By Victoria & Katja
With spring break coming up and in honour of International Women’s Day, we wanted to share some of our favourite books for girls (and boys!) to pack in their beach bag. As mothers to both daughters and sons, we’re always keen to find books with strong female characters. It’s important to both of us that all members of our families are brought up knowing that girls can do anything and be anyone that they want to be. More importantly, we want our kids to know that futures are not determined by a prince on a white horse.
So, for holiday reading inspiration, we’ve picked books about inspirational women, both real and fictitious, to empower girls and to educate boys. Many of the following stories have won awards but really we’ve picked them because our kids like them (and so do we!). And, while we never thought we’d quote Beyonce in a blog post, she’s got it right when she asks who runs the world? Yep, it’s us girls!
By the way, the age levels are as a guide only. You know what your kids can and will read!
Books to Read Together
- 1 Books to Read Together
- 2 Books for Preschoolers
- 3 Books for Little Kids
- 4 Books for Big Kids
- 5 Pin for Later!
1. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
By Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Created for girls with big dreams, this beautifully illustrated book includes 100 stories of 100 remarkable women from the past and present who have changed the world. Heroines in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls include Maya Angelou and Frida Kahlo and some of our favourite adventurers such as Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart. Each women is given a double page spread which includes their story as well as a full page portrait in colour – illustrated by different artists (women of course!) from around the world.
2. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
By Rachel Igntosfsky
Remember those insulting remarks that Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt made a couple of years ago? About it being distracting to work alongside ‘girls’ in laboratories because ‘they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry’? Since then the hashtag #distractinglysexy continues to trend on Twitter, as female scientists ridicule his comment.
If only Tim Hunt had had a copy of the the New York Times best seller, Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, when he was growing up! This informative book that celebrates the work of 50 female scientists is full of captivating infographics and biographies. Some of the women featured include Marie Curie (who my science-obsessed son thinks is ‘awesome’) and oceanographer, Sylvia Earle (who is one of my personal heroes). A must-have book for girls. and perhaps more importantly, for boys if we want to ditch the sexist stereotyping.
3. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Inventions by Women
By Catherine Thimmesh
You don’t have to work in a lab or hold a PhD in neuroscience to make a difference in the world. Some of the most life-changing inventions have been created by women who are simply curious in everything they do. The women in Girls Think of Everything demonstrate that you all you really need in order to become a groundbreaking pioneer is a strong dose of determination, as well as a cracking idea of course! Inventions include the windshield wiper, disposable diapers, Scotchguard, a flat bottomed paper bag and – a personal favourite – the chocolate chip cookie!
4. Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World
By Ann Shen
Describing Hillary Clinton as a ‘nasty women’ during the presidential debate last year is arguably the best thing Donald Trump has done for women to date. His misogynist comment quickly became the backbone for female empowerment campaigns around the world.
Curiously, Bad Girls Throughout History was published one month before Trump insulted Clinton and before #NastyWomen went viral. And yet, the women featured in this book are ‘bad’ in the same way that Clinton supporters describe themselves as ‘nasty’. That is, in the good sense. From Cleopatra, Boudica and Jane Austen to Beatrix Potter, Eleanor Roosevelt and Oprah, the table of contents alone will inspire you and your daughters to turn ‘nasty’ too. (Note that ballsy, strong-willed women are often surrounded by controversy and some readers have complained that the book is too politically bias in parts).
Books for Preschoolers
5. My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can A Little Girl Dream?
Age: preschoolers – 8 years.
Join Isabella as she imagines herself in the shoes of some of history’s most extraordinary women. When addressed as Isabella, she will remind her mother that actually she is ‘Sally’, the ‘greatest, toughest astronaut who ever was!’ or that she is ‘Marie the scientist’. In the end she decides she has the best parts of all her heroines. An appendix lists the women she alludes to, with details of their lives and careers.
Books for Little Kids
6. Clara and Davie
By Patricia Polaccio
Age: 3-5 years
This charming book, Clara and Davie, is about the childhood of Clara Barton who grew up to become the founder of the American Red Cross. As a young girl in the early 19th century, Clara was shy and was often teased for having a lisp. Her brother, Davie always knew she had the gift of healing and would go on to achieve great things. The book follows the siblings and charts Clara’s development in medicine, from animals to humans.
7. The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With Chimps
By Jeanette Winter
Age: 4-8 years
Named Best Book of the Year by a number of publications, The Watcher documents the career of Jane Goodall, one of our favourite adventurers. The highly regarded biologist and conservationist has inspired thousands of school children around the world to continue the important work of protecting chimpanzees from extinction. After children learn about her extraordinary life, they won’t want to let her down.
8. Mirette on the High Wire
by Emily Arnold McCully
Age: 4-8 years
Set in 19th century Paris, Miretteis a young and courageous girl who persuades the Great Bellini – a master wire walker – to teach her the art of walking on an high wire. In doing so, she also helps him regain his lost confidence as well as demonstrating to young readers that anything can be achieved if you set your mind to it.
9. Rosie Revere, Engineer / Ada Twist, Scientist
By Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by David Robers
Age: 5-8 years
I love this series of books! Like their buddy, architect Iggy, Rosie and Ada have vivid imaginations. Ada’s thirst for answers often leads to messy experiments (sound familiar?!) and Rosie’s aunt shows her that her ‘failed’ contraption is in fact a raging success. You can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.
10. Miss Rumphius
By Barbara Cooney
Age: 5-8 years
Alice Rumphius longs to travel the world. A girl after our own heart!
11. Grace for President
By Kelly S DiPucchio
Age: 5-9 years
Sadly this book, Grace for President, seems more apt than ever this year. When Grace’s teacher explains that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides she’ll be the first. By staging a mock election, Grace’s teacher shows the kids how the American system works and why every vote counts. However as one critic points out, the concept of the popular vote isn’t fully explained, leading readers to think that the winner of the popular vote will be president. As as we all know from recent political events, that isn’t the case. Nevertheless, it’s informative introduction to American politics and an inspirational read for our future leaders.
12. Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child
By Jessie Hartland
A visual treat, Hartland’s characterful illustrations and handwritten scribbles beautifully capture the passion, joy and boundless energy of culinary legend, Julia Child. Kids will love her playful attitude and naughty streak (she once painted a toilet seat red at her private school and used to throw mud pies at cars from her treehouse). And remember, ‘Don’t apologise for your cooking mistakes. It is what it is’. Amen to that.
13. Flora & Ulysses
By: Kate DiCamillo
Flora Belle Buckman is a self-proclaimed ‘natural born cynic’ who saves a squirrel (Ulysses) after her neighbour accidentally hoovers him up with her new vacuum cleaner. The near-death experience gives the squirrel a new lease on life and Flora is certain he has gained superhero powers. My daughter was given this book for her 9th birthday and I love it, possibly even more than she does! I am now reading it to my 8-year-old son at bedtime and when he begs me to read ‘just one more chapter’ I’m more than happy to oblige.
Books for Big Kids
14. One Crazy Summer
By: Rita Williams-Garcia
Age: 8-12 years
Set in 1968, One Crazy Summer, is a moving tale about three sisters who spend the summer with their mother, a poet who abandoned them seven years earlier. Resentful of their presence, their mother sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers where they get a revolutionary education.
15. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin
Age: 8-12 years
Inspired by Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is ultimately a story about friendship, with a few magical beasts thrown in! A young girl named Minli sets off to find the Old Man on the Moon in the hope that he’ll help her change her family’s fortunes. Along the way, she encounters many mystical creatures including a dragon who joins her on her adventure.
16. Inside Out and Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Age: 8-12 years
Told in verse, this award-winning book tells the story of a young Vietnamese girl who is forced to flee her war-torn country in 1975 for the States. Based on the author’s own childhood experience, Inside Out and Back Again follows Hà and her family as they adapt to their new lives and foreign lands.
17. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
By Patricia Hruby Powell. Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Full of life and razzmatazz, Brown Girl Dreaming, will have you toe tapping as you read it out loud to your kids or possibly breaking into a full-on Charleston. The story documents the life of performer and civil rights advocate, Josephine Baker as she takes Paris by storm in the roaring 20s.
18. Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson.
As a child Jacqueline Woodson struggled with reading. However, her love for story telling motivated her to become an award-winning writer and poet. In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson uses verse to tell the touching story of her own childhood and what it was like as an African American girl growing up in the 60s and 70s, a period heralding the start of the Civil Rights movement.
19. I Am Malala
By Malala Yousafzai
The fearless memoir of Malala Yousafzai, the young girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to go to school, is a truly incredible story. Co-written with journalist Christina Lamb, the tale begins on the fateful drive home from school on the day that she was shot, aged just 15-years-old. “Who is Malala?” asked the gunman who stopped the school bus. No-one answered, but everyone knew who she was, having been an advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan since the age of 11.
By Marjane Satrapi
Mariane Satrapi is a Iranian-born French graphic novelist, cartoonist, illustrator, film director and children’s book author. In this, The Complete Persepolis, she shares her memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; her high school years in Vienna; and of her return to Iran and her eventual self-imposed exile. It’s a story of girlhood and adolescence and a unique look into a country and way of life that is not well understood.
Do you have a book recommendation for empowering girls and educating boys? We’d love to hear it! Please share any suggestions in the comment section below.
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