I love a good, strong, female character—and I love her even more when she’s the main draw to a story that my daughters want to read again and again and again. Since I know plenty of moms who audibly groan every time their kid grabs one of those licensed character books at bedtime, I thought I’d put together a selection of my favorite books with bad ass girl characters. Some of them are princesses, others are seemingly average girls with fantastically fierce personalities.
Warning: reading these stories regularly may result in raising strong-willed, opinionated girls who are feisty as hell and not so easy to raise. But they’ll grow into girls who will stand up for what they believe in and who will refuse to be pushed around. And I’m totally ok with that.
Kid’s Books with Strong Female Characters
The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch
I just read this one to my Girl Scouts troop recently when they were earning their courageous and strong petal—and I absolutely loved their reactions to the unexpected twists and turns in this story.
It’s about a princess named Elizabeth. She was about to marry a handsome prince—until a dragon came along, smashed her castle, burned her clothes and kidnapped her prince. Well, Elizabeth is having none of that business. She tracks down that dragon, outsmarts him and saves her prince—only to find out he’s not good enough for her anyway. It’s a great alternative to any damsel in distress princess stories.
If you want to read a story about a regular girl who sets her mind on something and works hard to get it done, this one is it.
Grace and her class are learning about all of our country’s presidents and cannot believe that there are no girls on the list. She quickly decides that she wants to be president. Her teacher loves the idea and decides to have an election for class president. She ends up running against a popular boy who makes a lot of promises that he might not be able to keep and who is counting on winning because more boys than girls will be voting.
Grace works her butt off and, in the process, she and her class (and your little reader) learn all about the election process in the US (including how the electoral college works and why some states get more votes than others).
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair by Kate Bernheimer and Jake Parker
This story is about a strong-willed (::cough:: stubborn) girl who… wait for it… refuses to brush her hair. Since I don’t think I know a single mother who has escaped the whines that so often an accompany trying to brush a girl’s hair, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this story as much as she does. The girl explains to her parents that brushing hair is just not her way and, apparently, they’re totally cool with that. It goes on so long that a whole colony of mice ends up living on the girl’s head until she decides it’s time for a change.
I love that this story combines the idea of the girl standing up for what she believes in with the idea that it’s totally ok to change your mind once something no longer works for you. Also, I’m glad she happily brushes her hair in the end or my daughters would be even more impossible in the mornings. 😉
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Jumping back to princesses, the Princess in Black is not your average royal. In fact, she moonlights as a bad ass ninja who kicks monster butt. It’s kind of tough keeping her secret identity though, which keeps kids on the edge of their seats.
In this book, the first in the series, Princess Magnolia is having hot chocolate and scones with a super nosy Duchess when her monster alarm goes off. She has to try to juggle sneaking off and defeating the monster with concealing her secret identity from her guest.
Probably not the best for readers with short attention spans, The Princess inBlack is a beginner chapter book. That said, the chapters are pretty short and there are lots of fun pictures sprinkled throughout.
Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch
Stephanie’s Ponytail is the story of a girl who decides she wants to wear a ponytail to school because no one else in her class wears one. When she gets to school, the other girls criticize her and tell her it’s ugly. But Stephanie doesn’t care. She tells the girls that it’s her ponytail and she likes it. Nothing else matters.
When Stephanie returns to school the next day, all of the girls are wearing ponytails. She switches up her hair, moving the ponytail around on her head with the same scenario repeated again and again: the girls tell her her new hairdo is ugly, she tells them she doesn’t care, and they’re all wearing their hair that way the next day. In the end, Stephanie tells them she is going to shave her head and everyone is surprised at what happens the next day.
Feisty and original, Stephanie battles bullying confidently and is another great example for girls to stand strong in who they are.
The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke
Another one for the princess lovers—only Princess Violetta is not your average princess. For one, her father brought her up just like he brought up her brothers because he knew no other way: she was taught to ride horses and joust and sword fight—basically, she was taught how to be a knight. But Violetta was small and not as strong as her three older brothers and they teased her mercilessly because of it.
Determined to be just as good as her brothers, Princess Violetta started training secretly in her own way. Instead of being loud and rough, she learned how to be a more quiet, gentle knight—and the skills would soon come in handy.
On her 16th birthday, the king decided to hold a jousting tournament. The victor would win her hand in marriage. Only Violetta wasn’t about to sit back and have her future decided for her. Instead, she disguised herself as Sir No-Name and entered the joust herself.
This last one doesn’t have a particular character for little readers to hold onto. Instead, it’s about all girls and includes a variety of ethnicities as well as girls in wheelchairs.
With very simple text, each page takes a stereotype about girls (ie they know all about makeup, keep their hair in place, smell like flowers) and looks at it through a new lens. On the page about smelling like flowers, for instance, the girls are covered in mud and dirt and they’re happily planting flowers and making mud pies and flower crowns. On the page about makeup, the girls have transformed themselves into pirates—beards and all.
The message is that there’s no one way to be a girl—in fact, there are millions of ways and they’re all beautiful. I absolutely adore this one.
I’m a firm believer that the more dynamic, multidimensional female characters our children are exposed to, the better. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, I plan on adding to it in the future. If I missed one of your favorite children’s books that celebrate girl power, please let me know in the comments!
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Looking for more books to read to your kids? Try:
- Free Must-Read Children’s Books Printable
- Children’s Books Adults Love
- Children’s Books for Sick Days
- Favorite Read-Aloud Books
- Read Aloud Chapter Books for Young Kids