Welcome back to our series on Books to Empower! 

Next up are these inspiring books: my favourite chapter books to empower girls! I was deeply formed by the reading I did as a child and as a young girl myself. And now that we have three daughters and a son, we believe even more strongly in seeing smart, resourceful, and empowered characters for all of our children to enjoy. Representation matters, we know this, and that includes our bookshelves.

Of course, the biggest problem with this list is keeping it short! There are so many amazing options available now that I ended up simply choosing our family’s personal favourites rather than using any other metric. So I look forward to your contributions and suggestions in the comments, for sure.

My hope is that you will check these books out of the library or buy them at your local bookstore and then read them to or with the kids in your life. They would all make excellent Christmas gifts, too.

I will say that they are for a broad spectrum of maturity. So make sure you take into account that not all of these are suitable for all ages or stages or maturity levels.  Kids who are more sensitive or innocent or younger still might need to steer clear of certain selections on this list. However, I will also say that reading a bit above our pay grade or comfort level is a good stretch exercise, too, and it’s healthy to be challenged so let’s not coddle too much, eh?

After all, the books we read shape who we are – especially when we are young. If our girls are reading books reminding them that they are called, chosen, capable, strong, clever, creative, wise, even empowered by the Holy Spirit…well, the dangerous and wonderful thing is that our girls might just believe them.

Our Favourite Chapter Books to Empower Girls

*in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive, with input from my own tinies.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – Of course, you knew that this book would be on the list so I don’t need to go into too much detail here. For high school girls, the subsequent books in the series are among my favourites – especially Anne of the Island.  I did also want to point out a couple of other books by L.M. Montgomery you might not have heard about but feature excellent heroines: Emily of New Moon (who was Madeleine L’Engle’s favourite) and Jane of Lantern Hill. If you have a kid who loved Anne or even found Anne a bit too precious, these two are a great choice.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes – This was one of the first chapter books that my kids read. It’s an oldie but a goodie – never out of print since 1945. It’s a story about a Polish girl who is bullied at school and helps kids to articulate the damage done to their own souls when they just stand by and become complicit.

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky – This could count as a picture book, I guess – the illustrations are so charming – but it’s written with older girls in mind so I tucked it into this section. There is also a follow up on Women in Sports if you have an athlete at home. My son is very into fact books and histories so this was a big hit with him.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo – This is another one that could have gone on the picture book list because the paintings in here are sublime but the biographies of 100 notable women are written as bedtime fairy tales.

Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible by Caryn Rivadeniera – I wrote the foreword for this book and it is an excellent introduction for girls to the re-centered story of women in Scripture. My kids love it, too.

Dear Canada series – One of my daughters loved this series so much, she still re-reads them all regularly. Each fascinating book is written as diary entries or letters from young girls of Canadian history so it puts the reader right in the middle of historic moments as witness, survivors, and heroines with girls their age. And these books don’t serve up blind patriotism nor are they revisionist in scope – the stories put a human face on some of our most tragic moments and failures as a nation like Japanese internment, the plight of home children, residential schools, flu epidemics, wars, child labour, the Halifax explosion, the Acadian expulsion, and so on. For your kid who loves historical fiction with a strong female lead, these would be excellent. (There is a Dear America series as well but I can’t speak for those as I haven’t read them.) A couple of the favourites here are:

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton – This book about a girl’s experiences within Canada’s residential schools is geared for middle-grades. The main character Margaret has such dignity and strength and agency even in the face of the overwhelming story she’s in. My big kids read this book several times and it sparked great conversations about reconciliation and justice for First Nations.

The Ivy and Bean Series by Annie Barrows- This was the first “chapter book series” for my eldest to truly devour. She could not wait to get to the next book and then the next book and then the next. I often give a little 3-book starter pack of this book as a gift for beginning readers in grade 2 or 3. The series stars two best friends and all of their adventures and schemes – it’s got a lot of silly humour, too.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – I loved this book as a teen – Meg Murray is an excellent protagonist for young girls to know. She’s not precious, she’s strong and smart, she’s brave and true plus sometimes angry and resentful at the burden of saviour. She is one of my favourite literary heroines and this expansive story is filled with physics and imagination and wonder. Also: it’s almost movie time!

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – A classic for young women to read and love. Four sisters, a hard-working mother with strong values and opinions, a father away at war, loads of adventure and play, a lonely neighbour boy…the whole book is a delight.

Matilda by Roald Dahl – My girls still love this classic book. Roald Dahl is utterly kooky – he creates a story that feels real-enough to be plausible while exaggerated and weird enough to be kooky and fun. Matilda is unique and gifted and saucy, the antagonist is truly reprehensible, and it’s a tale of marvellous chaos.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede- This was a gift from my daughter’s best friend. (They have a Geek Club where they wear handknits and read science fiction/fantasy together. All the heart-eyes for that.) They tell me that it’s adventure, fantasy, and has a “strong female heroine!” (their words) I am not a Game of Thrones watcher but dragons + girls are a winning combo, I hear.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I read this in high school and it changed my life. My best friend, Nish, named her daughter after the protagonist Scout. This coming-of-age book set in Alabama is a must-read for every human, I think – we witness justice, inequality, strength, character, community, and tragedy through the eyes of a young girl.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – This book was my first introduction to Maya Angelou’s work and it is stunning, devastating, and poetic. It’s a powerful meditation on racism, resilience, trauma, and how children find freedom through education, love, and and strength. (It is not for younger girls but I read it in high school and it deeply affected me.)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I love to give this slim book to graduates. It’s a short and powerful read from an incredible writer. It’s an excellent, inclusive, and accessible introduction to feminism.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – This book is a long-form poem about growing up in the Civil Rights movement under Jim Crow laws, and I could not put it down. The writing is exquisite but the story is fascinating and uncompromising.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jameison – My kids love graphic novels and there are so many excellent ones with strong female characters. Grappling with friendship dynamics for junior high girls, it tells the story of a girl who learns to love what she loves without apology. Graphic novels are a big favourite here and we also love the ones by Raina Telgemeier like Ghosts or the Smile/Sisters set. She also is turning the beloved Baby-Sitter’s Club into graphic novels and we are here for it!

I Am Malala: How One Girls Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai – This is the young readers edition for Malala’s best-selling memoir. This book is an excellent reminder of the power of one person’s bravery.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly – This won all the awards and for good reason. Set in the turn of the century, it tells the story of a girl who is fascinated with the natural world and is trying to find her way.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – We still love this tale of Fern and her pig Wilbur and the mighty Charlotte. It’s a delightful story that begins because a young girl stands up for what’s just.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – This was a big favourite this past year at our house. Set in World War II, it tells the story of Ada who has a “twisted foot” and how she escapes from her cruel mother in the context of the war.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – This is one that I loved back in the day and now my kids love, too. It tells the story of a girl who is left behind alone on an island to survive.

The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett – Another classic, this story of Mary Lennox and her discovery of a secret garden and her determination to bring it back to life with a couple of friends.

Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary – Oh, we have loved Ramona in this house. We rescued all the vintage ones we could find from the thrift store and we still read them aloud together. A favourite is Ramona Quimby, Age 8 as a start.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – This book was new to me when my kids brought it home but we read it together. It’s a bit scary, the premise is brilliant, the side-characters are brilliant, and it was a great read especially for kids who love books and wonder what would happen if we could actually “be” in our books.

YOUR TURN:

WHAT CHAPTER BOOKS ARE YOUR FAVOURITES TO EMPOWER GIRLS? SHARE YOUR PICKS IN THE COMMENTS!

Keep an eye out for My Favourite Fiction Books to Empower Women soon. Subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss it.

BOOKS TO EMPOWER WOMEN SERIES

My Favourite Non-Fiction Books to Empower Women

My Favourite Picture Books to Empower Girls

My Favourite Chapter Books to Empower Girls

My Favourite Fiction Books to Empower Women (coming soon)

My Favourite Theological Books to Empower Women (coming soon)

P.S. Don’t miss my Christmas Gift Guide to Empower Women!

IF YOU WANT TO TALK MORE ABOUT BOOKS:

Our Favourite Books of 2016

Books for Graduates

My Favourite Books of 2015

My 10 Favourite Books of 2014

10 books that changed my faith

10 books that influence my parenting

10 books by Canadians I wish the world would read

10 books for tinies and 10 books for older tinies (ages 4-7)

10 books I read over and over (and over)

10 spiritual memoirs

My daily books + 10 books of poetry

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  • Emilie Bishop

    I love many of these books, either from my childhood or discovered as an adult who loves to read and write for teens and tweens. I’ve read several Dear Canada and Dear America books–they’re very similar and similarly delightful. I would love to add Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson and Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman to this list–two books I can read over and over. Both authors live in Greater Seattle (as do I), but neither of these books are set there. Thanks for all your recent book lists–they’re helping me out of my reading slump!

  • Eek, I believe that you meant Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede, not Anne McCaffrey’s DragonSong (would not recommed that one for tweens!)

    • Ack! You’re right! I grabbed the wrong title. Will fix now. Merci!

      • Emily Hopkins

        I actually loved both of those growing up – Dealing with Dragons is a fantastic read, and DragonSong (and DragonSinger) were favorites of mine in high school thanks to a love for music and storytelling, and the story of finding your voice. (They’re greatly toned down from McCaffrey’s other books, aimed at a YA audience.)
        Also, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley is a long-time favorite – I discovered that book for the first time in 7th grade and continue to re-read it. Beautiful prose, classic good-vs-evil (with a bit of anti-imperialism thrown in).

        • Yes!! Robin McKinley is a big favourite of mine!!

      • 🙂

  • Elizabeth Hunter

    I’ve loved the Dear America diaries since I first started reading them as a pre-teen. I have nearly 25 of them, and love picking up new ones at used book stores.
    I really need to read A Wrinkle in Time! And of course, Anne is one of my all-time favorites.

  • Two of my new favourites are “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill – one of the most triumphant books I’ve ever read and “The Left-Handed Fate” by Kate Milford – a sea-faring adventure.

  • Val

    Oh…my list is also long…books that empower girls…The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, Fish in a Tree by Lyna Mullaly Hunt, The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. I could go on 🙂 But I’ll stop there!

  • This is amazing!!! Thank you! Can’t wait for women’s fiction. 🙂

  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

    Oh, man–my book recommended by one of my favorite bloggers! Thank you!

  • LyndenTree63

    Love this selection, especially Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede. Her other books are great too!
    My favourite book of all time is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. It’s a lyrical coming-of-age story based on the fairytale of the same name, about a naive, sheltered princess who must learn to stand up for herself after she’s forced into hiding by her rebellious lady-in-waiting. If you like it, check out the rest of the Books of Bayern and the Princess Academy series by the same author.

  • Jenny m

    Great list….my book stack is growing! Would be interested to hear your thoughts on how you teach your son about empowering girls. As a mum of one boy I am conscious that I am his main female role model. We’ve been reading Famous Five and chatting about why George wants to be treated like a boy.