Books That Empower Tween Girls
As girls move from tweens to teens, they can be filled with many questions that are not always easy to ask. As they are changing, so are their roles in society. Amid all of this change, however, books remain a constant. One of the greatest joys of books is that they often offer timeless lessons about life, about struggle, pain, confusion, survival, and triumph. They let us know that we are not alone; that there are those who have successfully navigated these waters prior to our own journeys.
We have compiled a list of books that offer a variety of lessons on growing up. Some are recognized as classics and some are relatively new.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
One of the most common feelings in tweens is anxiety. This is even more prominent in current society than it was when Blume wrote "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." While times and settings have changed since its original publication in 1970, Blume crafts a compelling and familiar character in Margaret. When her anxiety gets the best of her, and she doesn't think she can talk to anybody about her concerns regarding boys, puberty, or other problems that go along with growing up, she finds solace in talking to the one person she knows will always be there to listen, free of judgment. It's books like these that, for decades, have made Judy Blume essential reading for girls.
Breadwinner - Deborah Ellis
Whereas Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret has practically become part of the young adult canon, Breadwinner is a relatively new addition that looks to prove itself just as canon-worthy in time.
Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is a tale of Parvana's struggle to not only survive for her own sake, but to also help her family survive. As the Taliban rolls across Kabul, they arrest Parvana's father and implement extremist laws that prevent girls from attending school. By mustering an incredible amount of courage, Parvana dresses as a boy to leave the house and earn money to support her mother, two sisters, and younger brother.
Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink
Moving from modern day Afghanistan to 1864 America, we meet Caddie Woodlawn who prefers getting her hands dirty to playing with dolls. While her mother doesn't quite understand her preferences, Caddie is consistently presented as a kind and courageous character. Chapter after chapter, Caddie steps up to new challenges. Of special interest is her endearing relationship with the neighboring Indian tribe.
Catherine Called Birdy - Karen Cushman
Going even further back in time—WAY back, actually—Catherine Called Birdy takes place in 1290s England. It details the life of Catherine (A.K.A. "Birdy"), who is the daughter of an English nobleman. Sharp-tongued and quick-witted, Birdy shows that teenage angst is truly timeless. As a bonus, young readers will also pick up some additional knowledge of medieval England.
Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine
Originally published in 1997, Ella Enchanted also found its way to the silver screen in 2004.
Tired of living a life she doesn't really care for, strong-willed Ella is determined to have her fairy-tale life, instead. While there are certainly moments of conflict, this is a little lighter fare than some of the other books on the list. That said, it still highlights Ella's resolve to not simply take what life hands her, but to rely on herself to realize her own dreams.
Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan
Set during the Great Depression, one quickly realizes that the cloud of poverty adds another dimension to everyday woes. Still, it doesn't start that way.
Esperanza and her mother, whom enjoy a life of luxury in Mexico, are forced to flee Mexico as Esperanza's father dies and her uncle starts putting pressure on her mother with regards to their estate. As their lives become increasingly endangered, they flee to America, where their world is turned upside-down. Where there used to be luxury, there is now a life filled with discrimination and difficult manual labor. Despite it all, Esperanza learns that life is what you make it, and when you have love, you don't really need much else.
Girls Who Looked Under Rocks - Jeannine Atkins
This is the story of six women who defied conventional gender expectations to push forward into studies and careers normally considered men-only pursuits. Chronicling the fascinating lives of naturalists Rachel Carson, Anna Comstock, Jane Goodall, Frances Hamerstrom, Maria Merian, and Miriam Rothschild, Girls Who Looked Under Rocks is a truly inspiring book. This work of non-fiction shows how these brave and talented women became world-famous writers, artists, and scientists, while knocking down barriers in the process. It's a great read for girls and boys alike.
Gutsy Girls: Women Who Dare - Tina Schuerger
Building on from Girls Who Looked Under Rocks, we move toward the accomplishments of contemporary female figures.
In Gutsy Girls: Women Who Dare, we get 26 first-person accounts of fascinating accomplishments. Further, the book pushes girls to use the inspiration in these tales to chart the course of their own dreams and adventures.
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind - Suzanne Fisher Staples
Tweens are notorious for placing tremendous emphasis on choices that may seem mild to adults. This part of growing up is healthy, as it marks a movement into thinking about how our choices affect our future.
In Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, Shabanu is faced with a choice... and it's a big one by any standard. Shabanu enjoys many freedoms that most women in Pakistan do not. She finds herself in a predicament where her choices are to keep those freedoms or sacrifice them for the honor of her family.
It's a decision Shabanu doesn't take lightly. This book takes you inside her head as she sorts it all out and discovers more about herself in the process.
Sorta Like a Rock Star - Matthew Quick
After bouncing from apartment to apartment, Amber and her mother find themselves living on a school bus. Ever-optimistic, Amber finds family in a mishmash of friends from different walks of life.
With the unexpected death of her mother, however, Amber's faith is shaken to the core. She is lost and lashing out against those who care about her. Amber eventually discovers, however, that love and trust really will get you through life's greatest challenges.
Stargirl - Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl raises a few eyebrows at Mica High School, as other students try to figure out what makes her so quirky and likable. Many hypotheses are bandied about. Eventually, however, this fascination with Stargirl wears thin and her uniqueness leads to her being isolated and the target of regular teasing. Stargirl arrives at the fork that many tweens come to: act more "normal" for the sake of fitting in or continue to be her unique self despite all the slings and arrows that come with it.
Staring Down the Dragon - Dorothea N. Buckingham
Sometimes you don't know how strong you are until being strong is your only option. The protagonist, Rell, finds that facing cancer-treatment is not the only battle she'll have to face after a cancer diagnosis. Returning to school post-treatment, her classmates have expectations of her based on happily-ever-after movies and television shows. The problem is that Rell doesn't have those same expectations of herself. She just wants to be, well... Rell. As it turns out, her cancer added a dynamic to all of her relationships that neither she nor her friends quite know how to handle. In the end, something has to change. What will it be?
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
A staple of classroom curricula for decades, The Secret Garden highlights the story of Mary, who is left orphaned by her socialite parents, then sent from India to live with family she doesn't know in England.
Neglected by her new family, she learns to assert herself and comes into her own, making a few new friends along the way. Tweens who find themselves in life-altering predicaments (i.e., loss, relocation, divorce, diagnosis, etc.), will find some of themselves in the determination of Mary and her friends.