A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of my family’s favorite picture books with strong female characters. Today, I am posting a list of our favorite chapter books containing strong girls or women.
The list contains everything from books accessible to early readers to chapter books that are appropriate for young adults. I’ve read most of the books geared at younger readers with my 8-year-old, though none of the young adult books (those are waiting on our bookshelves for future reading).
Chapter books for younger readers:
The Magic Treehouse Books (Mary Pope Osborne) – This is a series of easy to read chapter books. Annie and Jack, a sister and brother pair, have to work together to solve the missions, and they each bring different strengths to their endeavors. These books have magical underpinnings that hold them together, but also contain true information about the different times and places which they visit. They are a bit formulaic, but my boys love them. Some of our favorites include A Perfect Time for Pandas, Eve of the Emperor Penguin, Dogs in the Dead of Night, and Thanksgiving on Thursday. You do not need to read these books in order, but it’s helpful to read the origin story, Dinosaurs Before Dark.
American Girl books (notably Kaya, Josephina, Kirsten, Addy, and Kit). We liked these books, all of which were written early in the days of the American Girl enterprise. The ones that came later were not as impressive to us. Kaya is a Nez Perce, whose story takes place in the Pacific Northwest in 1764. Josephina lives on a Rancho near Santa Fe in 1824. Kirsten is a Swedish immigrant who, in 1854, moves west to the American frontier. Addy and her family escape from slavery in 1864. Kit helps her family to keep their home when her father loses his job during the Great Depression. These are all strong girls who face serious difficulties, but come out stronger. Note that there are a series of 6 books for each girl. I only linked to the first book.
The entire Little House series (Wilder, Wiley, Wilkes, Wilkins, MacBride). They start with Martha in Scotland, follow Charlotte in Boston, trace Caroline’s growing up as she heads west to Wisconsin, journey to the Midwest to homestead with Laura, and continue through to Rose in Missouri. These books are an interesting way to look into the everyday lives of first the daughter of a Scottish nobleman who, as an adult, immigrates to America, then the subsequent generations as grow up in the United States. Second to the end you find the iconic Laura, the original series upon which the others build. Note that the original Little House on the Prairie series contain dated language and present rather pejorative views of the American Natives. Similar to the above, I linked to the first book about each of the girls.
Birchbark House (Louise Erdrich) – This series of books provides a mid-19th Century Ojibwa perspective. It’s great to read alongside the Little House on the Prairie series, and provides an important perspective to American tales of westward expansion.
A Little Princess; The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett). A Little Princess is not about a princess at all, but about a young girl named Sara who goes from a wealthy girl being groomed for her place in high society to an abused servant following the unexpected death of her father. Her imagination carries her through her difficult circumstances, and in the end all works out well. In The Secret Garden, a spoiled young girl named Mary is sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her parents die in an Indian cholera epidemic. She grows, learns, and transforms as she learns to love and care for another.
Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) – Anne is smart, spunky, caring, and helpful. This series follows her as she is adopted by an older childless couple, and proceeds to brighten the lives of everyone she encounters through her adulthood.
Sophie series; Harriet’s Hare; Pretty Polly (Dick King-Smith). We are big fans of Dick King-Smith. While most of his books feature animals as their main characters, the books listed above also feature strong girls.
Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren). A 9-year-old girl who lives on her own (aside from a monkey and a horse that lives on her porch), brings her own flair and spirit to everything she does. Nothing is mundane when Pippi is a part of it. Her neighbors, Tommy and Annika, join her in all sorts of fun adventures.
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (Margaret Sidney). A story about five children growing up in rural poverty with their widowed mother in the 1800s. Their mother emphasizes hard work, cooperation, and courage, as well as strives to infuse their daily lives with cheer, happiness, and love.
All-of-a-Kind Family (Sydney Taylor). A series of books about Jewish family with five daughters growing up on the lower east side of New York City in the early 1900s. These books do a great job of immersing you into that time and place as we watch the girls learn and grow.
Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink). Situated in 1864 in the woods of Wisconsin, Caddie is a tomboy who is misunderstood by her mother and neighbors, but sits as her father’s pride. She makes friends with the Natives, and has all sorts of exciting adventures.
Sarah Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan). Sarah comes to the Midwest from Maine answering Anna’s father’s advertisement for a wife and mother. Anna is at first apprehensive, but comes to love Sarah. This book, told from Anna’s perspective, explores themes of love, loss, and family,
Julie of the Wolves (Jean Craighead George). Julie (Miyax) becomes lost in the Alaskan tundra after running away from her Eskimo village. She learns to survive by watching and then becoming a part of a wolf pack. This story tells of Julie’s survival as well as her conflict over whether to return to the modern world.
Betsy-Tacy books (Maud Hart Lovelace). Two young girls who become inseparable friends (and are later joined by a third young girl, Tib). The girls have all sorts of adventures and fun together.
Chapter Books for older kids:
A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle). Meg, along with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin, sets off on a journey across space to rescue her father.
Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling) – Harry may be the star, but he couldn’t have done it all without Hermione. Magic, friendship, and fighting against evil are themes throughout these books. These books get more mature and violent as they progress.
His Dark Materials series (Phillip Pullman). Lyra saves her world, and all others. These books contain violence and some rather disturbing scenes, but also contain some very beautiful ideas, places, and magic. They also feature love, bravery, determination, sacrifice, and foiling evil intentions. I linked to the first book, The Golden Compass.
Hunger Games trilogy (Suzanne Collins). Set in a dystopian future, Katniss is a strong and resourceful heroine. These books have a lot of violence, if that’s an issue for you. They also showcase bravery, loyalty, and love, as well as fighting for what is right.
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series (Michael Scott). Sophie and her twin brother Josh become part of a world of magic they didn’t know existed. They become key players in a battle to save the world from the dark elders who would enslave the human race.
What are your favorite chapter books with strong female characters?