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.
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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 weren’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 is 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 win Violet’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, losing 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 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 to 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 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.This post contains affiliate links