10 Great Books Starring Strong Girls

Mar 8, 2013

International Women's Day is March 8. The following 10 books, which will appeal to boys and girls alike, celebrate girls and women who are clever, courageous, determined and brave.


Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle; illustrated by Mike Gordon and Carl Gordon
"Mommy, do princesses wear hiking boots?" begins what becomes a series of questions about what a princess is. Do they ride tricycles? Do they climb trees? Do they walk in the rain? In delightful rhyming text and accompanying illustrations, readers know that a princess is whoever she wants to be, "Look inside yourself and see."



Boy Soup by Loris Lesynski
Giant wakes up one morning with a terrible cold. The remedy, he learns from his Giant's Home Medical Guide, is boy soup. So he snatches up five boys - and Kate. Quickly, Kate figures out a way to get them all safely home, and together Kate and the boys get to work on her plan. Kids will enjoy the humorous rhyming text of Loris Lesynski's first picture book. I like, that unlike many books about giants, no giants were hurt in the telling of this tale.




Girls Hold Up This World by Jada Pinkett Smith; photographs by Donyell Kennedy-McCullough
Jada Pinkett Smith's poem, and the accompanying colour photographs, is a celebration of everything it means to be a woman in this world. "Be proud to be a girl - know what it means to you." It extols girls' strengths and their softer sides, but most of all, it encourages girls to believe in themselves and be proud of who they are.


My Name Is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee; illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
Elizabeth loves her name. She loves how it sounds, and how it makes her mouth feel when she says it. Plus, she has the same name as a queen! She doesn't love being called Lizzy or Liz or Beth or any other variation of her name, so she finally puts her foot down and declares that her name is Elizabeth - and people take notice. I love this story that points out it's okay to be who you want to be, so be proud and say it loud. The rhyming text flows with good humour, and the illustrations have a playful retro feel, a perfect accompaniment for the text.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch; illustrated by Michael Martchenko
I think The Paper Bag Princess was probably where my love affair with picture books began. In this spunky take on your classic princess tale, a dragon destroys Princess Elizabeth's castle, burns all her clothes and carries off her handsome prince. She's left with only a paper bag to wear. Rather than sit around moping, Elizabeth decides to track down the dragon and get back her prince. After finally outsmarting the dragon and rescuing Prince Ronald, she discovers that her prince might not actually be the one for her.



Marja's Skis by Jean E. Pendziwol; illustrated by Jirina Marton
Marja lives in a logging village in the early 1800s. She looks up to her older sister, Eeva, and longs for the day when she, too, will have her own skis and be able to go to school. Marja's always been told she is too young or not strong enough to do the things she wants to do, but one evening her father says to her, "When you are strong inside, you can do anything." *sniff* On her seventh birthday, Marja receives her own set of skis and is able to attend school. After her father dies in a logging accident, Marja finds it hard to be strong. But when faced with an emergency, she's able to remember her father's words. This is a beautiful story of inner strength and believing in yourself.



Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner; illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
In 1946, Viola Desmond sat down for her rights in a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia - she had taken her seat in the lower level of the movie theatre, which as it turned out, was not accessible to black patrons. She would become an inspiration to the anti-segregation movement in Canada. The text is extremely approachable, written in a relaxed conversational style, and is accompanied by Richard Rudnicki's beautiful acrylic paintings. The book is a wonderfully written and illustrated portrait of a brave Canadian woman, and will inspire discussions about courage, injustice and segregation in Canada, among other topics.




Rachel Captures the Moon by Richard Ungar
The people of the village of Chelm are in love with the moon. So much so they go to great measures to capture it so they can enjoy it whenever they want. They try all sorts of ridiculous schemes, but only young Rachel has the common sense to succeed. Richard Ungar retells this Jewish folktale in joyful words and with his beautifully vibrant Chagalesque paintings.





No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes; illustrated by Willow Dawson
No Girls Allowed includes the stories of seven women who would not be kept from achieving their goals by the phrase, "No girls allowed." Told in graphic novel format, it takes us from Ancient Egypt in 1470 BCE to the American Civil War in the mid-1800s. The book is labelled as appropriate for ages 9 to 12, but I believe these amazing stories will appeal to kids between the ages of 6 and 9, as well, especially if they are already familiar with the conventions of the graphic novel format. 


The Longest Home Run by Roch Carrier; illustrated by Sheldon Cohen
"The longest home run in the history of baseball was hit by a girl." So begins this story by the team who brought us the Canadian classic The Hockey Sweater. The girl, Adeline, turns out to be a travelling musician and disappears as quickly as she arrived. In Carrier's subtle and humorous style, ideas of what girls are capable of are put into question, if not shattered.

Do you have a favourite Canadian children's book that features amazing girl characters? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Article Author Tamara Sztainbok
Tamara Sztainbok

Tamara Sztainbok is the mother of two school-aged children. A children's book editor with Scholastic Canada, she believes anything you ever need to know you can learn from a children's book. She also runs Puzzle Box Communications, providing communication services to small businesses. She writes about adult books on her ClubMom blog, Turning Pages. Follow her on Twitter @PuzzleBoxCom. Opinions expressed here are Tamara's alone.

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