Feminist Media for Pre-teen and Tween Girls

November 4, 2015


A reader posted a comment asking for suggestions for her nine year old daughter. I didn’t want it to be missed so I am posting it here.

She asks: “Do any of you have any reccomendations for age-appropriate media to introduce proper femininism to pre-teen girls? My daughter is only nine, but she’s starting to develop physically and I’d like to pair some feminism alongside her learning about puberty.”

I thought this was an excellent question. Readers?


81 Responses to “Feminist Media for Pre-teen and Tween Girls”

  1. I see you already thought of Pippi, Gallus, Pippi is awesome! And the author, Astrid Lindgren, has other great books too, I can especially recommend Ronja the robber’s daughter, it has an awesome female protagonist, and I love the bond between her and her mother.

  2. Harriet the Spy seemed pretty “why shouldn’t a female character be as active and interesting as a male one?” from what I remember.

    • margaret Says:

      Harriet the Spy – Best book ever! Just bought it for my granddaughter and learned there is a sequel ‘Harriet Spies Again’ (by Helen Ericson not Louise Fitzhugh who died in 1974)

    • Cyst Says:

      And (don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s true) the author was a lesbian!

      • Lierre Keith Says:

        There is an actual sequel, called _The Long Summer_. It’s quite good and was controversial at the time for dealing openly with menstruation.

      • bacopa Says:

        Yes, The Long Summer is the first sequel. Harriet spends part of the summer at the vacation home of her friend (Beth?, I think, or is it someone else, been so long since I read this). I think in even in HTS Beth had “developed” earlier than other girls.

        There’s a second sequel called Sport. Sport is Harriet’s close friend who lives with his hapless single dad after his mother left him. Sport is able to attend Harriet’s school only because his mother’s parents pay for it. In this book Sport’s dad finally writes a bestseller, but still can’t manage his life until Harriet intervenes.

    • judysdreamofhorses Says:

      I was just coming here to post that! Hands down my favorite book as a child and the one that’s influenced me the most. Harriet is adventuresome and bright but flawed and complex. It fostered in me a deep curiosity about other people and their complex inner lives. And unlike my two other favorite books growing up featuring smart, interesting girls (The Westing Game and A Wrinkle In Time, also highly recommended!) Harriet doesn’t ‘get the boy’ at the end of the book because there’s no boy to get, which I appreciated as a child.

      And yes, Louise Fitzhugh was a lesbian. In fact, she had a partially-written YA novel about two girls who fall in love that was lost in a fire. And that is a real tragedy. In my experience much YA lit young lesbians is pretty low quality and I would have loved to see what Fitzhugh brought to the table.

      I loved the movie of it with Rosie O’Donnell as well when I was a kid.

  3. Pf Says:

    For a book about young women, feminism, and more, I cannot recommend Uprising enough. It’s about 3 young women caught up in the Triangle Shirtwaist strike and ends with the Fire. First Wave feminism, labor rights, and women’s history for the win!

  4. Magdalena Z. Says:

    I loved the Secret Garden as a kid, Mary was a very tough and resourceful girl. Also, Island of the Blue Dolphins was a good book about a native American girl who was stranded on an island by herself, I think it was based on a true story. Not sure if that one is good for a little kid though, I think her brother gets killed by wolves.

    • Branjor Says:

      Island of the Blue Dolphins is a true story. I saw it in the theater when I was about 7. It was my favorite movie. It is available on youtube in its entirety free. In my opinion the movie is fine for little kids. The arrogant brother, who had declared himself the chief oft the whole island and of his big sister based on his sex, goes hunting for a wild dog in order to kill that dog, but instead the dog kills him. Even at 7 I was relieved at that outcome, as I found it preferable to sitting through an entire movie with the little male beating his chest. Karana (the girl) initially hates the dog for killing her brother and shoots him with an arrow, but then she has a change of heart and nurses him back to health. I love the turnabout. She names him Rontu and he becomes her beloved dog.The rest of the movie is Karana and Rontu’s life on the island, survival and danger, Rontu’s death, Karana’s eventual adoption of a puppy fathered by him, other adventures, and their eventual rescue from the island. Fantastic movie!

  5. The Anne of Green Gables books are great. I only read them for the first time a year ago and I was amazed by them! There’s something about the way they detail the daily lives of Anne, her best friend, and adopted mother Marila that I found fascinating. Also, I just read the young adult series “Life As We Knew It”. It’s kind of a scary, post apocalyptic story, so maybe when she’s older. Great reads, and they very subtly study issues of sexism and violence against women,

    • kesher Says:

      The continued Anne series bothers me somewhat in that Anne abandons her dream of being a writer to be a wife and mother. Not exactly an unusual choice for that time period, although it’s ironic given that L.M. Montgomery chose herself not to marry a farmer she had fallen in love with because she wouldn’t have been able to balance writing with being a farmer’s wife.

      The Emily of New Moon series has more defiantly independent girls/women in Emily and her best friend Ilse. Although The Blue Castle is my favorite standalone L.M. Montgomery book.

    • Meg Says:

      I love Anne of Green Gables. The one thing that makes me sad is that Anne is obviously a lesbian but she eventually relents to the idea that her and her bosom buddy have to move on and get married to men. It can be used as a cautionary tale about how women and lesbians are pressured into social conformity.

    • merfeminist Says:

      One of the things that is so splendid about L M Montgomery’s work is how much women talk, and how little men do.

  6. The book Coraline does not have the male sidekick that the movie does and actually a lot of Neil Gaiman books have well written female characters. He writes for a variety of ages though so you have to be careful not to get a book with mature content on accident. I wish I had more, I didn’t get into reading until my 20s

  7. drs. Efthimia Dilpizoglou Says:

    The late British author Roald Dahl has strong female leads in a couple of his children’s books:

    this book has also been made into a film, so if the child doesn’t like books she can watch the film instead
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_BFG this is being made into a film by Spielberg, so again, if the child doesn’t like the book she can watch the film.

    I would say any book with the old fairy tales from around the world is good in terms of introducing young girls to “feminism” or the idea of a strong female lead taking matters into her own hands because in the old fairy tales the female characters were not Disneyfied or bourgiefied.

    • easilyriled Says:

      I wouldn’t call Roald Dahl a pro-feminist writer. The adult women are pretty much ALL stereotypically miserable — the bitter, mean, lesbian gym teacher, evil stepmothers, etc — Matilda might be strong and resourceful, but in Dahl’s world, there’s no room for the woman she will become. This is true for all his other books — while none of the adults are all that shiny or inspiring, the women are particularly awful.

      • drs. Efthimia Dilpizoglou Says:

        Apparently I have a different definition of feminism from you. For me, an exclusively positive or uplifting portrayal of women is not feminist, it’s delusional because there are evil women in this world and I firmly believe a child needs to be prepared for a world where women themselves are sexist and side with sexist men. A feminist portrayal of women is a diverse portrayal of women. It’s about showing good women and bad women and everything in between. I’m sure you hate Dahl’s The Witches and consider that to be a sexist book, but do you consider the character of the grandmother “sexist” too? How many other children’s books do you know where a grandmother and her grandson fight evil together as a team?

      • morag99 Says:

        Apparently you, drs. Efthimia Dilpizoglou, don’t acknowledge easilyriled’s complaint, which was about offensive stereotypes, NOT about realistic and diverse portrayals of women, including the evil ones …

  8. The Talking Earth by Jean Craighead George for the win.

  9. ericacantin Says:

    Posting my question was very generous of you, Gallus. Thank you very much, and I’m honestly touched.

    I’m already making a list!

  10. GallusMag Says:

    Is there anything specifically feminist for pre-teens/tweens? We used to have ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ but now, post-genderism/queer theory: “Our Bodies, NOT Ourselves’ seems to be the credo.

  11. stchauvinism Says:

    Im not sure this would be appropriate for a 9 year old, but for older girls, yes https://youtu.be/QrR-JgAd6Nw

  12. sellmaeth Says:

    There is “Children of Mother Earth” by Thea Beckman. Its a post-apocalypse novel wherein Greenland has become the only inhabitable country due to global warming. The people there have built an equal society, with lots of women in government. Like, some ecofeminist utopia.

    As for things a feminist can read without feeling sick … There is the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett and “The Last Dragonslayer” (also a series) by Jasper Fforde. I also found the “Series of Unfortunate Events” rather nice in that the oldest girl was the inventor of the children and her brother the language and knowledge specialist. None of those are explicitly feminist, though, and I am not sure for which age they are appropriate, as I read them as adult.

    Tamora Pierce has a series on a girl who disguises as boy to become a knight, so I suppose that’s sort of feminist-y, too. Seems to be more YA, according to my local library.

    The Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood deal with a patriarchal regime of witch-hating religious nuts, which I suppose is a bit feminist-y

    I also faintly remember some book called “The Worst Witch”, which was kind of like Harry Potter, but with an all-female school for witches. You would have to check it for feminism, but there’d be a female protagonist who has female friends, which is something not all books can claim to have.

    Eva Ibbotson as an author has serious problems with writing romance (it always comes off as rape-y to me) but writes nice books for children.
    Her book “Island of the Aunts” is unique in that it is about three aunts living on an island, with the only males there being their elderly father (who doesn’t play much of a role) and a man who works for them as a cook.
    They’re strong and unashamedly hairy, and kidnap a girl and a boy (the protagonists) to help them run a shelter for mythical sea creatures (among them a mermaid who was victim of domestic violence). I quite liked it.

    If the girl has read the Chronicles of Narnia, make sure to give her Ana Mardoll’s critique of those books (findable on the net, just use Google. You should go through it before giving it to a child, though, Ana points out implied sexual violence, you may not want a nine year old to read those parts)

    And maybe check the “feminist literature” and “matriarchy” sites of TVTropes.

    Um, yes. That got rather long, sorry.

  13. luckynkl Says:

    Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher

  14. Arla Hile Says:

    Ooooh, going back in time. When I was a tween I read quite a few books that were supposedly “beyond my years” and I appreciated the opportunity. I have narrowed myself to three suggestions. While I love anything by Ursula Le Guin, “Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight” is a wonderful short story about a young girl entering a world of animals, you can find it in an amazing collection of short stories, “Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences”. LeGuin’s stories in the collection don’t treat animals (or other living things, including lab mice and entire forests and planets) like cutesy Disney characters, the tales are so subtle and thought-provoking, just wonderful. Next: Hate to be un-PC, and it’s not quite age-appropriate, but “Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris not only because of its awesome female lead character nor only because it kept me up at night in a good way,boy-howdy I couldn’t put it down (by the way it’s not scary like the movie). It’s more about the mutual respect that grows in the fascinating teacher-student relationship between Lechter and Starling. The crime-solving story is a bonus. I actually ended up liking Lechter (yeah, that sounds bad…). FInally, Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s “Mists of Avalon”, a retelling of Arthurian legend that examines the power of the pre-Christian female priesthood in England and goes on to “document” (but with a good amount of research and interpolation) how Christianity and Paternalism took over England politically…good food for discussion about the power of women (so much of it through religion – remember that nuns were in many ways independent of men) in Late Medieval Christian Europe…which in turn can open up a discussion of the role of religion in politics. I honestly believe kids are up for challenges like this! Hope nobody thinks I’m totally nuts!

    • Hi, not telling you what to enjoy in books, obviously, but I just wanted to quickly weigh in on the Mists of Avalon. The whole ‘sacred-sex/sacred-marriage = good’ angle made me sick with disgust and fear. Ironically, it isn’t even the incestuous Morgaine/Arthur bit that hit me the hardest, but a bit of blessed child rape in the name of the goddess the girl gets to enjoy at the margins of the Morgane/Arthur scene: ″A little girl, painted blue from head to foot and bearing a broad dish, ran across the plowed fields, scattering dark drops as she ran, and Morgaine heard the great cry that went up behind her. (…) The little blue-painted girl who had borne the fertilizing blood was drawn down into the arms of a sinewy old hunter, and Morgaine saw her briefly struggle and cry out, go down under his body, her legs opening to the irrestistible force of nature in them.” (Zimmer Bradley 1982, S. 177 and 178)
      (I happen to have that quote ready because I use it in a bit of writing). However, I read the Handmaid’s Tale in school too, and I’m incapable of seeing it in any way different to MoA, just with a different deity demanding the forced sex embellished with sacred rhetorics(Igraine and Gorlois, Igraine and Uthar, too, and many more). So maybe not for girls?

      • sellmaeth Says:

        About Zimmer Bradley … I am NOT surprised. Only started one of her books and became bored (or disgusted) halfway in, but then I read this:


        So … yeah. I would not recommend her books for girls.

        Since you mentioned the name “Igraine”, that reminds me of a book by Cornelia Funke, about a girl named Igraine who wants to become a knight … now that’s something I’d give a nine year old. 😉

      • Arla Hile Says:

        I absolutely do not remember that…like I said, this is going back, WAY back for me, more than 30 years. Yes, that would be quite rough for a tween. In a similar (but more G-rated) vein, there’s the “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan, but I found it a crashingly boring mashup of Lord of the Rings and Mists of Avalon. I’ll take my senile old self back into the corner now 😉

    • Livvie Says:

      I have a hard time with Marion Zimmer Bradley as she molested her daughter (in her daughter’s words) and apparently many of her peers in the SF world were aware of it but did nothing. Her second husband was also a child molester. I too was molested by my mom. She was extremely mentally ill. My grandmother was the only woman I trusted for most of my life and so I’m appreciative of the kindness of the women here since I’ve spent a lot of my life being very afraid of women.

      It makes me sad that I will never see Michfest. I often wonder if being around women who truly love and care for other women would have helped me to finally be free of some of that pain and fear, to see with my own eyes that not all women want to hurt or cause pain. Sorry about that. MZB always causes this response in me.

      I loved Free to be You and Me as a kid. I had the record and sang all the songs incessantly. I also adored Harriet the Spy, which everyone’s mentioned and its sequel, The Long Summer. The Westing Game is terrific, too.

      I’m not sure about this one but: Z is for Zachariah was a frightening book in that it dealt with a girl alone after an apocalyptic event. A man finds his way to her farm, where there is still life. Of course, he behaves as a man does and tries to control her in every way he can, and so she chooses to go her own way, alone. Ann is brave and much smarter than the man, who is a coward. I think that read alone it might not be good for a young girl, but with a feminist mom there to point out what’s happening thematically it could be great. If someone’s read this more recently and doesn’t think so, disregard. I just remember that when I read it as a kid I loved Ann and I loved her for striking out alone in a world of uncertainty.

      It’s so odd. I still have two copies of Our Bodies, Our Selves. To think that these books are signs of bigotry and misogyny in the current climate. How can this be?

  15. Stephanie Says:

    Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game”. It may be more appropriate in a year or two, but I loved it in late elementary school. It’s a mystery told from the perspective of several characters, but the protagonist is a 13-year-old girl called Turtle, who doesn’t fulfill her mother’s expectations of femininity the way her mother THINKS her older sister Angela does. It’s funny, eccentric, and bittersweet. Their neighbors are a motley bunch and their relationships with the family and each other make for an interesting discussion about class, race and immigration in the U. S.

    • kfb3 Says:

      Yes, yes, yes!!! I was going to suggest The Westing Game, too. Fantastic Story. (On another note, when she gets a little older, the movie “Begin Again” is pretty good. The female character does not need a boyfriend to be happy, and the male lead winds up with-gasp!-an age appropriate woman!)

  16. merfeminist Says:

    My daughters insisted that the Atreyu character in the Neverending Story movie was female, so when I read the book to them I changed the pronouns. This is hard to do once they learn to read, of course.

  17. Bea Says:

    The 1995 edition of The Diary of Anne Frank, entitled “Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition” edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massotty. This is the version that still contains her writing on her burgeoning sexuality, that her father edited out.

  18. mon Says:

    The Journey of Natty Gann. A story of a strong, smart and resourceful girl during the depression. She has to figure out a way to get across the country and outsmart a few asses along the way. There is also a wonderful relationship with a wolf. The pre-teen is clearly the focus of the movie throughout. There is a trailer on youtube.

  19. morag99 Says:

    Jane Yolen!

    Fairy tales, fantasy, realism, and historical fiction — she’s a poetic, sensitive and prolific writer of everything from children’s picture books to Young Adult literature:


    Some quotations from literary critics (taken from the link above):

    ‘“Crucial in all of Yolen’s many fairy tales is a reaffirmation of female cultural life… For the most part, Yolen emphasizes the caring and nurturing of women as constitutive of moral integrity. Though she rarely assumes an outright, radical feminist position in her tales, her sensitive rearrangement of traditional stories does lead to a contradiction of the patriarchal view of the world.”

    ‘Of “The Moon Ribbon”, Judith Gero John said, “Yolen’s story hints at a historical sistership which circumvents masculine dominance by delegating both good and evil power to female characters. It suggests a secretive female bonding which is beyond the understanding of men, and hence, beyond man’s power to corrupt. “

  20. endthewoo Says:

    I’m wondering, aside from literature, if there is anything that is more about feminist theory that would be suitable for this age group ?

    An edited version of the history of women’s right’s across the world maybe, suffragettes, property rights, girls being married off as children ? It’s difficult to know what to say without being too scary, in terms of the abuses perpetrated on us.

    I know there is some material produced for kids around consent and domestic violence (eg http://www.thehideout.org.uk/under10/isithappeningtome/default.aspa from women’s aid).

    Could be a starting point for conversations at least.

    • GallusMag Says:

      “I’m wondering, aside from literature, if there is anything that is more about feminist theory that would be suitable for this age group ?”

      Yes, THIS is what I want to know. Readers?

      • GallusMag Says:

        I wonder if there is any specific feminist theory that is age appropriate to the pre-teen/tween population. I feel this is especially pertinent because most of the female “trans-trenders” only become dysphoric at or after puberty, when the full weight of male sexual violence and genderization kicks in. I’m wondering if there is a way to better prepare girls and give them the feminist theoretical tools to arm themselves against the onslaught before it hits. ESPECIALLY since genderists, with the full power of the state behind them and funding them, are now targeting girls of this age with scores of indoctrination materials and programming: socially, in marketing, and as part of the education curriculum.

        I think this is VERY IMPORTANT and I’m asking each and every one of you reading this to wrack your brain for any such material. Feminist theory that is written to a nine year old reading level, and which does not expose the reader to the detailed horror of the war, so to speak.

        I do appreciate the literature and media suggestions being posted as well! 🙂

  21. Noonie Says:

    Anne of Green Gables
    Julie of the Wolves
    Harriet the Spy
    Hunger Games
    The Night Gardener
    The Delirium series
    Anastasia Krupnick
    Harry Potter! (For Ginny and Hermione alone)

  22. hearthrising Says:

    The Girl God has a website, a Facebook page, and a book designed to be read by mothers and daughters. Highly recommended. http://www.thegirlgod.com/ Also, there’s the Red Tent movement to change attitudes about menstruation. They have a lot of programming for girls. http://redtenttemplemovement.com/

  23. Resistance Says:

    What parents of girls could do is watch a program, film, whatever beforehand analyse it & make notes. Eg if a boy is saying to another boy “oh your such a girl” as an insult note it down, the same with any other misogynistic crap that appears in it. Then watch it with her & ask her what she thinks is wrong with the program/film. Then the parent could point out what is wrong with it from the notes they have made previously. It may feel a bit little like a media studies class, but I think its a good way of teaching girls to reject the hatred thats directed against them as unacceptable. I think young girls need to be able to identify when misogyny is happening & then it needs to be explained to them why it is wrong & why it exists. If this is not done because misogyny is so widespread & accepted it just becomes like wallpaper to young girls & is accepted as just the way things are, which then of course causes self hate & feelings of shame of being a girl in them. By teaching them & encouraging them to identify misogyny when it’s happening through the analysing of media (it could be anything from a cartoon to a soap opera), they will be equipped to do it by their self before long. It could be pitched like a sort of game to make it seem more fun & less like a school task.
    To tackle the trans aspect, there are a number of films about girls/women dressing in “boys/mens clothes” & passing themselves off as boys/men in order to avoid the restrictions that are placed on women. Then there are the true life cases of real people like Joan of arc ect who also dressed in “mens clothes” for that reason. Some of these films make it clear that these women are passing themselves off as the opposite sex in order to escape restrictions placed on women. A talk with the girl after viewing them could ensure she has understood that is indeed why they are doing it & that it is society that is wrong not the girls/women themselves.

    I’ve got doubts that there are any books about feminist theory aimed at such young girls (at least none that are still in print), i think we are going to have to teach them ourselves. I may be wrong?

    • morag99 Says:

      “I’ve got doubts that there are any books about feminist theory aimed at such young girls (at least none that are still in print), i think we are going to have to teach them ourselves. I may be wrong?”

      No, I think you’re right. That’s why there’re so many suggestions of fiction, literature, film. The theory is implied, or buried inside the stories at a more unconscious level. And maybe this is the best way? At least until girls begin maturing sexually and intellectually.

      Because, male supremacy is a horror. Considering that female oppression involves the exploitation and abuse of girls’s and women’s sexuality, reproductive capacities and labour, and that there’s just NO way to avoid these facts, well … unless, of course, one is just preaching simple equality (“girls can do anything boys can do!”) or shallow, condescending messages about “girl power.” I think there’s a lot of stuff like that around.

      But there are some (very middle class) print magazines for girls (like New Moon, and probably a few others) which aim to counter the sexualization of girls and to challenge the many cultural, patriarchal forces which are so destructive to girls before they reach puberty. However, these types of resources are not theory, but the practice of trying to mitigate some of the harm.

      In general, though, I don’t think that kids are ready to learn any kind of theory — because it involves abstract thought, doesn’t it? — before a certain stage of development.

      • GallusMag Says:

        Hmmm. Not sure. I was quite lucky to grow up in a home with a mother who had “her subscriptions”, one of which was to Ms. Magazine. This was in the 1970’s when there was a very popular book called “Subliminal Seduction” which purported to show hidden messages and persuasion in print advertisements. Kids (and adults!) were always passing it around, or challenging others to find something they had spotted on product packaging or advertisements.

        Ms. Magazine was always a bit too dry and over my head as a kid but there was a section of the magazine devoted to exposing misogyny in advertising and I became completely obsessed with it. Everyone knew I had “dibs” on that magazine when it came, so that I could look at that section.

        I thought I was spotting the secret hidden messages, which I so enjoyed. There were captions at the bottom of each picture explaining what was sexist about them in case you couldn’t figure it out. Sometimes you couldn’t (at least as a child) because the shit was so ubiquitous. In hindsight, I was developing a critical eye and feminist consciousness. No wonder I found figuring out the “hidden messages” in that Magazine so much more compelling than the lion fucking the camel on a pack of cigarettes.

  24. Maria Says:

    I LOVED A League of Their Own growing up. It’s not a book, but I think it’s strongly feminist, explores women’s history, and is age-appropriate. You could use it as a jumping off point to talk about women’s rights through history.

  25. atranswidow Says:

    It’s a long time since I was nine and many have already made fantastic suggestions, some of which I shall check out for myself.
    I remember at around that age reading ”Look and Learn” a children’s magazine which had an educational slant. It had history, science, art and biographies of historical figures and I learned about inspiring women like Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale. So I had a look online for something similar.

    I found a site, http://www.biography.com, that has a vast range of biographies and articles written clearly and with links to films and news reel. For example in their History and Culture section, there is an excellent piece on six of the suffragettes featured in the new film, Suffragette, with Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter,

    I chose that one because I’m reading Emmeline Pankhurst’s book at the moment. I think that this biography site is probably more accessible to a 9 year old! There are also more current biographies like that of Malala Yousafzai complete with news clips of her Peace Prize acceptance speech. You could print off those that interest you and your daughter and maybe make a scrap book?

  26. Rachel Says:

    In the UK, there’s AMightyGirl online, which is encouraging feministy stuff for tweens. The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler is an old book that I remember turning sex roles on their heads, but might seem old-fashioned and possibly would be confusing for a young US audience, as it’s very British and from the 70s.
    Depending on maturity, both the book and film of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe are great for an older tween.

  27. Rachel Says:

    I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai?

  28. shonagh Says:

    Not *quite* feminist theory – but Sandi Toksvig (yep, the lesbian founder of the UK Women’s Equality party) wrote a little book called ‘Girls are Best’ which is ‘a light-hearted look at the contribution of women to sport, science, politics and culture throughout History’ and also ‘a really good and amusing reminder of how his-story has been skewed to tell his story and misses lots of her stories’ [quotes from Good Reads reviews: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4458800-girls-are-best%5D

    I don’t have it anymore (I think I gifted it to the daughter of a friend) but I remember it as being pretty good. It’s aimed at the right age-range.

    • Beverley Cleary’s Ramona books
      A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’engle
      A lot of Ursula Le Guin
      Studio Ghibli films, especially Kiki’s Delivery Service & Princess Monomoke (latter is a bit violent).
      In Australia, books by Eleanor Spence, Ruth Park, Christobel Mattingley, John Marsden, Barry Jonson, Morris Gleitzman, Isobel Carmody and Emily Rodda

  29. Bev Jo Says:

    Louise Fitzhugh’s lesser known book, “Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change” is fantastic.

    Yes, “Julie of the Wolves” too, by Jean Craighead George. Amazing. These are both from the Seventies and certainly good for adults to read too.

  30. Bev Jo Says:

    I remember “Subliminal Seduction” too! Books like that are very powerful with questioning lies and authority, and following gut feeling.

    I was a bit older than nine, but any feminist books that weren’t incredibly academic would have had a powerful effect on my and my friends, and we would have talked about them. (Instead, the first “feminist” books I was introduced to in school were about/for het women, wives, and mothers, which put me off feminism as being all about men on some level or not for girls like me, who loved other girls.)

    Tamora Pierce’s science fiction series about the girl knight is good in showing how she is harassed by boys and has to fight sexism.

    Yes, you’re so right, IceMountainFire. It’s easy to forget as the years go by and some women are considered feminist writers, but my memory of Marion Zimmer Bradley also was pornographically het, and that’s a problem with too many books and of course is throughout the film and television media.

    So much now is pushing girls into extreme male-identified femininity, so any girl who is repulsed by that or made to feel like a freak, is vulnerable to feeling like she isn’t really a girl. I think one counter to that is when girls are in touch with how different they are from boys. I know remembering how boys I knew growing up would torment and attack girls, and sexually assault and torture and kill animals, while girls tried to protect other girls and animals, was a huge divide and would have kept me from ever thinking I was or wanted to be a boy. It is increasingly unpopular for girls (and women) to express disgust with or hatred of boys and men, including attackers, but that also can help girls defend themselves from attack. The first taste I had of Lesbian Feminist community, as a teenager, freed me from trying to lie to myself about males, and returned me to how I was more clear as a young girl. I don’t know if any books are about this, but that could help.

    We need to write some books for girls!

  31. a cat Says:

    Seconding Tyke Tiler, I loved that book as a kid! It might be interesting for a young American girl just because the setting’s so different (it is very of its time and British) if she likes adventures set in different places. If she’s more happy with the familiar it wouldn’t be a great choice.

  32. @MichFestMovesMe Says:

    The difficulty at nine is that the brain isn’t developed enough to fully understand abstraction well, so “theory” is hard to comprehend. But it is old enough to experience injustice, and being “acted upon” as a girl and pick up the subtle social cues that function to oppress females. That said, Eve Ensler has a girls book out “I Am an Emotional Creature”. Also, back in the 90’s Ms Foundation put out “Girls Seen and Heard”

    There are also some wonderful feminist folks tales books out. Maid of the North and Tatterhood, both edited by Ethyl Johnson Phelps.

    Teaching our daughters to view myth and story telling from a critical lens is important. In fact, close analysis of everything our girls experience is important. I remember renouncing christianity at that age, because women were treated like shit in the faith I was born into.

    I read Julie of the Wolves too young. It starts off with the threat of rape and gave me that sick fearful feeling in my stomach. Nowadays, its a million times worse. Media has done a great job of enforcing the role of sex object stereotypes. Reality TV was the worst thing ever invented for women and girls, and all the crime dramas are close behind, CSI, CSI SVU, blecch!

    • ericacantin Says:

      I think you may be right about brain development and abstraction. Once, in a store, my youngest son said something about not wanting an item because it was pink, and pink is a girl color. My oldest son, who’s now 13, corrected him, saying that pink was a color and colors *can’t* be for boys or girls. They can only be colors. My youngest son didn’t really get it.

      I have no memory of teaching my oldest son that. I may have, or maybe he picked it up at school or something. I was just observing the contrast between the two’s understanding of symbolism. The older kid understood it and chose to reject it, the younger kid understood it but couldn’t understand the meaning of the symbolism.

      Children are fascinating.

  33. judysdreamofhorses Says:

    I already talked about Harriet the Spy upthread but here are a few more suggestions:

    – Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech is fantastic, as is her other book Absolutely Normal Chaos

    – Ella Enchanted by Gail Levine is a loose and entertaining Cinderella reboot about a girl who is cursed with the “gift” of obedience: she is compelled do whatever anyone tells her to do, from ‘put on a coat’ to ‘jump off a cliff’, or else she suffers unbearable physical symptoms. The book chronicles her struggle to rebel and overcome it.
    Skip the movie version of it, I was so pissed as a teenager when it came out and they inserted a bunch of male characters to help her out. In the book, Ella is totally self-reliant and breaks the spell herself. In the movie, it’s the tired old “saved by true love’s kiss” shit. I was livid.

    – The Tamora Pierce books mentioned are pretty good, but I’d recommend them for an older child/teenager or you read them first because I remember there being some brief sexual situations. Alanna and her twin brother are sent off to study magic and become a squire, respectively, but decide to change places and Alanna goes on to become one of the greatest warriors ever. It’s called The Song of the Lioness quartet.

    – I also like Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass trilogy, though again that’d be better for older children. Lyra Belacqua is a very interesting character. His standalone novel Count Karlstein is very fun (albeit dark) and less complicated with some spunky, independent female characters.

    And Matilda is a good suggestion, along with the movie version of it, even though the villain Ms. Trunchbull is a pretty obvious and nasty stereotype.

  34. Rachel Says:

    I do love how all the main characters in Matilda are female, though. Matilda’s father and the boys at the school are bit parts, and Magnus is dead.
    Roald Dahl used a lot of female villains, but also used a surprising variety of heroines: Sophie in the BFG and especially the grandmother in The Witches are firm favourites of mine.

    http://jumpmag.co.uk/ is another UK-based one that seems to have expanded recently. It was set up as an alternative to consumerist “pink princess” girls’ magazines, and has a strong feminist undercurrent.

  35. Loup-loup garou Says:

    Anime series — Moribito, Guardian of the Spirit. The central character is a bad-ass female warrior who actually gets to stay badass — I kept waiting for her to be turned into a damsel in distress, but it never happens. She just rides off into the sunset. There’s also a great older woman character (a shaman), and a range of non-toxic male characters. Pretty much everyone in the series is decent but flawed, as opposed to 100% good or evil. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

    YA novel — Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change, by Louise Fitzhugh (Harriet the Spy, The Long Secret). Takes place in New York in the 1970s. Mostly told from the perspective of an extremely bright 12 year old girl in an upper middle class black family. She wants to be a lawyer like her father; he wishes her brother had been the smart one. The brother has a talent for dance; Dad thinks a career in the performing arts would be degrading for him as a black man, and also worries his son could turn out gay if he keeps hanging out with the theater crowd. Mostly very believable throughout, with some pointed poetic license at the end — the 12 year old girl and some of her friends from school (one of whom is having problems with her cross-dressing brother stealing her clothes) briefly get involved with an underground children’s liberation group called the Children’s Army, and then walk away in disgust when they realize it’s run by older boys who don’t give a rats’ ass about their concerns. (It’s kind of like Robin Morgan’s “Goodbye to All That,” but with preteens.)

    • CD Says:

      Seconding the recommendation for the Moribito series! The main character is a great role model, because she’s a skilled fighter who works to protect others, rather than to harm others.

      Continuing with the fantasy theme, I’d also recommend anything by Garth Nix or Alison Croggon. (Maybe not for a 9-year-old, but for anyone here with daughters in their early teens, or anyone who just likes fantasy novels.)

      Nix has some series for younger readers, but I’m more familiar with his “Abhorsen” series (http://ow.ly/Unnq7). It’s about a family who use magic to fight undead spirits, and is mostly written from the perspective of female members of that family. In the books, everyone takes for granted that women are equal to men, and topics like menstruation and childbirth are brought up in a non-shameful way.

      Croggon’s Pellinor series is also excellent: http://ow.ly/UnnrJ. The premise is a bit cliché, relying on a “chosen one” trope. But she writes beautifully, and the story develops into something really interesting. The books specifically deal with sexism and racism, and there are several older female characters in positions of power.

  36. For comics, Kamala Khan is very well written, though perhaps more appropriate in a couple years.

  37. ShipRat Says:

    I had (have) a massive crush on Jo March in “Little Women”…
    IIRC she does marry in the end, does that disqualify her?

  38. hoa Says:

    You know, i dont see why carefully chosen sections out of classic feminist theory books couldn’t be appropriate for 9 year olds. I think a small book that gathered together such selections and maybe had some commentary or discussion questions for girls to help them along, could work. It is really sad to me that NO feminist theory accessible to young/tween/teen girls exists right now. Wow. So sad.

    Honestly, as a lot of people mentioned above, it is probably most common and easiest for girls to start out with media criticism, analyzing ads and tv shows, and realizing how misogynistic messages permeate them, etc. But the problem is that this so often leads nowhere or, worse, to a sort of 3rd wave / liberal democrat attitude of “well now that I can analyze these things, they have no power over me, so I can be a better and more free consumer and person.” Instead of leading to radical feminism & radical politics, which is what I would obviously want to happen.

    • GallusMag Says:


      • hoa Says:

        Especially when things like this bs
        are the alternative? I find it stupid, yes. But also offensive because it makes a joke out of the very idea of feminist theory and out of the mere idea that themes based in female biology and symbolism could be “legit” philosophy. It’s a “coloring book,” so seems to be marketed to 3rd wavers’ kids? This is the ironic end times, in which we give our children coloring books that make sense only with reference to an irony they couldn’t possibly understand.

        The company publishing this, by the way, is co-owned by a known and serial intimate-partner abuser named Joe Biel.

  39. Palgary Says:

    The short story “No Gumption” by Russell Baker from his autobiography “Growing Up”. I read that as a kid, and it’s one that always stuck with me.

    It’s a story set in the 1930’s about a boy who’s being pushed by his mother to succeed as a salesman, and the recognition that it’s wrong for him, and his sister would be better at then him as it’s her talent, not his. He ends up discovering a love of writing, which he hides from his school friends as not to be teased over such a non-manly task.

    Its good because it acknowledges sexism openly, while at the same time showing how the patriarchy hurts everyone. It also has the message of finding yourself.

    • GallusMag Says:

      Male supremacy benefits males. It doesn’t “hurt everyone”. If it did it wouldn’t exist. It hurts females for the benefit of males. Some males may find aspects of patriarchy confining but they still benefit greatly from it.

  40. Janetwo Says:

    Its not a book, but that is a list a girl/teenager can sink her teeth in. http://www.wearesalt.org/category/horizontal-list-inspiring/

  41. Elle-laments Says:

    Hi GallusMag,
    I have been lurking around here for a while now, your site is incredible! Thanks for all your hard work.
    This is a topic that I felt I actually had something to offer, I have a preteen daughter and strong women in literature has been a priority for us – we were the annoying parents who didn’t allow barbies to cross the threshold of our home.

    Some really beautiful books with strong female leads that we have recently read are ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ by Catherynne Valente and ‘Where the Mountain Meets the Moon’ by Grace Lin.

  42. Sophie Says:

    Ruby Redfort! A spy and badass aimed at tweens.

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