I’ve been on a quest over the last few months to find some bedtime reading books that are a break from the usual narrative of princesses marrying a prince and living happily ever after. The word ‘feminist’ seems to spark all sorts of debates amongst men and women. As my daughter has grown up I’ve been clear about one thing: I want to raise a child that knows she can play with whatever toys she likes, watch Frozen or Dinosaur Train depending on what mood she is in, and that she can totally rock a cool pair of trainers to a party if she doesn’t fancy a frilly dress and shoes that she can’t run around in.
My daughter is currently 5 and has always liked a mix of books, films and ideas. She owns a Disney princess dress, but a pirate outfit and doctor’s coat hang next to it. Despite my late Nan’s best efforts to get her into dolls, my daughter has always preferred to surround herself with cuddly animals instead. When my Nan bought her a pink pushchair with a doll, my daughter quickly ditched the doll and replaced it with her toy panda, much to my Nan’s frustration! But while she’s not exactly a pink loving, tiara-wearing kind of girl, she’s not exactly a Tom Boy either. I was keen to find books that offer a balanced view of life: books that show that you can be anything you want to be, regardless of whether you’re a boy or a girl, princess or ‘Tom Boy’.
Inspirational books for girls
We own all of these books, and they have been road-tested by my daughter. They’d be a great addition to a bed time library in any house, but would also make a great gift for younger girls. Seeing as it took quite a lot of research to get this far, I thought it would help to share our thoughts. I’ve also shared a page from inside each of the books as I always find this so frustrating when I’m shopping for books online! I’ve published this post to co-incide with International Women’s Day 2018, but rest assured, this is not a one-day-wonder in our house: it’s a constant theme we are following.
Here are some of our favourite finds.
(This post includes affiliate links to Amazon)
1. Good night stories for rebel girls: 100 tales of extraordinary women
By Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
“To the rebel girls of the world:
And, when in doubt, remember
You are right.”
I’m starting off with one of our absolute favourites. My daughter had this book for Christmas (aged five years seven months), and she loves it. Even just the feel of the soft, smooth cover is rather special. She loves to hold it and thinks it’s really precious! Each double page spread in the book tells the story of a different woman from history, right through to modern times. Some of the names you’ll recognise, but some will be new to you, some are historical, others are contemporary: Jane Austen, Frida Kahlo, Hilary Clinton, Malala Yousafazai.
We like flicking through the book until a page catches our eye, and then I challenge my daughter to see if she can guess what the story is all about by looking at the illustration. Rather than just sharing the facts about the women, the stories are written from a creative point of view that helps my five year old imagine what it would have been like to be one of these women.
No matter the importance of their discoveries, the audacity of their adventures, the breadth of their genius – they were constantly belittled, forgotten, in some cases almost erased from history.
Amazingly, this book holds the record as the most funded original book in the history of crowdfunding with backers from over 70 countries. Despite plans of printing 1,000 copies on their first print run, the book has gone on to sell over 1 million copies around the world in 36 different languages!
There is now a second book in the series which we are looking forward to checking out, featuring ‘rebel girls’ from Boudicca to Beyonce.
2. If I could be
Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
This hardback book combines two books into one: “YOU CHOOSE” and “JUST IMAGINE”. It’s a beautifully detailed book that prompts children to wonder
‘What if you could be anyone, go anywhere, do anything?’.
The beauty of this book is that you can look at the images with children from a much earlier age group and the images can help prompt conversations. It’s great for developing ideas and encouraging children to talk and voice their thoughts and dreams. Throughout the book, you’ll see female inventors and engineers, a dentist, a taxi driver, a farmer, and an archaeologist
At the moment you can’t get the combined version of the book on Amazon or elsewhere on the internet (sorry!) , but you can purchase the first of the books which has the pages featured above in it ‘YOU CHOOSE’
3. She’s not good for a girl; she’s just good
Written by Suzanne Hemming illustrated by Jacquie Hughes 2017
This is another successful crowdfunding story with 61 supporters in 28 days enabling this mum to self-publish her book. Feeling frustrated as she read bedtime stories to her daughter which had outdated and old-fashioned messages about what girls could be when they grew up, she decided to take matters into her own hands and write her own book.
The story is about a sports-loving girl called Florence who is challenged to a race by another boy at school who thinks girls are rubbish at sport.
“I decided to put digit to keyboard and started writing what I hope you’ll one day agree are inspirational and funny stories. And not just for girls: we want our boys to read stories with messages of equality too. Let children be who they are and who they wish to be.”
You can get a copy of ‘She’s not good for a girl: she’s just good’ on Amazon.
4. Don’t kiss the frog: Princess Stories with attitude
Chosen by Fiona Waters
This collection of stories from seven writers and three illustrators aims to throw out the usual princess stereotype which is great if you have a pink/tiara/princess dress obsessive in your house.
“For the princesses in this book, the old rules no longer apply. They might still wear tiaras, but they do things their own way.”
The typographic design and layout is fun, and the illustrations are bold and bright.
My daughter enjoys the ‘Clumsy Princess’ tale which tells the story of a princess who was always getting into trouble for not being graceful and elegant. It turns out she has plenty of skills in other areas though as she finds herself becoming the star of the show at the King’s Royal Jousting contest.
You can get a copy of ‘Don’t Kiss the Frog: Princess stories with attitude’ on Amazon.
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Julia Donaldson is incredibly well known for ‘The Gruffalo’, and ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’ and these books alone have sold over 17 million copies worldwide! I’ve found that some of her less well known books are my favourites and I really like how ‘Zog’ promotes the idea that you don’t just have to follow the stereotype: you can follow your dream.
This book tells the story of an accident-prone dragon as he progresses through Dragon School. Along the way he meets a princess that isn’t fazed by a flame-breathing dragon. Instead, she wants to help him and his friends. The book is written in Julia’s fantastic rhyming style, so it’s fun to read out loud as a grown up, too. I’ve just found out that there is now a follow-up to this book: ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’ which was published in September 2017. We’ll be adding this to our collection soon!
“Don’t rescue me! I won’t go back to being a princess
And prancing round the palace in a silly dress.
“I want to be a doctor, and travel here and there,
Listening to people’s chests and giving them my care.”
‘Zog’ is available on Amazon too.
6. The Worst Princess
Anna Kemp and illustrated by Sarah Ogilvie
This book is sass on a stick! You’ll find yourself smiling as you read it.
Princess Sue is a feisty princess that dreams of being rescued by a prince… But then quickly realises that she wants much more out of life.
It’s pacey to read, it rhymes, and the illustrations are detailed and fun. Princess Sue is unstoppable!
I think this is a great antidote to the traditional fairy princess story. Seeing as the front cover is in bold, non-gender specific colours (i.e. not pink and flowery) there is a strong chance that both girls and boys might feel comfortable picking it up.
Here are the details if you’d like to purchase ‘The Worst Princess’ on Amazon. Watch out for the hardback version though: no idea why that is currently £96!
7. Three cheers for women
“Meet writers, and warriors, astronauts and activists, with one thing in common – they’re all amazing women.”
Marcia Wilson has a distinctive way of weaving facts, quotes and jokes together in a comic book layout. This book introduces inspirational women from all around the world and spans many decades. The fun illustrations will have your children picking up the book and looking at the pictures, even if they are too young to read the book themselves. I love how you can go from reading about
Marie Curie, physicist and chemist who was born in 1867 to Malala Yousafzai , children’s and women’s rights activists who was born in 1997!
If you want to add ‘Three cheers for Women’ to the list, you can find a copy on Amazon.
8. Rosie Revere Engineer
This book has had phenomenal success in America as a New York Times bestseller and an iTunes top 10 bestseller, but has been a little harder to get hold of in the UK.
The main gist of the book is that there is no need to get stressed out, trying to get things right. Children should have fun and learn from their mistakes. Hearing about Rosie’s adventures should inspire kids to feel empowered. They can use their creativity to solve problems and find answers: the fear of failure shouldn’t ever stop them.
I like how this is a book with a female lead character, but the story has equal appeal to boys and girls, and to children of different ages too.
This book actually took my husband by surprise when he read it for the first time as he found himself getting a bit emotional!
Here’s a link to find ‘Rosie Revere, Engineer’ on Amazon.
Share your recommendations
These are a few of the books I was able to find, but I would LOVE to hear of others that I could add to this list so that it becomes an ‘ultimate guide’ to books to inspire both girls and boys to follow their dreams and be who they want to be. Maidenhead residents will be pleased to know that our local libraries have copies of some of these books which you can order online to borrow, but I am also requesting that they add some of the others to their catalogue!
Please drop me a comment on this post or on social media if you have any suggestions of books that I can add to the list!
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