Saturday, September 8, 2012

7 Books Your Daughters Should Read

I was an odd kid. I read more books in a week than I had friends, and when I finally met my best friend, we initially bonded over the books we both loved. But I have never felt like I should be embarrassed of who I am, even before I knew anyone like me. For that confidence, I have my books to thank.

As a girl, finding strong female characters - amazing characters (with all the flaws that entails), who just happen to be female - can be tough. So today, as I sit in my new university dorm, missing my real friends, I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and share with you some of the fictional friends who kept me company as a kid.

I recommend these books to everyone. But in particular, I recommend them to your daughters, or your little sisters and cousins. The girls in your life who need full and real female characters as role models. I promise you all of the books below hold such characters.
Quick note: I've put the age at which I first read each book in brackets beside each title, but I was into the teen section and beyond by the time I was ten. If a child you know brings home an 'older' book on her own, I believe in letting her read it, but if you're going to be giving these books to kids, be sure to take into account different maturity levels & reading skills.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (9)


Frustrated by a life where she learns no useful skill, Princess Cimorene runs away from home and volunteers to serve as a dragon's  "captive" princess. Living with Kazul, Cimorene must learn her new job, fend off would-be rescuers and deal with pesky interfering wizards.

Before you dismiss this story as typical "rebellious princess" fare, remember that it's intended for an age group with too few such stories - this was the first reversal I encountered, for one thing. And Cimorene is far from a one dimensional character. She's competent, loves to learn, and always thinks outside the box. Plus, the book features a full spectrum of female characters, a nice contrast from a lot of fantasy where women are tokenized.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (10)


When Tiffany Aching's annoying little brother is kidnapped by the Queen of Fairies, nine year old Tiffany must recruit the Nac Mac Feegle - tiny, blue, kilted men - to help her rescue him.

Terry Pratchett is still one of my favourite authors, and this is a great introduction to his work for younger readers, exploring the importance of stories, different kinds of truth, "headology" and how being a witch means knowing when NOT to use magic.

The best thing The Wee Free Men did for me was squash the worry that I thought too much. My habit of commenting on my own thoughts and actions inside my head - in effect sharing brainspace with a detached observer - became way cooler in my mind when I could call it "Second Thoughts" and be like Tiffany. All of a sudden overthinking everything was okay.

Tamora Pierce's Quartets : Protector of the Small, Song of the Lioness, The Immortals (8)


Two girls train for their knighthood - one in secret, one as the first to do so openly. Another young woman must learn to harness her magic before she loses her humanity to it. All three stories are set in the same kingdom, against the backdrop of different large-scale political events/disasters.

All three series feature strong female protagonists - but for me more than seeing their strengths I loved their flaws. I loved seeing bits of myself in them, and I wanted to be even more like them.
I told myself I had Alanna's temper, and Kel's height. Once when I got my hair cut I described how I wanted it as Kel's hair is described. I wanted to be as determined and strong and brave as they were. I still do.

“Girls are 50% of the population. We deserve to represent 50% of the heroes.” ~Tamora Pierce

(Seriously, these books are amazing, and you should buy/get them. If you're buying, please note that more recent covers are different and not as cool. The books still are.)

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (12?)


Part of a series of books centered around several generations of a black family in the American South during the 1930s, this one is my favourite. The narrator is young Cassie Logan, up until now relatively sheltered by her family from racism.

This book taught me about history, yes, but more than that I learned about unfairness and having no good options and strength and perseverance despite it all.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (8)


"The adventures of an eleven-year-old tomboy growing up on the Wisconsin frontier in the mid-nineteenth century."
To be honest, I read this book so long ago that I barely remember the plot - but I do remember that I loved it, and the unconventional, free-spirited Caddie. I remember that I thought she was so cool, and I remember that some parts made me so sad I wanted to cry. This book was written in 1936 but it is still fantastic today.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (8)


Bound by a childhood "blessing" to obey every command she is given, Ella grows up struggling to simply get along. But she isn't whiny or shallow - she's witty, determined and genuinely kind, with an impressive strength of will.

Don't judge this book by the movie. It is amazing and sweet and clever and Ella is such a wily girl, smart and determined beyond anything.

The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (9) 


Nine year old Katie Welker has always been odd, but when she moves to the city she finally has the chance to track down the four others like her and figure out the origin of their strange powers. 
Katie is a wonderful role model for kids. She's smart and doesn't take nonsense from anyone - she takes the initiative on her investigations instead. I loved her.
Technically, I was a "normal" kid - normal as you can be while reading roughly 300 books a year as a child of ten, with some of them being in the Dragonlance series (there was a lot in those that I only understood MUCH later). But I always identified better with kids also on the outside of the typical social norm. And that's why I loved this book.

In the end, my biggest advice for those with young female readers is to let them discover on their own. Teach them to love the library, and then let them loose in it. Suggest things and be there to help, but trust them to find the right books for them. Don't look over your 9 year old's shoulder when she ventures into the teen section. Trust.

Because yes, she might come across sex scenes in adult Mercedes Lackey books she requested after reading the teen ones, but what she's too young for will go right over her head. I know. I was there. And I turned out just fine.

What books do you recommend for young girls/boys/anyone? Do you agree with my choices?


  1. I love Dealing with Dragons, though I totally read that series out of order.

    1. That could do interesting things to understanding... but if you loved it, clearly not *too* interesting things!