One of our favorite gentlemanly blogs, The Art of Manliness, recently posted a list of their picks for the 50 best books for boys (specifically for ages 9 to 12, but really for boys of all ages). We liked it, but then we thought — what about the girls? Are we going to let our young girls be relegated to Mormon propaganda like Twilight and stories about simpering princesses?
We think not! Here are our top ten choices of books for girls and young women — we have some overlap with TAOM’s list (because why should girls only read books about girls?) but we’ve also picked out some spectacular novels particularly for the young ladies. Our claim: boys will like them too. Let us know what we’ve missed — we limited ourselves to ten and we know there are lots more out there — and tell us about your personal childhood favorites.
The Chronicles of Prydain series – Lloyd Alexander
Aside from being pretty much awesome in general, Alexander’s five-volume Prydain series (based on Welsh mythology) boasts the Princess Eilonwy — a sarcastic, strong-willed girl from a long line of powerful female enchantresses. She accompanies the adventurous Taran on his quests, frequently hauling him out of trouble and berating him for being so thick-headed and, after all, only an assistant pig-keeper. Magic, action and girls being better than boys — what could be better?
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
A irrefutable classic, we would basically recommend the super intense and satisfying Ender’s Game to anyone. The book is filled with both childhood and adult politics, moral struggle and rad Battle Room fights as Ender deals with being the next kid to save the world. Notable girl characters, arguably uncommon in sci-fi, include Ender’s hyper-genius sister Valentine and Petra Arkanian, best sharp-shooter in Battle School. While Ender and Petra fight for freedom in space, Valentine holds Earth together. No big deal.
His Dark Materials series – Philip Pullman
Lyra Belacqua rules the children of Oxford with an iron fist until she is drawn into a battle of the most elemental good and evil, wandering through parallel universes to discover the secret of the Dust that so frightens and fascinates the grown-ups of her world. Lyra is one of the best examples of the stalwart girl-child adventurer in modern fiction, and a children’s book that means to invert Milton’s conclusions in Paradise Lost? We predict some pretty smart young ladies on the horizon.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles – Patricia C. Wrede
Another kick-ass female protagonist features in Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles — the ball-busting, matter-of-fact Princess Cimorene, who runs away from her parents’ kingdom because she can’t stand crochet and eyelash-batting lessons and would really rather live with the dragons. She rolls her eyes at the refrain that she’s not a proper princess, and decides to do what she likes — studying Latin and making Cherries Jubilee — and is sure to inspire some independent thinking in your average girl.
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
Meg Murray is a bad-tempered misfit who — along with her genius brother Charles Wallace and the dreamy Calvin O’Keefe — gets swept away through the universe by means of tesseract (basically a fifth-dimensional fold in the time-space continuum) in order to save her father, who is trapped on an alien planet. Meg’s transition from awkward teenager to heroine is immensely satisfying, and plus, you gotta love girls who rock at math.
The Redwall series – Brian Jacques
First of all, the Redwall series might be what got us into food — Strawberry Cordial! Hotroot Soup! Deeper’n’Ever Turnip’n’Tater’n’Beetroot Pie! Obviously they’re all vegetarians in Brian Jacques’ multi-layered world, inhabited by animals who have adventures, carry broadswords, and live in abbeys. Though the books are perhaps not as heavy on female protagonists as they are on male, all the girls are just as fierce as the boys (hello Mariel of Redwall), and plus, seriously you guys, all that food.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg
11-year old Claudia Kincaid, feeling neglected by her parents, runs away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (well, if you’re going to run away…). She and her brother Jamie spend days and nights in the museum, soaking in the art and history, before becoming fascinated with a statue of an angel supposedly sculpted by Michelangelo. The two kids delve into the mystery of the statue and eventually solve it — smart girls unite!
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
An orphaned little girl finds a key to an abandoned garden, which she tends until it turns into a paradise — not only for her, but for the other lost souls — both young and old — around her. A wonderful, classic story about the healing power of nature and of the mind.
Matilda – Roald Dahl
Five-year-old Matilda’s parents think children should watch TV instead of reading books (her father claims that giving her a book would spoil her), but Matilda is too smart for that. She fights back, but her parents and her barbaric headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, refuse to allow her to exercise her brain muscles. Matilda’s brainpower goes in another direction and she develops psychokinetic powers which last until she is allowed to use her brain properly. We don’t know about you, but we definitely tried to move newts with our minds after reading this. Sadly, we failed.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
In a gorgeous and heartbreaking adventure story, Winnie Foster stumbles upon a fountain of everlasting life in the woods, and befriends the family that drank from it long ago. Ultimately, she must decide whether to live forever or leave her friends behind.
P.S. – If you’re in NYC, don’t forget that it’s Indie Bookstore Week — so it’s the perfect time to go out and get a book that’s not Twilight for your favorite young lady (or gent).