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My childhood was filled with princess stories. Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, you name it. When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to find a handsome prince and live happily ever after. I know I’m not the only one who had a steady diet of these stories. But if I ever have kids, whether they’re girls or boys, I don’t want them to grow up solely on stories where the princess needs to be rescued by someone else. I’d rather introduce them to feminist kid's books—ones with characters who are amazing role models. If you feel the same, read on, and check out these feminist children’s books that every child must read.
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Obviously, we have to start this list with a series we all grew up with. With so many books where the women need saving, I was so grateful for this series. Even though these books mainly focus on Harry, they’re also packed with female characters who are great women and amazing role models. Hermione Granger is unquestionably the smartest member of her group of friends, and beyond that, Ginny, Luna, Mrs. Weasley, and Professor MacGonagall are all strong, passionate women who young girls and boys alike will find inspiring. If you've never gotten around to reading it, Happy Potter is even magical for adults, so give it a go!
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Another classic, this book features Matilda, a female character who’s quite possibly smarter than all the adults around her. Her parents and her headmaster can’t (or won’t) provide her with the education she wants, so she takes it upon herself to make sure she receives a better education. Matilda is also a wonderful role model, especially for young girls who will learn about the importance of education. It's a must read feminist book for kids.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
See, there are plenty of older children’s books that feature strong female characters, even if they were published alongside not-so-feminist books. In The Paper Bag Princess, a picture book published in 1980, a dragon kidnaps Princess Elizabeth’s fiancé and destroys her castle and possessions. Princess Elizabeth dons a paper bag and resolves to rescue her fiancé from the dragon. After she does, her fiancé tells her to return when she looks more like a princess. But Princess Elizabeth rejects him and sets off to live her own life. If you’re looking to show little girls that a man should not define their happiness, look no further than Princess Elizabeth.
Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Right now, there are still far more men than women working in the STEM fields. But these books will show young girls and boys that everyone, regardless of gender, can pursue whatever job they want and follow their passions. Ada Twist, along with her classmate Rosie Revere, is curious about the world around her, and she conducts scientific experiments to learn why certain things happen. Both these books are 32 pages, making them perfect bedtime stories for young readers.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi Longstocking shows young girls and boys alike that it’s okay not to live conventionally. The daughter of a sea captain, she lives aboard a ship, so behaving properly, like most young girls are told to, is the farthest thing from her mind. She’s also described, quite literally, as “the strongest girl in the world,” and she takes great care to protect herself and others.
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
Another short picture book that would be a fantastic bedtime story for young children. Grace realizes that there has never been a female president, and she becomes determined to be the first. To kick off her political career, she participates in her school’s mock election. This is one of the feminist children's books that will show little girls the importance of passion and hard work. It also provides some background on voting in the U.S.—and it’s never too early to teach girls and boys about that!
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne, along with many other female characters in this book, is strong, independent, and determined to do whatever the men around her can. Anne is adopted by siblings by mistake—they had actually planned to adopt a boy. But she becomes close with both of them, excels in school, develops strong friendships, and sets her sights on becoming a teacher. Even better, Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, during one of the most significant times for women in American history—right when the women’s suffrage movement was gaining steam, so positive portrayals of women in literature were a rare sight.
I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson
Published in 2012, this is a great book that will show young girls and boys to embrace their differences. Emma Freke has bright red hair and, at 12, is already almost six feet tall. Her name, said slowly, sounds like “I am a freak.” Emma suffers from self-consciousness, in the same way that so many little girls do. She feels invisible at school and just wants to fit in, but she comes to find that being different—being yourself—isn’t so bad after all.
The Princeless Series by Jeremy Whitley
I wish this graphic novel series had come out when I was a kid! It centers around Adrienne, a princess who hates everything typically associated with being a princess... dinners, dresses, and of course, relying on someone else to save her. When she turns 16, her parents lock her in a tower to await her prince. She decides to rescue herself from the tower, and then sets out to help other princesses who don't want to wait around for some prince to save them. It's a fantastic feminist children's book that puts a refreshing spin on the princess theme. Little girls will love following along with Adrienne's journey, and realizing that they're totally capable of saving themselves.
Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene
There are so many Nancy Drew books (and movies, and video games, and so on), dating back as far as the early 1900s. Nancy Drew is an intelligent, fearless detective who solves countless mysteries with her friends, even if it means putting herself in danger. The later books feature an even more independent Nancy—after all, the earliest books took place at times in American history where women didn’t have many rights. Overall, Nancy Drew has been an icon for over a century, with some of America’s most powerful women—from senators to Supreme Court justices—citing her as a role model.
If you grew up with princess stories, like I did, it’s okay to share those with your girls and boys. But make sure you’re sharing these books full of strong women and role models with them as well. They will learn that they don’t need to wait for someone else to save them; they can create their own happy ending. Which of these feminist children's books will you read with your children?