by Janhavi Atre
A good book is a good book, not a girls’ book or a boys’ book and sometimes not even exclusively a children’s book.
So why this list?
It still feels important to list out certain books that I found were about girls who are strong, witty, clever and independent. Even though not necessarily role models, often they imbibe no perfect form and yet are adorable and easy to relate to. The only dragon is the homework, and the only wicked stepmother is the exam and there’s no rescuing from it!
You’ll agree that a good book will have great content, is easy to read and more importantly maintains a flow that keeps the reader at that age engaged by its entertainment value or by satisfying the curious mind. Having children has helped me rediscover the magic of childhood, including children’s literature. I have loved reading these books some as a child myself, others along with my supergirl and some only just.
The girls in these books are no ‘Snow Whites’ or ‘Belles’ or not even the human version of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ waiting to bloom into the ‘Beauty that dazzles all’.
These are girls who love to blow spit bubbles, chop off their friends’ hair and try to glue them back and fight the universal dark powers by sheer determination! They are not afraid to speak their minds, many times which is sure to make you laugh, on others make you admire them as they stand up for what they believe in. Every once in a while they do wicked things and yet they have their hearts in the right place!
Here are some books which will celebrate childhood as it is. These girls are to be seen as well as heard!
Ages 4 -6
The books use easy sentence structures and more pictures keeping in line with the attention span of the kids this age. They are fun even for you as parents to read them aloud or to help your kids as they try to read them.
Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett
This is a funny story about a mix up between a pig and a little girl and the pig ends up being raised as a princess. The girl, in the meantime, is enjoying a free life. How the little pig is spoilt while the real princess is leading a wholesome life outside in a village and what happens when the truth is discovered is something that you must wait to find out as you read this with your little super-girl!
Olivia by Ian Falconer
This book and the others in the series are about a little pig who is very excited about discovering the world around her. She finds that the day is not enough trying to do so many new things and dressing up in fancy clothes.
She wants to paint on the walls after seeing some famous paintings in a museum, imagines herself to be the ‘Prima Ballerina’, wants to be an astronaut and so on. She is exactly what all girls are – lively, curious and excited about things around them.
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Amelia is another adorable girl whose actions are dictated by the instructions that are misunderstood. She takes most of what is said, literally. If someone asks her to ‘toss the salad’, you will find that she will have literally tossed it around the place!
This is one book that is sure to make you laugh as you explain to your kid the silly things that Amelia does by following the figurative instructions literally.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Madeline is the smallest of the twelve little girls who live in a girls’ house possibly like a boarding school. She is brave and popular with her friends and her matron, Miss Clavel. She has to go through an appendix operation which she does in all good spirits lying in a hospital bed, imagining bunnies on the ceiling. Her friends miss her and come to meet her often. You’ll smile when she comes back home with a scar to be proud of and how her friends react!
The charm of this work lies in the form it has been written in – all in verse!
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
In this book, the author has done a fantastic work of presenting the thoughts of the little girl, about the things she experiences daily at home, her neighbours and her school. She tries to help her ‘pretty friend’ and gets into trouble by chopping off her friend’s long hair. She tries to make amends by gluing it back, drawing curls on her forehead, colouring them….etc., etc. Kids, as well as adults will find it very funny.
She feels greatly misunderstood by all and believes that her family is planning to get rid of her. How it all sorts out is quite surprising and will keep your kid hooked!
The books above are very simple, and yet I am assuming that some will be read out to the children. As yet the children are picking up the skill of making out the words by themselves and reading takes time. There are others who are already moved on to reading chapter books by themselves.
The books are now a bit more complex, usually chapter books with fewer images, although pictures are still something that attracts the children and makes the book more fun while reading. The language too is slightly richer, yet the concepts are simple and age-appropriate. There will still be times when you will enjoy reading out to your child.
Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Ramona is a loveable four years old with a penchant for getting into trouble. The first book, Ramona and Beezus has been written from the point of view of Beezus (Beatrice), Ramona’s nine- year old sister. It’s about how Ramona’s imagination and consequently her actions embarrass or spoil things for her.
The later novels focus on Ramona and her adventures. Ramona is clearly an outspoken child and what goes through her mind will surely amuse you because the odds are that you’ve thought many of those things too. It is a great insight into the little minds.
The Worst witch by Jill Murphy
The series begins with ‘The Worst Witch’ published in 1974. Much before Harry Potter, there have been books about Schools of Magic and Witchcraft and this is one of them.
A little clumsy witch called Mildred Hubble joins Mrs. Cackle’s Academy for witches. Although a well-meaning witch, she cannot get her spells right and keeps getting into trouble and is consequently is named the ‘worst witch’.
Your child will love reading about classes like chanting, potions and even broomstick riding. Mildred has a pet black cat who accompanies her on most of the adventures.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
The crazy adventures of Pippi are so much fun that this is a book that every child must-read. It is equally entertaining for boys. Nine-year-old Pippi is fearless. She lives alone with her monkey. Pippi has been left a lot of money and she is so strong that she can lift the ‘strongest man on earth’ and walk around the circus ring, scares the sharks that attack her friends, tricks the thieves that come after her money.
Pippi makes her own clothes from various fabrics that she can find. Her stockings are exceedingly long (hence the name) and different coloured and she wears shoes twice her size. Her red hair is tied into two long pigtails. She takes her friends Annika and Tommy on crazy adventures.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Like all Roald Dahl books, Matilda is an amazing story. Again, a very popular novel amongst children, it’s about a super-intelligent but little understood girl. Matilda is a misfit in her weird family and is constantly nagged for being a nice and intelligent girl. At five and a half, she is sent to school reluctantly by her parents where she meets and amazes her teacher Miss Honey with her mathematical calculations way beyond her age. The headmistress, Mrs. Trunchbull is a maniacal personality terrorising everyone till Matilda stands up to her and then the fun begins. Matilda discovers the power of telekinesis and uses it to trick Mrs. Trunchbull into giving Miss Honey her rightful inheritance.
A happy ending is usually the best part of a book and most kids’ books have a happy ending, that’s also why we love them!
Matilda is not just intelligent but also a fearless girl who doesn’t shy away from saying what she believes is right, getting her into trouble at home and at school.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Considered a classic in children’s literature, this novel is loved by children and adults alike. The book celebrates friendship.
A little girl Fern pleads her father to spare the life of a little runt whom she calls Wilbur. After a while, he is sent to Fern’s uncle’s farm, where he makes friends with a spider called Charlotte.
Once they find out that like other pigs Wilbur too will be killed for meat, Charlotte figures out a way to keep Wilbur alive by weaving words about Wilbur in her web, making him famous.
These Novels have bigger chapters and complex plots and characters.
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng
Molly Moon lives in an orphanage with her best friend Rocky in rather unpleasant circumstances. She is a plain girl and quite unpopular till she discovers a book on Hypnotism.
The adventures that follow for Molly and the orphanage pug Petula , will not fail to keep your child entertained for hours as she hypnotises her way to success, wealth and fame and then discovers the futility of it all having lost her best friend. As the charm of all the newfound life wears off, Molly finds herself forced to be a part of a bank robbery.
The plot is exciting, making this book unputdownable. This novel is the first in the series of six books as further adventures await Molly.
Thora: A Half-Mermaid Tale by Gillian Johnson
A riveting book about a ten-year-old half-mermaid, it is sure to amuse the young reader by her antics. Thora has an accomplished mother, a mermaid under the disguise of a human swimmer and along with her guardian Mr. Walters she has traveled around the globe in their ship ‘Loki’ in order to be near water. At ten she can now live her life on land.
Here she meets the greedy villain Frooty de Mare and a couple more bullies that she handles with complete composure and humour as she makes friends with their children.
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will love books by Eva Ibbotson. This author was a fantastic discovery for us.
In this particular book, Odge is a young hag who is a bit of a disappointment to her family because she is not ugly enough and wicked enough. She wants to be a part of the rescue team that will go to get the prince back. The prince had been kidnapped by a human nine years ago when he was still a baby. The gump that opens to the human world every nine years for nine days is about to open when the rescue team with a wise old wizard, a wise witch, a giant, etc. is finalised and Odge is not one of them.
She is so determined that she goes to the King and convinces him how she will be extremely useful as a member since she is about the same age as the prince. The King gives in and the nine-day adventure begins. It seems that the prince is now a rich spoilt brat, who doesn’t want to go back.
By the end of this book, you’ll be sad to let the loveable Odge go and you’ll be rushing for more books by Eva Ibbotson.
Bogwoppit by Ursula Moray Williams
Ursula Moray Williams has created a powerful character in Samantha, the orphan who comes to live with her aunt and encounters ‘Bogwoppit’.
Now, what is a bogwoppit? It’s a naughty but cute furry creature that lives in Samantha’s Aunt’s cellar. Well, I’ll leave the rest for you to find out for yourself or from your child in this engrossing book about Samantha and her adventures with the bogwoppit along with her friends.
Samantha is a courageous girl who has moved into the large estate belonging to one of her aunts after being in a way abandoned by another. She is polite and kind, yet bold as she goes through various situations even facing journalists, TV reporters. In fact, she enjoys her moment of fame!
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
This entire series has been my all-time favourite. Once you read a book, you are bound to read the entire series. The plot, characters, settings, and events everything is so amazing that you cannot have enough. No wonder it is one of the most popular classics.
Anne Shirley is an orphan adopted by the elderly Cuthbert siblings, by accident. She stays and there begin her adventures. She is a very imaginative girl, a red-haired freckled girl, who keeps everything around her lively and exciting, she’s that dramatic and talkative. She gets into trouble often due to her imagination and also because of her straight talk.
The setting of this novel is the rural Prince Edward Island in Canada and the description of this place is so beautiful that I was in love with the novel, even before the story began.
In this and the subsequent novels of Anne, the journey continues where she grows up goes to college and takes up a job. However, this is the only book in the series that is suitable for ages 9-11. The subsequent novels would fall into the category for young adults, I feel.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Though it isn’t an easy read, it’s an engaging book. A science fiction, this book has many layers to it. It also talks about some complex concepts from Physics and Maths without disturbing the flow for the young reader.
Meg Murry is again a different girl, very intelligent but misunderstood, riddled by her scientist father’s disappearance and the speculation surrounding it. She is impatient, short-tempered covers most of the spectrum of ‘faults’ found in girls around the age of ten.
One evening she finds herself dragged into strange events where she travels in time and space by a ‘wrinkle’, with her little brother and a friend, in search of her father. On their journey, they meet various beings, some strange dark control-freak powers.
Meg rediscovers courage and love and the much-needed acceptance!
While there are other strong female characters in children’s literature, such as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, Heidi or the intelligent Violet Baudelaire from the Series of Unfortunate Events, I feel that the books in the list above are an easy read for most children. Also, I believe this list does not do justice to all the amazing books out there. This is at best indicative of the treasure available out there for your child to explore.
Janhavi Atre is a Co-founder at Write & Design.
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Attribution for images: Unsplash.com, Pixabay.com, Pexels.com and Goodreads.com (for the book cover thumbnails).