Brave Books for Girls (Not Princesses)

Brave Books for Girls Virginia Sole-Smith Amy Palanjian

Last week’s Dara-Lynn Weiss debacle reminded me of one of the biggest problems with this whole, endless is weight health? debate: When we focus relentlessly on weight and beauty, we teach girls that their entire value comes from their weight and/or beauty. Just ask all those teenage girls posting YouTube videos about it. This is why I push to separate conversations about health from conversations about size. In our culture, right now, the latter is just too tangled up in the Beauty Myth — start talking about weight or BMI as a non-judgmental health marker and you’ll all too quickly veer into fat-shaming territory with all its moralizing rhetoric. When we don’t even know for sure that it’s the actual excess weight causing the problems, why go there? Let’s talk about enjoying nutritious foods, finding fun ways to stay active and other healthy lifestyle choices that can be taught in a less judgmental fashion.

But it’s not enough to get the Fat Talk out of our health conversations. Girls are hit with the Holy Trinity of Pretty/Pink/Princess from infancy (for a more thorough explanation of how that happens, check out this post on Peggy Orenstein‘s Cinderella Ate My Daughter). So even if you can teach them that these things have nothing to do with health (a major victory in and of itself), they’re learning that they have everything to do with making friends and being popular, liked by boys, successful, and so on. Pretty/Pink/Princess may not sound so evil on the surface, and to be clear: I’m writing this as a former girl who ardently loved all things pretty/pink/princess and I hope to one day have a daughter and I will certainly enjoy the heck out of it if/when she goes through the PPP phase.

But when we narrow our girls’ options down to nothing but Pretty/Pink/Princess, we’ve got trouble. Because that’s when they start thinking the “Am I pretty or ugly?” question is the most important thing ever, that’s when it gets more difficult to unpick Pretty from other valued character traits, that’s when the cycle continues.

All of this is a long way of telling you about a fun baby present that I put together for my friend Amy, who is expecting a baby girl in June. I have no doubt that Amy is going to teach her daughter that the world is wide open and full of possibilities in addition to Pretty/Pink/Princess. (Because this isn’t about eradicating the PPP — I probably can’t make that clear enough. It’s about presenting plenty of other options, so the PPP stays in its place and doesn’t become the all-powerful narrative of a girl’s life.)

Awhile back, Amy had mentioned wanting suggestions of books to read to the baby  so I put together a collection of all of my favorite books from childhood featuring brave (non-princess-y) girls as the main characters. My mom (who is awesome and responsible for making sure I read most of these in the first place!) and sister (also a prolific reader who now works in education) brainstormed with me to pull together the ultimate list. Then I winnowed it down to my favorites, which was delightfully difficult. There really are a huge number of amazing books with strong heroines out there — despite how many times you had to read The Red Badge of Courage in school (blergh).

So here’s my list, pictured above and Amazon-linked below. Appropriate for ages 3 (or however young you can push Madeline on ‘em?) to 18 (and really, well beyond), with nary a princess in sight. Okay, there’s one but she’s very ordinary. There’s also one garishly pink cover (thanks publishing industry!) and some of these girls happen to be pretty, but that’s really not the point.

And I can guarantee that none of them ever so much as mentions their weight.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans 


Eloise: The Ultimate Edition by Kay Thompson

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins by PJ Travers

The Ordinary Princess

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye

Romana Quimby, Age 8

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Ballet Shoes

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield

Harriet The Spy

Harriet The Spy

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

And if you want to see the full list that we brainstormed, Amy posted it on her blog today. (A lot of these went off theme and are just awesome kids’ books… but they still steer well clear of the PPP, making them great choices for girls of all ages.)

Thoughts? Any ideas on how else to promote this “the PPP is not everything” message with girls? Any other must-read titles that you think we missed? I’d love to keep adding to the collection. 

PS. Peggy Orenstein’s Fight Fun with Fun! Resource List is even more exhaustive and super helpful on this front.

Filed under Beauty Standards, For Extra Credit, Health

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  1. Anna
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Though I hate to sound like a total fangirl, The Hunger Games is the first book I ever read where he main character could go out and do traditionally ‘manly’ things and no one says a damn thing about her not being girly in the traditional way.

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      You do not sound like a total fangirl — THE HUNGER GAMES should totally go on this list. I was just limiting myself to books I read as a kid… but if I were doing a modern (man, that makes me sound old!) list, it would be right at the top!

  2. hannah
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Oh my god, you need to have Tamora Pierce’s “Alanna the Lioness” quartet on this list! Not only is Alanna not a princess, she’s a knight who defends a prince. There’s a little bit of implied sex so maybe better for 12 and up, but an awesome series for young girls (or boys!). Her “Wild Magic” series is great as well, and I think she has some stuff for younger kids as well.

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I know — my sister lobbied HARD for Tamora Pierce… she was entirely obsessed with the Alanna books for years (including an elaborate Halloween costume). The only reason they didn’t make the cut is (ahem) I haven’t read them because (ahem) I think my childhood predates them.

      Actually, scratch that — just checked and the first Alanna book was published in 1983, when I was two. So yeah, I have no excuses. I need to get on this. Thanks for the reminder!

      • Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

        You totally do. So much so that if I find copies at my next Friends of the Library book sale, I will totally mail them to you. (I had my own copies. And other copies. And more FotL copies. But they keep disappearing from my classroom free book shelf — and that’s a good thing.)

        Because after the Alanna books, there are also the Ali books and the Beka books, and… yeah.

        • Lenore
          Posted October 23, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

          And Daine and Kel!

  3. Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful present. I’m so stealing that idea some day. I think you made a great point in saying that it’s not just about empowering girls to feel beautiful, but empowering them not to hold their beauty as their most valuable asset. I’m currently working with at-risk adolescent girls in Brazil, teaching a human development course, and we had to go through that in our most recent lesson about self-image. We talked about race, and they blew me out of the water with their opinions, because they totally challenged the textbook “blonde woman is pretty, black woman is ugly” line, but it was so hard to tell them they were beautiful and then turn around and tell them it doesn’t matter. It’s tough!

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      I know, it’s SUCH a fine line. Especially for girls who take real pleasure in beauty (or clothes/makeup/what have you). I think one of the biggest mistakes old school feminists make is pushing the “beauty doesn’t matter!” line TOO hard because that can be very alienating for girls and women who want to be strong and sexy. (Ick, that sounds so cliched — not enough coffee, sorry.) I’m still thinking about how we achieve that balance… but I do know that either extreme is unhelpful. Your course sounds so interesting! Thanks for sharing — I’d love to hear more about what you’re learning on this front!

  4. Emily
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    While I agree with most of what you’re saying about “princess books,” I’m noticing a trend for that sort of book to go two ways: either the fluffy, shallow pinky princess, or the plain, rebellious, socially nonconformist princess who runs away and somehow saves the day by dint of being on the good side of the author. I’m not seeing the sort of books I really want to see, which would involve princesses (and princes!) who may or may not be attractive working together with both their parents and their peers to use their power for the good of their people. Sometimes, running away is not the responsible choice, no matter how empowering it may feel for the individual.

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Emily — Check out BALLET SHOES. It’s not princesses, but dancers are definitely in the same Pretty/Pink/Princess vein… and that book tells the story of three orphan sisters (Pauline, Petrova and Posey) who are growing up in London during the Blitz and learn to dance as a way to help pay the bills (that’s more back story than you need, sorry!). Pauline and Posey are pretty and talented at dancing and theater; Petrova is plain and would rather be flying planes. But there’s no running away or pitting female characters against one another. It’s all about how they support each other as sisters to work through these difficult times and Pauline, in particular, learns to use her “power” as the pretty golden girl for good.

      In the same vein, I’d argue that EMMA (for older kids/adults) is about a “princess” of sorts, learning how to wield her power for the good of her people. The fact that Emma is also a manipulative schemer and has to learn how to do this is what makes her so endearing (see above about apparently I like mean girls!) and gives the book its plot (how she grows up and learns these lessons). But the overall message you’re looking for is definitely there. And I think (from what I understand of them? Haven’t read them myself) the Alanna books mentioned elsewhere in this comment thread also fit this bill…

      So agreed, running away/rebellion isn’t always the best model (though it can make for a great read) but I think there are some great books out there that present other narratives that would work for you.

      • Laura E.
        Posted May 24, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        I will give a hearty second to the Ballet Shoes recommendation. Or anything else Streatfeild wrote, for that matter. I adored the Shoes books as a child and still cherish them today. Every one of them is about ordinary young girls living through difficult situations and, through their own determination and willpower, making the best of those situations.

    • Jeanne Marie
      Posted May 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      I’ also recommend anything written by Robin McKinley. her heroines are ANYTHING but fluffy and shallow or non-conformist and rebellious. They are deeply intricate and interesting individuals! She’s been my favorite author since I was 10!

    • dena
      Posted March 2, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      have you read the apple-pip princess. not only does she do good, she is a brown princess which is wonderful for my brown daughter to see since most mainstream princesses are blonde hair blue eyed

    • dena
      Posted March 2, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      has anyone read the apple-pip princess? not only does she do something helpful to help her people, she is the youngest princess and brown! which was exciting for my brown daughter. finally not a blonde hair blue eyes princess

  5. Kara Corridan
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Hi VA–I recently read Harriet the Spy to my 6-yr-old because I remember loving it so much. And it is a great book, but I found myself editing it as I went along because Harriet makes so many nasty comments about people’s appearance. I can’t remember exactly, but I think somewhere in the first 10-15 pages she talks about how fat Ole Golly’s mom is. My daughter’s in the stage where she’s noticing negative things about the way people look, and I’m trying to discourage her from verbalizing them, so Harriet (which she loved, I might add) turned out to be a challenging read for me…

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Ooh, good note, thanks! I had forgotten how mean Harriet is (and all the Ole Golly Fat Talk). To be honest, I think her mean streak is part of why I loved her so much — she’s such a complicated and kinda unpredictable character. And I sort of love seeing girl characters, in particular, being less than perfect, since it helps counteract the Perfect Princess stuff (Disney Princesses are so rarely anything less than kind/sweet/dressed by birds and it feeds into the whole “little ladies” idea about how girls need to behave). But you are totally right that it’s actually a pretty dark book in places. Good for parents/readers to be prepared… On that same note, I should mention that Mary Poppins the book is a HECK of a lot darker than Mary Poppins the musical. Apparently, I had a thing for mean girls, as a kid?

      • Kara Corridan
        Posted April 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        I must have connected to her too, because I have no memories of it being a negative or meanspirited book in any way. I remembered it as a book about a girl who liked to write! I like your point about a complicated heroine–never a bad message to send.

  6. Abby
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Actually, one book I would definitely put on this list is “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch. Yes, Princess Elizabeth is a princess…but she defeats a dragon and dumps the prince because he cared too much about her clothes. Definitely “strong girl character” material. If you haven’t read it…you really should. (As the daughter of a children’s librarian, I was read many, many books as a child. Although, surprisingly, I don’t remember many about princesses…except for that one.)

    • Posted January 22, 2013 at 4:48 am | Permalink

      I was scrolling thru comments to make sure Paper Bag Princess got a shout out….it is my go to present for little girls or expectant parents of little girls.

  7. Beto Marie
    Posted April 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I think that the Wrinkle in Time books fit in here perfectly… or they did in my childhood library. And as princessy as it sounds, Frances Burnett’s The Little Princess has a great message about inner beauty and was a staple in my childhood, along with its sister book The Secret Garden.

    • Laura E.
      Posted May 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Ooh, I love all of those too! Those also feature girls who end up in undesirable situations and find their own way out of them. A Little Princess isn’t really princessy at all, but deals more with determination and keeping your head up and the idea that if you’re kind and a good person, even when dealt the strongest of blows, good things will happen for you. Sara never let all of the horrors that happened in her life get the best of her.

  8. Rachel
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    We (my almost-5-year-old & I) have really been enjoying “Stone Girl, Bone Girl” by by Laurence Anholt. (The beautiful pictures are by Sheila Moxley).
    “Mary Anning, born in England in 1799, made an astounding discovery at age 12 when she unearthed the first full skeleton of a giant ichthyosaur in the cliffs above her home in Lyme Regis. This incident — in which she was helped by a little dog she rescued from a cemetery — was the beginning of a long career that saw Mary become the world’s best-known fossil hunter.”

    We also really like the “Ladybug Girl” series by by Jacky Davis and David Soman.

  9. Emilee
    Posted April 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I love the All-of-a-Kind Family books, mostly because I have four daughters, and I love the idea of the girls working together to solve their problems. It’s sweet, but not saccharine, and it presents families as people who love each other, not parents as the enemy (which so often is a theme of strong-girl books, no?) I also love The Boxcar Children. Obviously, these books skew quite a bit younger than books like Emma or The Hunger Games, but they’re what I’m reading to my girls right now.

    • Posted April 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Oh I loove the All Of A Kind family books! Such a great one, I totally forgot about them. I was an only child for a long time and I spent a lot of time playing pretend AOAK family.

  10. Quercki
    Posted April 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I really like Vera B. Williams. “Cherries and Cherry Pits” is my favorite book ever. “More More More” Said the Baby is good for little ones. “A Chair for My Mother” is also good.

    She’s an artist and writer. With a lot of consciousness about inclusion.

  11. Posted April 11, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Madeline, Eloise, Pippi, Harriet the Spy & Ramona are among my favorite girl characters in books! A few other fave “strong” girl books – Paper Bag Princess, Matilda & The Secret Garden. I am sure there are more but these came instantly to mind.

    Wonderful idea for a mom to be present!

  12. Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    What a brilliant list!

    Our kids are currently reading both The Nobodies series (by Ms. N. E. Bode), and the City of Ember series, both of which feature very strong female leads (and are both spectacular series). I just picked up Mary Poppins not too long ago, and is on our to-be-read list.

    Thank you for bringing some of these others to my attention!

  13. Courtney Lewis
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I found your booklist via Pinterest. Right away I was excited at the idea of a brave girl booklist. However, right away, I found it disappointing that all of the characters were white. I am not overly sensitive to this, but I wanted to bring this to your attention. Ironically, when I first began to write to you, I realized that it is hard to think of books that fit into the brave female category that have african american, asian, or any of the many other ethnicities out there. I wonder if we can think together about some titles we have read and enjoyed that could be added to the list. I would really like to add to them to my classroom and home libraries.

    One I can think of that is for an older child would be Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Another I enjoyed as a middle school student was Wolf By the Ears by Anne Rinaldi. Still, I’d love to know more stories with more diverse heroines if you think of them.

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Dude, I know. My list is SO white. I’ve been thinking about this too so thank you for bringing it up. Shabanu Daughter of the Wind (and the sequel, Haveli) was another beloved book — I should have listed it. And definitely Roll of Thunder… I’ll keep thinking. I know there are more and I’d love to hear others suggestions on this!!

      • Posted December 20, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Julie of the Wolves is one I remember from childhood with a non-white heroine.

        Probably the most important female character in my young life was Jo March from a young readers edition of Little Women I got my hands on quite early, though I loved Ramona and Harriet as well.

        Thanks for the list!

    • Miranda
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      We got a book about Mulan from the library, if you are looking for Asian characters. This one was NOT connected to the Disney franchise, might I add. I haven’t seen their movie about her yet, so I don’t know how they spin it.
      She is certainly a strong female character who exhibits bravery, selflessness, and care for her family. And even in the end when she marries, she challenged her husband to be that he was to treat her with the same respect he treated her with when he thought she was a general. (At least she did in the book we read.)

    • blueiris
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      I read a great book when I was in the 7-9 year old range about an African girl who went on a journey to save her brothers. ALL the sons of the king were kept in a fortress/prison/school until the king died. Only one would survive or be allowed to become king. This girl travelled alone to let her brothers know. I can’t remember the whole story, only that she was black, sister to a king’s osn so probably a princess, and travelled alone incognito until she wanted to enter the place. It was inspiring. Wish I could remember the title.

    • Michelle
      Posted March 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Mulan is a good role model for young girls… although she is sort of a princess because her father is the emperor, she is far from your typical princess. Very brave.

  14. Janelle
    Posted April 15, 2012 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    It’s disappointing, considering your mission when you started this, that Anne of Green Gables didn’t make the cut. Anne obsessed over her red hair — imagined it away, broke a slate over a boy’s head about it, dyed it green. She hated her looks (and didn’t like herself much either), and always wanted to be something different than she was. Eventually though, she came to love herself because of how different she was, and she came to understand that others loved her for her personality and not for her looks. Isn’t that exactly what you’re trying to portray with this collection?

    I also like A Little Princess. It’s got the feel-good “every girl is a princess” idea to it (which you may not like for this concept), but the thing I like about it is that no one could take Sarah’s determination away from her. Against all odds, she found her father and made things right again. SHE did it.

    The Joy Luck Club is another great one, though more for an older teenager, I would say.

    Dragon Slippers is another excellent girl book.

    • Posted April 15, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      All great picks. A Little princess was on my short list for a long time — Inloved that book for the reasons you say here… I just decided to leave it off bc I didn’t want two princess titles and TOP is one I loved even more (plus the princess is named Amy, like the gift recipient).

      Anne of Green Gables: I hear you, great themes for body image and self-acceptance and I know so many hardcore Anne fans… For whatever reason, when I read them as a kid, I found her sort of grating. I’d have to reread to give you a more specific reason why but I think I found her constant good/bad morality stuff sort of cloying? Regardless, of course, an obvious classic and worthy of this list. Just not a
      personal favorite. Perhaps I’ll give her another shot…

      Joy Luck Club: Great one and we need more diversity!

      • Laura E.
        Posted May 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        Well, Anne was written as a serialized morality story by the wife of a preacher, so it’s not too surprising you picked that up. I’m still a diehard Anne fan, though. I recommend you reread at least the first 3 books… I reread all of them last year, and while I always liked the books, I was really struck with how much I just couldn’t have gotten as a kid. The idea that poor Anne, born into a happy home and immediately orphaned, then passed along through foster homes and orphanages, abused and unloved, still kept hope and through her strange personality and unique ideas both achieved everything she’d hoped for as well as changed the lives of so many other people she knew… it was inspiring to me as a kid, but meant so much more as an adult. I hadn’t read past the 4th book when I was growing up, either, and this time I read ALL of them… and while the last couple didn’t spark as well as the earlier ones, the last book is important and definitely struck me. But then it fits into the category I like, which is ordinary people faced with insurmountable obstacles who, through their own willpower, fight their way past the obstacles and find themselves enlightened and empowered on the other side.

        And Joy Luck Club is the bomb. Both the book of that and A Little Princess are worlds better than their respective movies (and I like the movies a lot).

      • Katie
        Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:14 am | Permalink

        Virginia, I can relate to your feelings about Anne! But I recently read the books as an adult and I now adore her :-)

  15. Posted April 16, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    So glad to see that Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables (and series), and Little House series made the list! :) Those were some of my childhood favorites. I also really enjoyed Heidi, Charlotte’s Web, the Bobbsey Twins and Boxcar Children….I will be reading all of these to my children eventually :) I know they aren’t classical literature, but I really did enjoy The American Girl books (back when it was just Kirsten, Samantha, & Molly). I hope that my daughter will enjoy those too.

  16. Kristy
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Love the list! Island of the Blue Dolphin would be a great addition and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was always a favorite of mine.

  17. Wynnsmomma
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Love this list! I second adding Island of the Blue Dolphins and suggest So Far From the Bamboo Grove for middle schoolers :)

    • Wynnsmomma
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      Oh oh and Homecoming and Diary of Anne Frank…..and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn…I could go on forever!

  18. Jess
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Love all of these suggestions! Can’t wait to start enjoying these and more with my baby girl. If I could add two more: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (one of my absolute favorites as a girl) and Esperanza Rising (a much newer book with a great female protoganist). Great idea!

    • Loretta
      Posted December 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler was one of my all time favorite books as a chid. My gifted reader struggles to find content appropriate books that are at her reading level. She read that in second grade and loved it. We also enjoyed the new junior novel from the movie Brave. Merida is strong, determined, and fiercely independent, especially for a Disney princess.

  19. Posted May 28, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    The homeschool curriculum, Five in a Row, has great book lists. Check out their website for booklists. Even if you aren’t a homeschooler, the lists are a great resource. Another great place to look is the Newberry Medal winner list as well as the Caldecott winner list.

  20. Jennifer
    Posted June 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and the Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry series both still stand out to me today, a good 20 years after I originally read them.

    • Posted August 24, 2012 at 1:41 am | Permalink

      Oooh, yes. True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was a HUGE favorite of mine growing up.

  21. Alaina
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    My aunt handed me Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series a while back, and it is fantastic! It’s newer so it wouldn’t be on your list, but I highly recommend the series! (at least the first two. I haven’t read the others yet. Too busy with college reading :-/)

    • Michelle G.
      Posted January 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      I love the Flavia de Luce books!!

  22. Posted June 20, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Love your list! It’s so important for girls to feel brave and confident. Have you heard about It’s “The world’s largest collection of books and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” Great site. :)

  23. Elaine
    Posted June 22, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I didn’t read all of the many many comments, but one of my favorite children’s story about a brave girl is called Loud Emily. It’s a picture book about a little girl who is sent to the market with her family’s cook because she is too loud. She joins the crew of a ship and sings sea shanties to keep their spirits up while working. When they’re caught in a storm, she sings to the whales and the whales rescue the whole ship. The little girl saves all the men on her own. It makes me cry every time! It was published in 1998, so after my time to read it, but it’s phenomenal!

  24. Katie
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Great list! Check out John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ Series – POV of a teenage girl and she is seriously brave. I read this series every year and adore it. Also, they are a little more adult, but the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris has a great female lead.

  25. kristi
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    just wanted to comment on the flavia de luce books. they’re awesome for an adult, but my 14 and 12 year old daughters haven’t read them yet. there’s a bit of gory stuff and just maybe too worldly? they’ve read jane eyre but it’s a different kind of worldly.
    there’s also a whole lot of british books besides the ‘shoes’ (which we love) like edward eager and e.nesbit where the strong girls work with their strong brothers etc.

  26. kristi
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    oh! and jane of lantern hill is a great strong girl who can do everything she puts her hand to. (that’s l.m. montgomery too).

  27. utm
    Posted July 7, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I’ve read a lot of these books too as a kid, and loved them. I grew up on tons of Ramona books, Judy Blume, Boxcar children, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. One thing I notice now, however, is that there isn’t a lot of popular kids titles that are by authors of color and about multicultural children. I don’t have kids yet, but if I did, I would love to be able to read my little girl some books with characters who look like her too. Here’s a list of books that I think fit non-PPP category and are also multicultural picks.

  28. utm
    Posted July 7, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Oops, sorry, forgot the link! Not all of these books are centered on the “brave girl” theme, but I believe many of them do:

    50 multicultural books every child should know:

    More titles here:

  29. aadya
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    well i think sydney sheldon’s books are inspiring and empowering…..though a male writer the protogonist of his story was always a female who though was beautiful but their only assett wasnt her beauty but her mind……she is always cunning,smart and has a distinct aura around her….though normally she is vengeful and uses those for her mind 4crime (most of the time) but can girl cant do anything but feel inspired cause she knows she can do anything if she puts her mind to it…..

  30. Tenisha
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    What a great list! It’s so great to see that there are others out there who are sick of the stereotype “princess”. Another great read that I don’t think was already suggested: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Muncsh. It’s such a fun read where the Princess defeats the Dragon to save the Handsome Prince, and then realizes that the Prince isn’t a very nice guy and that she doesn’t NEED a Prince after all. LOVE this one, even my boys like this one.

  31. C Max
    Posted August 25, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    It’s been along time since I’ve read them, so I don’t remember if they fit your criteria, but what about Nancy Drew?

  32. Elizabeth Loiacono
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    What about A Secret Garden and A Little Princess??? I think both those books are wonderfully written and are books that remind us of little lessons on how to behave admirably. A Little Princess is based around the premise that all girls are princesses not because they are pretty or smart but rather because a princess is someone who is noble of heart and kind! I’m kind of obsessed with these two books.

  33. Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Oh, you gotta recommend Meg Murry from the Wrinkle in Time series! She fights a giant brain monster with love in order to save her own father. Those books shaped who I am.

  34. Em
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Modern books that are great are The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter. So rad.

  35. Stephanie
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Anne of green gables series!! In my opinion the best story of a outcast girl making her way in the world. Great story that my daughter will definately be reading :) I love the list though. They are all great books as well!

  36. danielle
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I love this list and would add the Little House on the Prairie series. These were so fun for me as a child and still as I am rereading them as an adult!

  37. Lenore
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    You should also check out Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede. Technically, the main character is a princess, BUT she hates that it defines her, and she spends the whole book trying to make her own life instead of waiting around for a prince to marry her (like she’s expected to).

    • Michelle G.
      Posted January 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      I remember reading those books and really enjoying them! Good suggestion! :)

  38. Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    What a fabulous list! I found this through Pinterest and as the mother of 2 daughters it’s a great list to keep in your back pocket.

  39. Sarah
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I was also going to suggest Dealing with Dragons, but somebody beat me to it! I’m glad other people know about that series. Patricia Wrede’s newest series is also good. It starts with Thirteenth Child is about a girl overcoming both other people’s false expectations of her and her own.

    • Sally
      Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      I was going to suggest Patricia Wrede’s books as well. My daughter has also loved The Silver Bowl and the next book by Diane Stanley, Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, The Penderwick Sisters by Jeanne Birdsall, and the Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright…all good books with strong girl characters.

  40. Eleanor
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Any of Shannon Hale’s children’s books: Princess Academy, Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days. She also wrote a graphic novel, which I haven’t read, but that my daughter loves- Rapunzel’s Revenge. Her characters are all strong girls, with humble beginnings, who become great. (Goose Girl’s protagonist actually IS a princess, who is so meek that she’s overthrown- until she discovers her inner strength, and triumphs.)

    • Michelle G.
      Posted January 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Princess Academy is a great suggestion!

  41. Posted November 19, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Great post, great list! I’ll add:

    Kill a Mockingbird. Girl’s POV, and Scout is one of the best female characters ever!

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

    Girls from cultures other than European and white: Julie of the Wolves; Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. Neither is BY a woman of color, and I’m not one either, but I remember them as stereotype-free as well as PPP-free. I don’t remember Island of the Blue Dolphins as well, but it seems like another candidate.

  42. Morgan
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Don’t know if it’s been mentioned yet, but The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes is a great anti- “mean girls” book. The heroine has a quiet strength, and it’s definitely not in the PPP canon.

    • Jen
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      Oh wow. I completely forgot about that book, but that was a favorite of mine when I was a kid.

  43. Sara
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    One book I loved growing up was Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. My grandma gave it to me and I remember it was the first chapter book I read in under a week (big accomplishment at the time!). It was about a redhead girl who is a tomboy growing up in Lincoln’s time. It was a great book about a strong girl who doesn’t have to do “girl” things and as a redhead, I loved strong redhead characters (and still do).

  44. Tori
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I know I may be a little late to jump on the band wagon, but I LOVED this concept! One series that I love is the “Howl’s Moving Castle” series by Diana Wynne Jones. All of her books have strong female characters, and I learned so much from her stories. I recommend these books to everyone!

  45. Natalie
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    My friend just emailed me this link b/c I’m dying over what to get my 8 yr old daughter for Christmas. So THANK YOU for being the book worm I should have been as a child that I have somehow morphed into as an adult! She loves to read but I can never seem to find the perfect fit for her but now I think there’s a chance :)

  46. Mollie
    Posted January 14, 2013 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    I love the post. As for diversity…

    Carlotta by Scott Odell

    Anything by Kenneth Thomasa…all of his characters are Native American, and most of them are girls. I loved his books.

  47. Claire
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Speaking as a true “Disney child”, I can’t say I’m exactly against the PPP notions- particularly the more modern princesses like Belle, Mulan, and Tiana. However, I definitely understand where you’re coming from. One book that I would highly recommend (and that I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned already) is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. While based on the Cinderella fairy tale, it features a far more relatable heroine. Ella is smart, witty, at times self-conscious, and ultimately courageous. Even though I’m now nearly 20, I still read it regularly and enjoy just as much as I did when I read it in 4th grade.

  48. Ivory
    Posted January 26, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    As a physician who grew up on a remote ranch in Wyoming but now has a little girl who is going to grow up in daycares and cities, I think this is a great conversation. I worry about the pressures she will face that I didn’t until a much older age. I’m planning on reading her some on the list and will include To Kill a Mockingbird, Sara Plain and Tall, Island of Blue Dolphins and Wrinkle in Time. Your comments had many of these already except Sara Plain and Tall. Add that to the list for sure!

  49. Ivory
    Posted January 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Paul Goble’s Girl Who Loved Wild Horses and his other books for gorgeous pictures and non white characters. I also loved the Hundred Dresses… Thought I was the only kid who knew of that one!

  50. Posted March 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely love this!

  51. Sarah
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I have a daughter who will be turning 5 in a couple of weeks and I’m working on making a summer reading list for us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t introduced to many books as a little girl so I’m not familiar with many of these :( Can you guide me toward which books might be most appropriate for ages 4-8ish? Thanks :)

  52. Posted April 7, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Oh, how encouraging that so many of us want to inspire girls to become brave individuals. The Eco mystery series, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six, feature six feisty girls. Determined to save endangered species, the girls soon find themselves embroiled in a complex and dangerous Eco mystery. I began this series in homage to my six precious granddaughters, and to all the children of the earth. May they grow up to be brave and wise stewards of our precious natural resources.

  53. Kennedy
    Posted April 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I think the blame for all the bad girl/ fat girl/ weak girl nonsense shouldn’t be blamed on fairy tales in books. These stories have been around for a long time, however the Internet and extreme feminism hasn’t been. There’s a fine line between boosting a girls self esteem and turning her into a ” I don’t need a man”, bitchy, bad girl who runs through relationships because she see’s men as disposable toys that she doesn’t need around to ” define” her.

  54. Posted May 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    This is a great list! It’s so nice to see that there are others out there who are tired of the stereotype “princess”. A book that comes to mind, with a non-princess character, is the classic “Alice in Wonderland”. Also, for girls age 8 and up, the American Girl series offers several books with diverse, strong female characters in historical settings. Educational and entertaining.

  55. Mary
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Fried green tomatoes should be on here. Obviously it would be for over 14. The main character is a strong independent woman.

  56. Swan
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Ronia the Robber’s Daughter is another book about a brave girl.

  57. Posted May 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Love this post! I have added it to our summer bucket list and shared it on my blog of summer activities! :-) Thanks for the great ideas.

  58. Katherine
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Except that Emma and Jane Eyre are WAY above the reading level of any of the other books. Also Emma is landed British aristocracy, so that’s pretty darn close to a princess, and the entire plot is about man-trapping a husband. And since your adding Jane Austen willy nilly, what about Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice?

    On a more practical note, maybe add: Ozma of Oz, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle; From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler (about a girl and her brother who live int he Metropolitan Museum of Art); Wrinkle in Time; Number the Stars; Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede; the Narnia books with Susan and Lucy (up through Dawn Treader)

    • Posted June 20, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      I’d absolutely give Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice or any other Austen as baby gifts — honestly, it was hard to limit myself to just one because I love all her books so much! Emma and Jane Eyre are a more advanced reading level, sure — but when I give a collection of books, I like to think about what the baby will want to read as she grows up. A dear friend just gave us a beautiful edition of Jane Eyre as a baby present and I could not be more thrilled to save that for my daughter to read some day.

      Now as far as characterizing Emma as a plot “about man-trapping a husband” — here, I will go to the mats. Jane Austen had a very complicated relationship with the idea of marriage and all of her novels, but EMMA especially, explore that with great nuance. Emma spends most of the novel very sure that she should never get married because it would mean sacrificing her independence and power and only changes her mind when she finds a partner who will love and respect her as the real, flawed human that she is — not as some fragile, helpless doll. She does meddle in the love lives of Mrs. Weston and Harriet — but that’s because she knows women not born to her financial stature depend on marriage for financial security and she wants to see her friends well settled. Trying to exert control over that process during the 19th century (when women had almost no legal rights and few options) was incredibly subversive — it was the one way a woman could determine her own fate when society wanted to determine it for her.

      I could go on about all the ways Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte broke ground as early feminist writers, but this isn’t the place for you to read my college thesis. Suffice to say, I think these writers and their heroines are crucial to any young woman’s education today. They teach us where we came from and regardless of their feminist messages and gender, are two of the very best writers in the English language. So required reading, absolutely.

  59. Posted June 29, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I would add the little house books and they are cool because they are based on her actual life growing up on the prairie.

  60. Michelle
    Posted August 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman.

  61. Gloria M.
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    The Game of Life, by Norma Howe.

    I found this book as a young teen, and it has remained in my memory as one of the few books that profoundly affected my view of life and how we handle it. About a decade later, my younger sister discovered and read the book on her own, and it had a similar effect. Of all the heroines I remember reading as an intensely shy teenage girl, Cairo Hays inspired me that maybe, just maybe, I too could be strong enough to fight for the people I love, the things that matter to me, and even just to be myself.

    And there are no mentions of princesses. Only root beer, poetry, and dogs.

  62. Posted October 25, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Great article and a great idea. I was thinking about this when I wrote my book Valda & the Valkyries about a 15 year old Dwarf girl who rebels against the society that tells her all the things she can’t do. It’s much more fun writing about a main character who does things, rather than waiting for someone else to save her.

  63. cera
    Posted November 9, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I know I’m super late to this conversation, but what a great idea!
    I wanted to suggest Scott O’Dell’s books (Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sing Down The Moon, etc). Books which both star brave, smart girls and are also racially and culturally diverse.
    Also some of these books may have girls who are not “weak”, but I still wouldn’t call them positive role models. It’s not a lot better to be obnoxious than a pushover. The last thing I would ever want is a daughter who emulates Eloise (shudder). A character who is still all about clothes and class, just gets it by being bratty and rebellious. That’s not strength.
    Madeline L’Engle and Scott O’Dell are still the best creators of positive youth heroines in my book.

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