotypical girl things, nor will I push her to anything she clearly dislikes; however, I will work hard to provide examples of strong girls. Girls with voices, girls whose feelings are validated, and girls who don’t give up because someone said ‘a girl can’t do it.’ Picture books are such an amazing vehicle for teaching, exposing your children to kids just like them (or kids nothing like them), and for prompting discussions about tough and tricky subjects.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans was a childhood favorite and I remember being a little girl and thinking I want to be just like Madeline because she was so brave. She wasn’t afraid of anything and what always struck me was how proud she was of her scar. Something that little girls are told by society to hide because it makes us less than perfect physically yet Madeline hikes up her nightgown and shows it off. Of my childhood heroines Madeline was right up there with Anne Shirley, Annie and Brigitta from Sound of Music. As a teacher and parent I adore Bemelmans’ rhymes which at times are a stretch but in a way that gets kids thinking about what does and doesn’t rhyme.

Princess Smartypants by Brenda Cole is the antithesis of the classic beautiful frail princess stories, but it still ends with happily ever after.  Princess Smartypants does her own thing and doesn’t understand why her family is so obsessed with finding her a husband. She bends to their wishes but still does things her way. I think this is a great message about happiness and confidence for girls and balances out some of the other princess stories. She was happy just the way she is and didn’t  need a spouse to feel complete.

Ladybug Girl Dresses Up! by Jacky Davis is one positive girl book that my daughter at 2 already adores. In this board book Lulu dresses up in a handful of different costumes including both “girl” ones and “boy” ones. She is equally happy in a princess dress as she is as a pirate. The one costume she loves above all the rest is her Ladybug Girl one, because as Ladybug Girl she can do anything. The message I want to send to my daughter more than any other, she can do anything even if she may have to work as hard as a superhero.

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio is fantastic. The very best part of this book is on the first page when the main character a little girl named Grace exclaims ” Where are the girls?” in response to her teacher hanging up a poster of all the presidents. If I wasn’t in a tent in the backyard while reading this with my son I would have stood up and given Grace a standing ovation. I can’t wait to read this to my daughter in a few years. I love how shocked she is and I was really happy that my son was surprised as well.  Grace decides to run for president in the mock election for her grade at school and be the change. My love for this book doesn’t end with the wonderful example of basic feminism because next up the author tackles something oh so tricky; The Electoral College.  The author does a great job explaining what can be a very confusing system used for American presidential elections and I bet more than a few parents reading this to their kids will get something out of it too.  The story of Grace and her own campaign is sweet as well but the brilliance of this story are the complex lessons broken down so well for a young audience.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney is a book about a woman Miss. Rumphius who follows her heart and travels the world , lives by the sea and then does exactly what her grandfather tells her she must do, makes the world more beautiful. What I adore about this book isn’t just that the main character is so very sure of herself in that quiet way that only really confident people can be it’s that it’s a call to action. How are you going to make the world a more beautiful place? Her grandfather didn’t suggest that she had to make a beautiful home, or make a beautiful family he placed the full weight and expectations of going out into the world and making it better.

The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke is a tale about a princess named Violet who was raised with her 3 older brothers  by her father after her mother dies in childbirth. Her brothers are trained to be knights and she too learns to joust , ride horses and fight with swords.  Her brothers ( like most) tease her and tell her that she’ll never be as strong as them. It’s a maid who tells her that she won’t be as strong but she can be smarter. That message stood way out for me and is why I think this is such a great book. When her father sets up a tournament for knights to winViolet’s hand in marriage she takes things into her own hands. She shows everyone how she is smarter than all the other knights and with hard work trains to win her own hand . I love this book not only as a great empowering one for girls but also to show boys that girls don’t have to fit a specific mold either.

Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke  is a fantastic story about a little princess who is different. She is so disgusted with being perfect and pretty that she chucks her crown into the pond. I love this book and cheered throughout.  When she refuses her father’s orders he punishes her by sending her to the pigsty but she loves it and feels more at home there than in her royal chambers. I also love that her sisters who are girly , prim and proper aren’t too bullyish and seem to love their traditional roles. There is room for all sorts of princesses in this family, well eventually there is. Good book!

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni is not so much a biography, but it is most definitely a historical account of one woman who changed a nation.  We all know the story of Rosa Parks but no matter how well you know the facts, reading a children’s book about it makes me cry. The author has done a fantastic job setting the stage, explaining how Rosa Parks was not your typical heroine, she was just a seamstress, just like everyone else.  This is imperative to the message that one woman can stand up for what is right and  make big changes. I also appreciated that the author included so much about the women who spearheaded the bus boycott. I am in my 30s and I feel inspired reading this as a woman, to think of the power it can have over young girls excites me. I can not wait to read this to my daughter.

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara is on my must buy list! A little girl moves into house and soon finds out it is haunted. Luckily she is a witch and knows just what to do. The ghosts in the story seem mischievous but never scary and even when she washes them in the washing machine, they are still smiling. This may not be the first book you think of when you think of strong girls but it should be. This little girl takes care of her problems herself with confidence and ability.  I loved the simple  black and orange colors and had to look at the copyright twice because I was certain this was written sometime in the 30s, nope 2008. Halloween is a time when so many young girls dress in costumes that make them feel powerful, strong and beautiful and this book is a great companion to that subtle message of you can do anything and be anyone you want.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is a lovely book about having confidence in who you are, loosing confidence and regaining it in the end. Chrysanthemum is a little mouse who loves her name until she goes to school and is picked on for it being out of the ordinary. Who can’t relate to this? I know I can . Thankfully my son  has yet to experience this all too common, but still so heartbreaking experience . I love that I have a book like this to share with him and open up about it before it happens. Ultimately Chrysanthemum learns to love her name again and regains the confidence in being herself that she once had. Another fantastic book from a consistently wonderful author.

Shelia Rae, The Brave  by Kevin Henkes In this story Sheila is a brave little mouse, he even taunts her little sister Louise calling her names when she isn’t as brave as her. However soon the tables are turned and when Shelia gets lost it’s her very own scaredy cat sister who shows the bravery. I think a lot of younger siblings can relate to this story, I know I can. Having an older sister who very much like Shelia is the natural leader among the two of us , it’s nice to see the little sister saving the day for once. Readers can see how brave both the girls were and that it’s ok to let someone help you when you need it.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell is a fabulous book about a little girl who is bullied mercilessly. Molly Lou Melon is all the things that her bully picks on her about she does sounds funny, she is very short and she does have buck teeth but she is also confident and strong and celebrates them in the face of being bullied. I particularly love that her confidence comes from her grandmother who tells her to stand tall and be proud of who she is. This is exactly the message I want to yell from the rooftops to kids. Celebrate who you are!  Children love the super fun illustrations by David Catrow which always remind me of Seuss so much so that I have referred to Molly Lou as Cindy Lou Who more than once over the years. If you have never read this book you really must!

Freckleface Strawberryby Julianne Moore is one of the few celebrity books you will see me giving a good review, I really love this book. It doesn’t talk down to kids, and the humor is funny for parents and kids alike. I like that she struggles with her freckles but comes to accept them. Part of being strong and confident is being comfortable with who you are inside and out. I also appreciate that  her freckles do not go away as she got older, so often we simply tell kids that it will get better when they are older when the truth is we deal with it better.

Stephanie’s Ponytail is my favorite Robert Munsch book. I feel a little like I am cheating on The Paper Bag Princess but I love Stephanie’s confidence. The story is about Stephanie whose friends, and even teachers start copying how she wears her ponytail. She moves if to the side, to the top of her head even right in front of her face and they keep copying her. So she outsmarts them all with shocking results. I like this book and while reading it to a class I would re-arrange my own hair to match Stephanie’s and have the class in hysterics when my ponytail ended up block my view of the book. The message though is about being your own person, a powerful one for little girls.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is one of my very favorite books. It’s a wonderful story about a princess taking things into her own hands and saving herself and the prince! This has become one of my daughter’s favorite bedtime books and when her brother finds out we are reading it he finds a way into her bed . Elizabeth is just so smart and determined and sure of who she is. She loves Ronald at the start but sees him for who he is after busting her tail to save him. Some parents have shared their dislike of Elizabeth’s outburst at the end calling Ronald a bum but I think not only is it justified, he treated her horribly, but people say things when they are angry and you can easily use it to teach your child about anger. That said Ronald is a bum.

Willow by Denise Brennan Nelson is another wonderful book about artistic spirit. Willow doesn’t follow the rules in art class, instead she paints what she sees when she closes her eyes. Her teacher’s rules are unfair, restrictive and she is just plain mean! It’s hard as a teacher to read stories with mean , repressive teachers in them, and this one takes the cake. Willow doesn’t stop painting blue apples and is confident in her individuality and isn’t as bothered by her mean teacher as I am. This story is really worth a look!

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki has been on my shelf for years. I really really like this book, the message is fantastic! Suki loves her Kimono, she doesn’t care that her sisters think it’s not cool to wear it to school, her grandma gave it to her and she likes it. I love that she is depicted as confident but not 100% sure of herself, it allows readers to really connect, recognizing those times when we are putting up a brave face even if inside we aren’t so sure. Being yourself is hard and the author connects to that while still creating a strong lovely heroine.

Apple Farmer Annie by  Monica Wellington is another  favorite in our house. My son loves this author and I like how simple but informative this book is. Your little reader will learn about the basics of what happens at an apple orchard , but you can take it further if you want. On many of the pages there are chances to learn more, like the page about sorting and classifying, where there are apples ready to count 1-10, and sorted by colors. I love the last page that says that Annie is so happy to have her own apple farm. I loved that message and think it’s a lot more powerful than some may think, women on farms in most books are “farmer’s wives” and I love that there is no one but Annie doing her own thing. Not all strong women have to speak up to be strong, simply being independent and a success is a great example of strength.

I Want to be a Cowgirl by Jeanne Willis is a story about a little city girl who doesn’t want to grow up to have tea parties. cook, clean or sew. She doesn’t want to be a girly girl at all, she wants to be a cowgirl. I love the sentiment in this book, how adamant she is about knowing what she wants and the lengths she goes to be a cowgirl using bananas as six shooters, and turning her dad’s rug into chaps! I like the message about following your own dreams not what society tells us we should be, and the rhyming text is perfectly suited for this sassy tale.

Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson is a lovely story about a big hippo that loves to dance, although her neighbors aren’t as keen. See Hilda is big and when she dances she shakes and rattles everything, it’s noisy and disruptive and is making her friends very angry. They suggest that she try new hobbies, but knitting and singing won’t do it’s simply not in her heart, Hilda needs to move and groove!  I loves that a solution is found that makes everyone happy, that Hilda doesn’t have to give up her passion, but that she isn’t so selfish as to simply say ” too bad” to her friends either. Strong and beautiful Hilda is a great role model for all little girls.

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen .This book is not so much about being different and facing adversity but about being yourself even if the world has decided you should fit perfectly into the mold it’s given you.  When we think of Princesses we think pink, sparkly and dry clean only! These princesses can’t be pigeonholed, they do what’s in their heart not what’s expected of them just because they are princesses. The princesses have all different interests, all different looks and I love that there are some with glasses too. Strong girls being themselves isn’t too different but for a book about princesses it is and it’s refreshing to read.

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Comments

  1. Anna G says

    YES! I am so glad you took the time to put together this list! It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, wanting my sons to grow up valuing strong women, and wanting my daughter to grow up to be one! I conisder myself pretty savvy on kids’ books- but there are many on this list i’ve never seen (but are on my list now!). THANK YOU!

  2. Beth says

    We love Freckle Face Strawberry. Have you read “The Red Shoes” by Hans Christian Andersen? Slighty dark tale but very good.. Also “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” is good but is just beyond a picture book.

  3. says

    I literally just read Apple Farmer Annie to my Storytime group. I’ve also read Ghosts in the House twice, once for Halloween and once for an orange theme. I LOVE that the little witch isn’t afraid of the ghosts. Have you read her other books? They’re lovely, too.

    I like Betsy Who Cried Wolf by Gail Carson Levine, Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime by Myra Wolfe (because girl pirates are awesome), The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch… um, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

    Oh, and today at my Storytime, I had a little boy who is very rough and tumble and loves pink, and a little girl who ADORES pink stuff but also loves dinosaurs and Cars. Kids are kind of awesome like that, I think :D

  4. says

    What a great list! I’m going to print this out for our next library trip! I have 2 preschool-aged girls and I’m always looking for good female role models for them!

    Another classic to add to the list…Katy & The Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. Great story of determination and duty!

  5. says

    Thanks so much for complying this list. I re-posted it on my FB site. I am a former teacher and have read many of these books to my class but, never thought to group them as you did! Bravo!!

  6. says

    As always another fantastic list that you’re created. It’s like having your librarian that you can turn to when you need a book for something special. This is a great collection of books that has some new ones to me that I can’t wait to read with my daughters.

  7. Lauren says

    Thanks from me too!! I have young daughters and was just talking about this very subject (girl power books) to another mother of daughters!! Brontorina is another good one, for anyone who’s interested. It’s about a Brontosaurus who wants to be a ballerina but is told she’s too big.

  8. Sarah says

    My favourite is “The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes.” Basically about a single mom raising 24 bunnies but still becomes a better Easter Bunny than all the big, wise men bunnies.

  9. says

    Thank you so much for this post as well as all of the others that you do! We already have a number of these – the paperbag princess is one of my all time favorites. I am holding off on getting more right now, but I’m sure Amazon will be getting some of my money soon.

  10. Ariel says

    Wonderful list! I love so many of these books! I also wanted to share a new page I just discovered. Have you seen A Mighty Girl? It’s amazing! They have hundreds of strong girl books. A great resource for people looking for books like this – http://www.amightygirl.com/

    Thanks again for sharing so many great resources!

  11. Renee says

    Thank you so much for this list! I only have a 5 year old son at the moment, but this caught my eye on Pinterest. My son is very into knights and dragons at the moment and has decided that my friend’s daughter is his princess. After hearing many, many stories about how he would save her, I mentioned that she could save herself, too. He insisted that she couldn’t because she would get hurt- he had to take care of her. This type of thinking coming from him was quite a surprise as my husband and I run our house as equals and my son’s best friend is a girl who could beat him up in a second! I will be heading to the bookstore to buy him “The Princess Knight” first thing tomorrow!

  12. says

    The Paper Bag Princess is one of my all time favorites. I love how the princess solves her own problem, rescues the prince, and then dumps him in the end when he proves to be vain.

  13. Katie G. says

    I can’t wait to read these, I already own a few of them! One I got at a library sale a while back would fit in nicely here….the Practical Princess. I loved the story! However, my copy was already worn to pieces when I got it. Also, Meadowview Street is a good one about a girl who starts a movement that turns the whole neighborhood into a meadow.
    Thank you for your great posts, I can’t wait to stock up on these books!

  14. stephanie says

    The actual Ladybug Girl stories are really great. “Dressing Up” isn’t much fun without the stories.y girls live them. Also check out “Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse.” A great heroine as well.

  15. Nicole says

    Read Ruby’s Wish. It’s based on the true story of a young Chinese girl who fights tradition in order to go to college.

  16. Amber Hinson says

    Thank you so much for this list! I’ve been looking for positive role models to teach my Brownie troop about making a difference in the world and looking for traits we’d like to have – this is just perfect for the entire Journey Book we’re doing this year (it’s called A World of Girls)!

  17. Gina says

    hello,
    great post and wonderful blog! I stumbled across it while searching for a book to help my daughter reflect on her growing vanity. She is now 6 and a half and since she loves books, it’s best to have a “3rd party” show her the ill effects of vanity. I love your strong girls recommendations and would definitely be getting some of these books which has similar helpful elements I’m looking for. However, if you do know a book that might make sense to a 6 year old and help arrest that escalating vanity, I’d be very interested. Thank you.

  18. says

    Love your list! The Blue Ribbon Day by Katie Couric is really good too. It teaches that we all have our own different talents and gifts, while some excel at academics others are better athletes. I use it in my second grade classroom. My sweet baby girl is only 5 months old but I look forward to reading these & many more to her. I especially can’t wait to add Ladybug Girl Dresses Up to our collection! Her older brother passed away almost 4 years ago and ladybugs are one of our symbols for him – actually because of a story I read to him EVERYDAY that he lived called “On the Night you were Born” by Nancy Tillman. Thank you so much for sharing this list!

  19. Mary Hughey says

    For children about 3rd grade and above – Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. Same line as the Little House series but Caddie has more spunk than the Ingalls girls. Caddie does not want to do girlie things; boys get to have much more fun and adventures. Fifty years ago this book gave me the courage to explore my own interests, no matter what they were, and to have friends of different colors, even when society looked down on them. I felt as I had somebody on my side!

  20. says

    I am looking for these sort of books (for girls) in Spanish for our school in a very poor, violent area on the edge of Guatemala City. Can you help me find these books in Spanish?

  21. says

    I make a point reading books like these to my son. They’re not just for girls. He will be the new feminist. He knows women are strong and capable, as well as knowing men are nurturing and gentle.

  22. Jessica Paterson says

    Thank you for this really excellent list! I particularly love Tony Ross and Jeanne Willis and Paperbag Princess, but there are plenty books on this list that are new to me. Please can you help me with something else? My daughter is being bullied for having short hair… Do you know of any picture books / or chapter books about this? Or, just any short haired heroines? She is really suffering and it’s killing me. Just discovered “Stand With Jetta” which is great but we need books! Thank you so much X

    • Allison McDonald says

      I am so sorry to hear that. I don’t know of any books offhand – but now I am on the hunt. I will try to find some titles for you.

    • Ketsy says

      How old is she? My daughter is 7 and I am starting her with the Amelia books by Marissa Moss.
      Amelia takes Command (is like a bullying guide to school).
      Amelia’s Notebook.
      and more.

Trackbacks

  1. […] is a post on a website called No Time for Flashcards, it’s 21 Picture Books about Strong Girls Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Comments RSS […]

  2. […] Picture Books About Strong Girls  {No Time For Flashcards} I love this subject!  I love the idea of reading all these books to my girls one day.  <3 Some titles that are new to me: Princess Smartypants by Brenda Cole; Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio; Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney; The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke; Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke; Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara; Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore; Stephanie’s Ponytail byRobert Munsch + more! […]

  3. […] •  Picture Books for Strong Girls, a list of book recommendations published by No Time for Flash Cards. The list has some great suggestions, to which I would add Big Momma Makes the World, a book that tells the Biblical creation story, more or less — only “God” is a Southern Momma with loads of laundry to do and a baby to take care of. (Don’t worry. She can handle it.) […]

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