If we want our daughters to become great women, we have to give them great role models. There are plenty of books on the market today about girls who wallow in teenage drama, but here are ten books about young women facing and overcoming the challenges of adolescence.
Good books for adolescent girls should celebrate what it means to be a woman by showcasing positive female role models. It isn’t in vogue right now in the publishing industry to publish books that teach, but girls need a framework for growing up in a positive way. That’s why it’s so important that the protagonists in the books they read should overcome the weaknesses young women are prone to—especially vanity, self-absorption, and even despair. Middle and high school can seem so all-important to teenage girls—good books should show them that life can be much bigger and greater than they imagine.
Sound off in the comments about books you think I’ve missed.
The Light Princess by George MacDonald (1864)
The Light Princess is an allegory for growing up and accepting the weight of adult responsibilities. Neither gravity nor affection help this princess keep her feet on the ground until she learns what it means to love.
Little Women by Lousia May Alcott (1868)
Little Women is perhaps the greatest book ever written for teaching girls the difficult task of making themselves into women of excellence. The four girls truly struggle to overcome their weaknesses and discover what it is they ought to do with their lives.
The Little Princess by Frances Hodginson Burnett (1904)
The Little Princess provides a charming antidote for the “princessification” of girls in our culture. (It’s a word—Google it!) When her father dies and leaves her penniless, Sara Crew learns that it is her own, virtuous choices that make her a princess—not wealth and status.
“It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”
The Three Weavers by Annie Fellows Johnson (1904)
The Three Weavers is an allegory for the importance of modesty and purity in a young woman’s life. Johnson presents the physical and emotional wholeness of three girls as rich mantels their fathers must help them weave throughout their childhoods. It is also an important reminder to girls and their parents of the vital role parents play in helping their daughters grow up.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958)
In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Kit Tyler learns to tell the difference between the traditions of family and culture that she should value and those she should rebel against. As she pursues a forbidden friendship with a lonely old woman, Kit begins to find a sense of who she is and what she wants out of her life. Plus Nat is totally dreamy.
Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch (1966)
Now that she’s almost a woman, Queenie has to face a choice. Does she want to use her father’s sins as an excuse to be lazy and destructive? Or does she want to live her own life, free from the shadow of crime and poverty? Queenie Peavy is about a young woman overcoming the obstacles to living her life on her own terms .
Bloomability by Sharon Creech (1998)
From a boarding school in Switzerland, Dinnie discovers that life is full of “bloomabilities”—possibilities and opportunities just waiting for her to try them. Bloomability is a perfect read for middle school girls learning to explore the world and develop interests and opinions of their own.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (2000)
Esperanza isn’t sure she’ll be able to rise from the ashes of her old life to accept the opportunities her new one has to offer. As she learns to see the value in others—regardless of wealth, status, or education—she also learns to see the value in herself.
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (2006)
Hattie Big Sky is based on an astonishing true story about a sixteen-year-old orphan who moves to Montana to “prove up” on her late uncle’s claim—all alone. Her hard work and courage set an example for teenage girls floundering for direction.
Savvy by Ingrid Law (2008)
Savvy is a bizarre novel about a family where the members are all a little…different. When they turn thirteen, they develop an unexpected talent. On the eve on her birthday, twelve-year-old Mibs sets out to find her father in the hopes that her new power will save him from a serious injury. As she embarks on her odyssey, the little girl begins to come to grips with becoming a young woman—and with the little things that make her special.
For more great books for girls, visit whatshouldsheread.com. What Should She Read is a family guide to great books for girls, ages seven through eighteen.