Two major reading events are happening this week: October 1st is the Austin Teen Book Fair, and September 24th through October 1st is National Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is a time to celebrate ideas, the freedom to read, and open access to information. Over the years, seminal books with female heroines like To Kill a Mockingbird, A Wrinkle in Time, and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret have been challenged or banned in libraries across the nation. But stopping readers from accessing the strength exemplified by these fictional girls does them a major disservice. As girls grow up, they are surrounded by messages from society that tell them their value lies in how they look, not what they do. Many movies, television shows, and books feature attractive yet vacant female characters, girls and young women who passively let things happen to them instead of exercising agency in their own lives. But in the books I’ve mentioned, as well as many others, there exist alternatives to this narrative. Growing up, the books I read showed me that happiness lay in being courageous, in being strong, in being a leader. I was inspired by the fictional girls I read about, and it made me braver in my real life. With that in mind, Team GENaustin has complied a list of amazing books for girls with strong, inspiring heroines.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell [Ages 5-8]
Molly Lou Melon is short, buck-toothed fifth grader with an indomitable spirit. But when her family moves, she’s forced to face a new school and a bully who calls her “shrimpo.” But Molly Lou remembers her grandmother’s lesson that if “you believe in yourself the world will believe in you, too!” This picture book is an engaging lesson in the power of accepting and loving yourself for exactly who you are.
Anne of Green Gables (series) by LM Montgomery [Ages 9-12]
This series features the feisty, imaginative orphan Anne Shirley, who is adopted by an elderly brother and sister who originally think they are getting a boy. Anne quickly wins them over with the charm of her personality, and girls will also find much to admire in her strong convictions, her celebration of the power of the imagination, and her unwillingness to be anyone other than herself.
The Song of the Lioness Quartet (series) by Tamora Pierce [Ages 10+]
Alanna of Trebond is 11 years old and about to be sent off to a convent to learn to be a proper lady when she decides to disguise herself as a boy and become a knight. Alanna refuses to let her society dictate her future, and her growth into both a knight and a young woman makes this adventure empowering reading for all girls.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin [Ages 10-14]
The Westing Game is a Newbery Medal winning book about a 13 year old girl named Turtle, who, along with the other residents of Sunset Towers, must solve the mystery of multi-millionaire Sam Westing’s murder, to determine who will inherit his wealth. This whodunit features a fascinating cast of characters, none more so than the strong-willed , imperfect, and strongly individual Turtle Wexler.
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley [Ages 11-15]
Harry Crewe is a tall, awkward young woman who feels uncomfortable & out of place living with her brother in a new environment on the edge of the desert. But when she is kidnapped by the Hill-King and taken to live among his people, Harry slowly adapts to her new life and learns to be a fierce warrior. She eventually finds her place among them & becomes the only one who can save their world. Harry is an example of an imperfect, struggling heroine, someone for whom things don’t come easily. But it is her determination and response to adversity that make Harry special.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott [12+]
Published in 1868, Little Women’s Jo March has inspired generations of girls with her independence, her courage & her determination. She is clumsy, loud, and bossy: but she’s also generous, forgiving, and talented. In other words, she’s a real heroine, not some perfect, impossible role model. She is so real, in fact, that almost 150 years later, her challenges & successes are still incredibly relatable to today’s girls.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [Ages 13+]
The Hunger Games is set in a near-future dystopian world where young people are picked at random and forced to fight to the death in front of an audience until only one survives. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to participate in the place of her younger sister. This sacrifice forces Katniss to confront the terrible choices the Games put before her. Katniss is complex, and sometimes ruthless, but she also manages to use her intelligence to outwit the Games and retain her humanity.
Are there other fictional heroines who inspired you? Leave suggestions in the comments!