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Books for the Anti-Princess Girl-Feminist

Peggy Orenstein grapples with it and so do many other feminist mamas, aunts, sisters, cousins, dads and uncles: what to buy your girl-feminist. A Bitch reader named Maura recently wrote to us asking readers to weigh in about the "best books for budding feminists," especially six- and eight-year-old girls. She writes: "There seem to be plenty of biographies that tell the stories of important women from the past—and that's great—but I'd like to explore Bitch-friendly fiction for younger readers as well." So, please take two seconds to channel your feminist girl-self and talk about the fiction that really made you feel like you could do anything and become anyone.

I asked Kimmie David, one of the owners of Bluestockings—the radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center in the Lower East Side of Manhattan—to share her picks for the best feminist fiction or nonfiction books for girls. Here's what she recommends:

1. Girls Are Not Chicks Coloring Book, by Jacinta Bunnell and Julie Novak

2. Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

3. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, by Catherine Thimmesh

4. Call Me Madame President, by Sue Pyatt

5. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh

Kimmie also mentioned a few of her childhood favorites, including the original Nancy Drew series ("Despite all the weird racist shit that I didn't figure out was weird racist shit until I was 21. Oops"), the Betsy Tacy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace, and the everlasting Eloise, by Kay Thompson.

The Amelia Bloomer Project of the American Library Association is one of the best ways to find books with strong feminist themes for young people. It's an annual book list published by the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association's Social Responsibilities Round Table. Here's the past nine years of the list and their blog, too.

I can't finish this post without talking about one more book: Pugdog, by Andrea U'Ren. It's about a girl dog whose owner thinks is a boy. A friend gave my nephew Pugdog before his birth. Right now, he's all about loving Pugdog for escaping the vet (see above) and splattering saliva, but soon he'll discover all the lovely subtext about how rigid we are about gender in this country—and how wonderful it is just to break free.

What fiction books have you given the girl-feminists in your lives?


Adventures in Feministory: Louise Fitzhugh & Harriet the Spy

Stories for Girls: An Interview with Lizzie Skurnick

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24 comments have been made. Post a comment.


i heartily recommend "mara, daughter of the nile" by eloise jarvis mcgraw. it's about a teenage slave girl in ancient egypt who is recruited to become a spy. it's an absorbing plot and she's a great heroine - clever and brave and loyal.

"The Outspoken Princess and

"The Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight," an anthology of "modern fairy tales," is pretty damn awesome. It's full of plenty of stereotype-smashing stories, like one about a 6-foot-tall princess who likes to wrestle and drive forklift trucks, and another about a knight who would much rather write poetry than slay dragons. I'd definitely recommend it.

Yes! I love seeing posts

Yes! I love seeing posts about kids and parenting. I am a single mother and my daughter will be 8 next month. I came across this list a long time ago:
and it has a ton of awesome books with all kinds of subjects. I think the books on this post need to be added. :)

Got most of these for my pro-feminist son

My son loves Harriet and both the sequels (even The Long Secret, which I wasn't crazy about as a kid). The three authors who he has on heavy rotation are:

--Ramona (Beverly Cleary, of course!) Noah loves the whole series and goes back to it over and over again. As an aside, I always hoped that someday I might be lucky enough to parent a little girl as spunky as Ramona and our daughter Madison is all that and more!
--Vivian Vande Velde's speculative fiction, which includes some stellar female role models
--Lemony Snicket's books with two female heroines who are smart and brave and as apt to do the rescuing as their brother. Violet is a brilliant inventor. Sunny has baby teeth she can use as weapons.

My son is an equal opportunity reader and recently (at 12) picked up Anne of Green Gables not realizing that 12-year old boys are theoretically not supposed to want to read a book with a girl on the cover. He liked it, too (although he thought the descriptions ran a little long -- I felt the same way when I was a kid).

Feminist fiction!

My all time favourite book (series) as a kid was written by Tamora Pierce, called the Lioness Rampant quartet. The heroine in the books switches places with her brother so she gets to become a Knight and he gets to become a mage. Its a book that I still remember vividly, and have reread on occaison. She is a fantastic author with quite a few books out all focus on strong female characters in their teens. I absolutely recommend her!


I prefer the Protector of the Small Quartet - no sex, realistic young romance for a non-magical girl. Begins with "First Test" (by Tamora Pierce, of course.)

I also recommend "Nina Kimberly the Merciless" by Christiana Ellis, published by Dragon Moon Press. A young barbarian princess sets out to kill the prince. :)

Question about Recommendation

Kim - I looked up the series Protector of the Small Quartet on GoodReads and several reviewers mentioned the third book, in which Keladry's mother encourages her to have sex with her boyfriend. So, while this might not qualify as actual sex, I think it's worth mentioning.

Thanks for your recommendations!

Moxy Jane, Austin, TX

Tamora Pierce!

Yes! Yes yes! As a feminist fantasy lover, I was thrilled to see this comment. I LOVED all Tamora Pierce's books (although do read them yourself before giving them to a very young girl -- there is some sex). Song of the Lioness, Protector of the Small, and The Immortals are all short series set in the same universe, all with wonderful heroines. Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens are set in another universe, and star a set of four young mages (three girls), and may be more suitable for a slightly older demographic -- there's not much sex, but there are some pretty graphic war and plague scenes. Not only is Pierce a fabulous feminist, all her books are also very stongly (though not, in my opinion, heavy-handedly) anti-racist and anti-classist. In The Will of the Empress, a stand-alone book with the Circle of Magic characters a few years later, one of the girl mages realistically and extremely touchingly (again, Pierce is not heavy-handed) falls in love for the first time -- with a woman. This is treated as exciting because it's a first love, but absolutely not anything unnatural. The book also explicitly deals with institutionalized/culturally sanctioned rape and forced marriage. It's definitely junior-high level intensity, but fantastic.

If anyone else is looking for fantasy for young feminists, I also recommend anything by Lloyd Alexander. Many of his protagonists are male, but his female characters are strong and multi-dimensional, and there's explicit and implicit references to the limits society puts on women and girls. His books are also very well-written, exciting, and thought-provoking. I still re-read some of them as a (young) adult, and am always impressed anew.

One more recommendation -- Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. There is some non-explicit sex. As an eleven-year-old reader I was a little scandalized that two people who were not married were having sex, but the richly drawn environment and the strong, complex heroines still fired up my imagination for months.

The Paper Bag Princess, by

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch. For my young self, this book was a paradigm shift. I learned that adventures are learning experiences, and that it really isn't all about getting the guy. While it's marketed for the younger end of your age spectrum, it's definitely a witty and appealing book for anyone, at any age.

hellls yes

i received this book from my grade one teacher and i attribute a lot of who i became because of it. at the time i don't think i really noticed how different it was but i definitely identified with Elizabeth and thankfully, i still do!
all of munsch's books tend to smash stereotypes and i love him for it.
i will definitely be reading these to my future children one day.

I love Babette Cole's books but especially: Princess Smartypants.
It's a picture book about a princess who thwarts several princes' attempts to kiss/marry her- she just doesn't want to get married! She likes fencing and motorbikes, and has a giant pet slug. Apparently there's a new one now, but I haven't read it.

Astrid Lindgren Rocks My Feminist World

When I saw the teaser for this post I knew Pippi Longstockings had to be on the list. Who doesn't love Pippi? But my very favorite feminist Lindgren character is Ronia from Ronia the Robber's Daughter. I don't have kids of my own, but I loved this book as a child. At 18 I read it aloud to my little sisters, who were then 6 and 8. They loved it and that week-long story session created wonderful bonding memories. Even today, at 34 years old, I still want to be Ronia!

I wholeheartedly agree with

I wholeheartedly agree with this! I love Ronia, the book was my absolute favourite as a kid, and have I bought it for tinies as any chance given. It's a wonderful adventure story, friendship story, and story about being brave. In general, Lindgren was quite ahead of her time when it comes to girls in stories (I can't think of anything quite as obvious as Ronia and Pippi, though, as least not available in translation). General win there.

The Wizard of Oz (and other Oz books)

The Wizard of Oz (and other Oz books) is another great one for young girls. While it's not overtly about feminism, Dorothy is the picture of bravery and self esteem—she stands up the the Wizard himself, Princess Languidere (who plans to take Dorothy's head for her own) as well as countless other villains of Oz who underestimate the brains of a little Kansas girl. Bonus points to author (and suffragist) L. Frank Baum for the character, Billinia—a tough talking female chicken who fears no one and saves the day in one book by laying an egg near the egg-phobic Nome King.

Take note: Opinions expressed are those of their respective authors, not necessarily those of Bitch. Dig?

Great list! I also have to

Great list! I also have to plug Great Books for Girls, by Kathleen Odean: -- the author is a children's librarian who has collected and commented on 600 books featuring strong girls and women for readers of all ages.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles

My favorite books as a kid (and among my favorites to this day) were the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia Wrede. They're not only funny and exciting reads, they also have a whole bunch of great female role models, especially Cimorene, Kazul, and Morwen.

Charlotte Doyle

A favorite my mine and my daughter's: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. Here's what School Library Journal wrote:

On a long, grueling journey from England to Rhode Island in 1802, a 12 year old changes from a prim and proper girl to a swashbuckling mate of a mutinous crew and is accused of murder by the captain. Awash with shipboard activity, intense feelings, and a keen sense of time and place, the story is a throwback to good old-fashioned adventure yarns on the high seas.

Great girl-power book!


song of the buffalo boy- is a great coming of age and empowering story for girls - especially grappling with sexuality / gender identity.

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Thanks for writing the great

Thanks for writing the great post! I really want my daughter dream of more than just kissing the prince. Actually, recently I was thinking about what I'm gonna read to my daughter and I also have found a couple of anti-princess books I'd like to share with you too:
1. Stella: star of the sea

2. "Fanny& Annabelle" By Holly Hobbie

3. "Adventure Annie Goes to Work" By Toni Buzzeo


Fairy-tale and Myth retellings often seem to have feminist leanings, at least in my view. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine comes to mind, as well as Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix (although for a slightly older crowd--there's some language and violence). Come to think of it, Gail Carson Levine did an entire series of retold fairy tales, and many of them were quite feminist. There's also Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer, as well as the rest of the books in that series. She did a book on Morgan Le Fey too, but I haven't read that one. For older readers, there's the Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray and Celia Rees' books (more Pirates and Sovay than Witch Child and Sorceress, at least in my opinion). The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley and Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi, while not outwardly feminist, both feature strong female lead characters.


Thank you to the poster and the commenters, this is just what I was looking for.

Corneila Funke is a

Corneila Funke is a wonderful writer - "The Princess Knight", "Princess Pigsty", and "Pirate Girl" are all wonderful picture books for younger kids. There's also the Inkheart series for older kids as well as "Igrane the Brave". Also, the Jane and the Dragon books by Martin Baynton are lots of fun too.

real-life heroes for girls

For real-life heroes for girls, here's a few written for middle-grade readers: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, about the teenage girl who got arrested for challenging segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, months before Rosa Parks. Colvin herself was interviewed for the book.

Also, Sky Sailors: True Stories of the Balloon Era, which includes real-life adventures of both women and men - such as Sophie Blanchard, known for her aerial fireworks displays in the early 1800s France, and British balloonist/parachutist Dolly Shepherd, who performed the first mid-air rescue in 1908.