For today’s post, I collaborated with Down The Hobbit Hole Blog to bring you 20 of our favorite new books where girls take the lead! (all published after 2015). Down the Hobbit Hole is a family run blog that specializes in reviewing and providing content that the whole family can enjoy together. Check out their website here.
We’re fortunate that there have always been amazing women in literature! Looking at you Elizabeth Bennet, Jo March, Anne Shirley, and more recently Hermione Granger! But we are even more fortunate that books with women taking the lead are becoming more popular and diverse. In honor of Mother’s Day, here are 20 of our favorite books published in the last five years where girls shine!
5 Picture Books
1) Name: Malala’s Magic Pencil
Author: Malala Yousafzai
Short Summary: What do you do when life changes unexpectedly? When big and scary people threaten your education? Malala shares how she used her pencil to make a big difference in a scary situation. But the book really is magical, and doesn’t feel scary- it feels empowering.
Theme to Discuss: The power of words and writing, our dreams and goals
2)Name: Ada Twist, Scientist
Author: Andrea Beaty Illustrator: David Roberts
Short Summary: Ada is a curious kid. So curious that she gets into trouble quickly with her experiments. Her parents have trouble keeping up. She’s been keeping them on their toes since she was born. But these are the things that help her explore and make her a great scientist.
Theme to Discuss: How was Ada being different a good thing?
3) Name: How to Code a Sandcastle
Author: Josh Funk Illustrated by: Sara Palacios
Short Summary: An introduction to coding. Pearl has one last day of summer left, and one really big goal. Build the perfect sandcastle with her robot Pascal.
Theme to Discuss: How science helped Pearl
4)Name: The Big Buna Bash
Author: Sara C Arnold, Illustrated by: Roberta Malasomma
Short Summary: This one is for coffee-loving parents! Almaz wants to share a special coffee tradition with her classmates but isn’t feeling very brave about asking them. Sharing and coffee bring everyone together in the end.
Theme to Discuss: Being brave about sharing
5)Name: Forgotten Fairy Tales of Brave and Brilliant Girls
(Grab it from Usborne Books and More here)
Retold by: Susanna Davidson, Rosie Dickins, Andy Prentice, and Rob Lloyd Jones. Forward by: Kate Pankhurst Illustrated by: Isabella Grott, Alessandra Santelli and Maria Surducan
Short Summary: A great book for in between picture and chapter books. 8 retellings of tales told long ago about smart and bold girls that take the lead and save the day. From clever Molly to Fearless Fiona, these are stories that I hope are told again and again.
Other Picture Books We Loved: Ordinary People Changed the World Series (Brad Meltzer), Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (Vashti Harrison), How to Build a Hug (Guglielmo, Tourville, Potter), Rosie Revere, Engineer (Beaty, Roberts), Ladybug Girl (Soman, Davis), The Dot (Peter H. Reynolds), Dancing in the Wings (Debbie Allen), One Grain of Rice (Demi)
5 YA Books
1) Name: Romanov
Author: Nadine Brandes
Short Summary: Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov, was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them…and he’s hunted Romanov before. A historical fantasy about the Romanov family.
Theme to Discuss: Forgiving your enemies and those who hurt you
2)Name: Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (Graphic Novel)
Author: G. Willow Wilson Illustrated by: Sara Pichelli and Adrian Alphona
Published: 2014, with new additions still coming out.
Short Summary: A teenager whose life is suddenly upended as she realizes that she has big, destructive powers. Suddenly navigating life just got a lot more difficult than just figuring out school. Will she learn how to handle her powers and use them for good?
Themes to Discuss: Heroism, Legacies and Responsibilities
3)Name: All’s Faire in Middle School (Graphic Novel)
Author: Victoria Jamieson
Short Summary: You can find our full parent review with discussion questions here. It’s hard enough switching to public school after being homeschooled. But try doing it in middle school when your family works in the Renaissance Fair. Imogene has quite the challenge ahead of her.
Theme to Discuss: How we treat others and how words matter.
4)Name: EJ-12 Girl Hero: Hot and Cold
Author: Susannah McFarlane
Published: First book 2010, but there are over 20 in the series
Short Summary: Someone seems to be melting the polar ice caps. But EJ wants to solve her problems at school before she worries about the world’s problems! What’s a pre-teen spy to do?
Themes to Discuss: Including others, being kind, and heroism
5)Name: The Story Peddler
Author: Lindsay Franklin
Short Summary: Tanwen doesn’t just tell stories – she weaves them into crystallized sculptures that sell for more than a few bits. But the only way to escape the control of her cruel mentor and claw her way from poverty is to set her sights on something grander: becoming Royal Storyteller to the King. A fantasy story about learning the true purpose of your gifts.
Theme to Discuss: Recognizing the importance of a person’s talents and gifts, and using them in a way that glorifies the creator and edifies others.
Other YA Books We Loved: The Sisters Grimm Series (Michael Buckley), The Two Princesses of Bamarre(Levine), Nancy Drew (Keene), Mercy Watson (DiCamilla), Twice Freed (St. John), The Princess In Black (Hale), The Wingfeather Saga (Peterson)
5 Fiction Books
1) Name: On a Summer Tide
Author: Suzanne Woods Fisher
Short Summary: Cam’s full-throttle life skids to a stop when her father buys a remote island off the coast of Maine. Paul Grayson has a dream to breathe new life into the island–a dream that includes reuniting his estranged daughters. Certain Dad has lost his mind, the three sisters rush to the island. To Cam’s surprise, the slow pace of island life appeals to her, along with the locals–and one in particular. Seth Walker, the scruffy island schoolteacher harbors more than a few surprises.
Themes to discuss: Examining our past and how it has affected who we are, the importance of family support, reconciliation, listening to others, looking at life critically and having the courage to make important changes, adoption and childhood trauma
2)Name: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Short Summary: A teen girl’s life is entirely upended when she becomes part of a police brutality moment that gains national attention. Should she reveal her part in the chaos to those closest to her? How do you fight for justice when no one will listen to you? When you’ve been villainized for the color of your skin? A great book to engage in conversations about modern racism with teens.
Themes to Discuss: Racism, Class Systems, Grief and Using Your Voice
3)Name: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
Short Summary: The comical, fantastical, romantical, entirely (but not really) true story of Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger – and caught up in an insidious plot to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She’s about to become Queen of England. Like THAT could go wrong. A hilarious retelling of historical events.
Theme to Discuss: The historical conflict on which this story is based was between the Catholics and Protestants. In this story, the conflict is between the Edians (humans with the ability to turn into animals) and the Verities (those who believe animal magic is evil). How can we approach working out differences of beliefs in a healthy way?
4)Name: The Number of Love
Author: Roseanna M. White
Short Summary: Three years into the Great War, England’s greatest asset is their intelligence network–field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack German telegrams for hints of the enemy’s plans. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, she discovers for the first time in her life that numbers aren’t enough.
Theme to Discuss: Having faith when the way you make sense of the world doesn’t work anymore. How our strengths can also become our blindspots.
5)Name: Whose Waves These Are
Author: Amanda Dykes
Short Summary:In the wake of WWII, a grieving fisherman submits a poem to a local newspaper asking readers to send rocks in honor of loved ones to create something life-giving but the building halts when tragedy strikes. Decades later, Annie returns to the coastal Maine town where stone ruins spark her curiosity and her search for answers faces a battle against time.
Theme to discuss: Making something beautiful out of brokenness, Hope, Forgiveness, Redemption
Other Fiction We Loved: The Fairest Beauty (Melanie Dickerson), The Girl With All the Gifts (Mike Carey), Turtles all The Way Down (John Greene), Between the Lines (Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer), The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), The Choosing (Dekker), The Bailey Flanigan Series (Karen Kingsbury)
5 Empowering Non-Fiction
1) Name: Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You
Author: Jen Hatmaker
Short Summary: The author shares her story of learning how to shed people-pleasing and shrinking to fit into any scenario. How there is room at the table for everyone, and all of who we are. If you have ever felt like you were too much and not enough all at the same time- I can’t encourage you enough to get this book! So far, it’s my favorite quarantine read. It made me feel understood, it motivated me to reach for more, and it also let me just sit and be ok with an unproductive day of wild and crazy feelings. This one’s for all the girls and all the daddies and all the ones who are cheering their sisters on!!
Theme to Discuss: Dreams, making room for others, growth
2)Name: Hold On, But Don’t Hold Still: Hope and Humor from My Seriously Flawed Life
Author: Kristina Kuzmic
Short Summary: Chances are that you’ve seen one of her truth bomb mom videos floating around on social media. What you might not know is just how many hurdles she’s jumped through to be the passionate mom encouraging that she is. From wartime immigration, poverty, divorce, and depression- she’s gained a whole lot of perspective. She’s ready to share it with you, with humor and hope. Both an encouraging and a motivational read.
Themes to Discuss: What have you overcome? What are you doing really well? Who are the people in your life that you need to encourage?
3)Name: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Short Summary: The true story behind the women mathematicians who helped NASA with the space race. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were able to work at the space center doing computing work because of shortages in World War 2. Even though they were segregated from their counterparts because of the color of their skin and their gender- they played pivotal roles. The book goes through over twenty years of their stories calculating the great unknowns of space. We also highly suggest the movie.
Themes to Discuss: Opportunity, Segregation, How science is used in the world, Friendship and Bravery
4)Name: Dare To Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts
Author: Brene Brown
Short Summary: What does daring leadership look like? How do you manage to be brave when the environment is so harsh and there’s such a strong divisive and scarcity mindset in general? How do we raise our kids to be brave and bold- but also empathetic? Brene Brown is not just a researcher, she’s a gifted writer, and this book is changing people’s lives.
Themes to Discuss: Bravery, Dreams, Potential, What Relationships We Are Investing In?
5)Name: The Way I See It
Author: Temple Grandin
Published: Updated in 2020
Short Summary: Dr. Temple Grandin is an animal expert, advocate, best selling adult and children’s author, and she also has autism. From the daily issues that people with neural differences face to ideas on employment- she covers a lot of ground in this book. A helpful and insightful read.
Theme to Discuss: Neural differences and how they impact your world.
Other Empowering Non-Fiction We Loved: If You Ask Me (Betty White), Becoming (Michelle Obama), Talking as Fast as I Can (Lauren Graham), We Should All Be Feminists (Adichie), Girl, Stop Apologizing (Rachel Hollis), I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzi)