Books For and About Strong Girls

I have three little girls five years old and younger, and they love princesses.  I don’t think there has been a single day over the last two years that at least one person in our house hasn’t been wearing a tiara and pearls.  We have it all — the dresses, the boas, and the books.  Oh, the books!

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I know little tot princess culture is a hot topic of sorts, with some people hating everything about it and other people thinking it is a harmless phase that many little girls go through.

I guess you could say I’m kind of in the middle.  I don’t see any problem with little girls dressing up like princesses if they want to.  Mine will often be dressed as princess doctors or princess vets.  I just don’t see anything wrong with little ones wanting to be fancy as long as they know and understand that fancy is fun but brains and kindness and bravery and a dozen other things matter more.

The problem I find, however, is that the stories that go along with many princesses don’t exactly promote that message.  When my oldest was two or three and we started reading princess books, I was horrified to find that most were about meeting a prince, being saved by a prince, pining after a prince…  You get the idea.  I think the one that eventually did us in was the one about the beautiful blue jacket the prince bought.  Like I said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fancy, but swooning over an article of clothing goes a bit too far in my book.


Not wanting to stifle my girls’ interests but also wanting to make sure they have solid role models, I have spent the last few years searching out books that have stronger messages about what a girl can, could, and should be.  Here are just a few of our current favorites.

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Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple. 

This book is about a bunch of princesses who do all sorts of fun things like play baseball and use power tools all while wearing a sparkly crown.  The message is clear.  A princess can be a princess and still do anything she wants to do.

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by Ludwig Bemelmans. 


This is actually a series of books about a little girl named Madeline.  While we have not read through them all, the ones that we have read captured my heart immediately.  The rhyme and story lines are quite original, and Madeline is portrayed as a very brave little girl who isn’t even afraid of tigers at the zoo.  The books have very catchy rhymes, and this is always high on my list of recommended books.

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Fancy Nancy

by Jane O’Connor. 


Again, this is a series of books.  Nancy is a young girl who loves doing everything fancy but who lives in a very plain family.  The first book is about her giving “fancy lessons” to her family, but there are quite a few other ones with different themes and story lines.  My favorite aspect of these books is that among other things, Nancy loves using fancy (big) words, so it’s a great vocabulary lesson as well as a great lesson about sounding intelligent when you speak.





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Part-time Princess

by Deborah Underwood


This story is about a little girl who is very ordinary by day, but as soon as she goes to bed, she becomes a princess who gets to slay dragons, fight fires, and dance with trolls.  It’s a cute story about make believe and being a hero.  

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My Name is Not Isabella

by Jennifer Fosberry


We just recently came across this series of books, and I am in love.  Isabella is a little girl who pretends to be different people at different parts of her day.  Riding on the bus, she says her name is Rosa (like Rosa Parks) and she is a brave activist.  At a different point, she is Elizabeth (Elizabeth Blackwell,) the greatest doctor who ever lived.  There are six famous, highly accomplished women alluded to in the book, and at the end, there is a very brief biography of each of them, and I cannot wait to spend hours talking about these women with my little girls.

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The Paper Bag Princess

by Robert Munsch


I don’t think any list of books about strong role models would be complete without mentioning Princess Elizabeth of The Paper Bag Princess.  After a dragon kidnaps Prince Ronald, Elizabeth uses her cunning to save him from the dragon’s lair.  After all of her hard work, Prince Ronald complains that Elizabeth isn’t fancy enough to be with him because she is wearing only a paper bag after the dragon destroyed her clothes.  I won’t tell you how Elizabeth responds to this because it was such a treat to read her response the first time around that I don’t want to ruin it for you.  But if you are looking for a book about a strong princess, her response will not disappoint you.

So these are some of our favorites.  I’m sure there are many more as well as many books that provide equally strong role models for little boys.  Is there anything I am missing?  What are some of your favorite books with strong role models for little ones?



About Amanda Knapp

Amanda Knapp, M.A., is a stay at home mom to three little girls.  One day she looked around her life and realized that it was all going by much too quickly for her tastes.  She wasn’t finding the time to savor the moments and the lessons they had to teach.  So she started a blog to document it all.  She can be found on her blog, Indisposable Mama and on her Facebook page.

12 thoughts on “Books For and About Strong Girls”

  1. Thanks, good list and a good start for strong-female-books. Lots of others if you keep looking.
    Typo though – that should be Robert Munsch. As you mention, Ronald was the prince in the story.

  2. My favorite book growing up and one that i still love and read to my kids today is The Maggie B- Ilene Haas. It’s amazing. and the art rocks!

  3. Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman
    O’Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbot
    Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Popoe Osborne and Giselle Potter
    Jane and the Dragon by Martin Baynton
    Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin and Ana Juan
    The Very Fairy Princess Books by Julie Andrews and her daughter
    Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
    I love these books, and those that you named, though we haven’t read them all, I too have two little princesses at home, who I’m teaching to be very strong women!

  4. I like your list. One thing that has been bugging me about the whole gender conversation (in many areas, not just children’s books) is that we still have not managed to come up with a way to define ourselves that is not a comparison to males (or the cultural idea of males). The princess phase IMO is not so much about “pretty” as it is about adornment of the feminine—which is then totally twisted by the dominant culture. But here here for little girls awesomeness!

  5. I like your list too. Despite our carefully collected gender neutral toys, my daughter loves anything pink and princessy even though she is tv-free and doesn’t get the oppressive Disney brainwashing. It just comes naturally to her. It has taken me some time to accept it but I do and I’ve tried to find “pink” books that she likes.
    She adores the Ella Bella ballet books. Sweet illustrations and nice retellings of famous ballets. They aren’t “girl power strong” but not irritating either.

  6. We’ve explored most of the books mentioned in the article and by the other posters, but as a Black family, we’ve necessarily built our library around stories of Strong Girls from all cultures and backgrounds: Practical Princess by Jay Williams, Princess Grace series, Sugar Cane by Patricia Storace, Sugarplum Ballerina series by Whoopi Goldberg, President of the Whole Fifth Grade, Roughface Girl, and, shockingly, the Disney Fairies chapter books.

  7. Thank you all for sharing your favorites! I’m so happy I now have a long reading list for my girls — I think we’ll be heading to the library on Monday :-)

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