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March 19, 2019

Princess, Poets and Pilots — In these Books, Girls are the Main Characters

Girl reading

Discover 14 great books with strong female characters recommended by the Brighter Readers Book Crew!

In children’s books, strong female characters used to be hard to find. Too often, they were the rare heroines in a sea of characters waiting to be rescued. But today, it’s not rare to find alternative versions of old princess tales, as well as even more stories about real and imagined girls and women doing great things.

We asked members of our Brighter Readers Book Crew to share their favorite children’s books with strong female characters. Check our list out and share your favorite reads with us in the the comments!

Chloe Day is the children and teen services coordinator at Bedford Public Library where she works with young children, families, and educators to increase early literacy in the community. This is her pick:

Interstellar Cinderella
Deborah Underwood, author, and Meg Hunt, Illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, read along with pre-school and pre-k learners, school age

Once upon a planetoid,
amid her tools and sprockets,
a girl named Cinderella dreamed
of fixing fancy rockets.

With a little help from her fairy godrobot, Cinderella is going to the ball. But when the prince’s ship has mechanical trouble, someone will have to zoom to the rescue! Readers will thank their lucky stars for this irrepressible fairy tale retelling, its independent heroine, and its stellar happy ending.

“This is a fractured fairy tale that presents Cinderella as a spaceship mechanic. The fun rhymes and bold illustrations make it a great read-along for K-2nd graders.”

After you read: Ask, “In what ways is this Cinderella different from the Cinderella with the crystal slipper?”

Kirsten Eamon-Shine has a six-year-old son and way too many children’s books at her house. She also directs Early Learning Indiana‘s communications. This is her pick:

Jenny and the Cat Club
Esther Averill, author and illustrator
Best for: read aloud with preschool and pre-K, school-age

A story of a female little black cat who conquers shyness by being brave and kind. From welcoming new friends to finding our own special gifts, Averill’s sweet stories offer great chances to discuss the inevitable pitfalls and triumphs of being a little person in a very big world.

“Shortly before his fourth birthday, we started reading chapter books each day to my son. This story has led to many meaningful conversations — and it’s one of our son’s favorite books of all time. We adore the ways that Jenny Linsky develops friendships, the kind relationship she has with her human and the way she welcomes newcomers to her home.”

After you read: Each member of the cat club must discover and show off their talent to be admitted. Talk about your family’s talents. Then, perform them for one another.

Amy Healton is a mom of two and an early learning and development expert at Early Learning Indiana. This is her pick:

Violet the Pilot
Steve Breen, author and illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, read along with pre-school and pre-k learners, school age

“Violet is a engaging and funny character who begins her foray as an inventor and pilot at two. By eight, she had built a plane from junkyard scraps. She thinks that earning a blue ribbon in the fair might make the kids at school quit teasing her for being different, but in the end her kindness and bravery shine and help her cement positive friendships. This book is playful and funny with wonderful messages about individuality, courage and caring.”

After you read: Find some paper and make paper airplanes together!

Allyson Hischemiller loves art, nature and books. She also works at Indy Reads Books. This is her pick:

Princesses Behaving Badly
Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, author
Best for: school age

“This a great book for girls in middle grades who are reading on their own and learning about what it is to be their own woman. This books gives another look at history. Real princesses were not always meek and benevolent leaders. Some were ruthless in their quest for power. Their stories are incredibly compelling.”

After you read: Visit the library. Go on a hunt for compelling female historic figures and learn about their stories together.

Vicki Lehman is a professional development specialist at Child Care Answers. She has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and spent her first seven years out of college teaching in a pre-K classroom. Some of her favorite books are by Dr. Seuss. This is her pick:

Rosie Revere, Engineer
Angela Beaty, author, and David Roberts illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, read along with preschool and pre-k learners

Rosie Revere dreamed of becoming a great engineer. Where some people see rubbish, Rosie sees inspiration. Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends.

“This book is an incredible story about a young girl who dreams of being a engineer. In this book, you see Rosie go from someone with a quiet dream to someone who owns exactly who she is. This story lends itself well to discussing persistence, failure and having fun!”

After you read: Gather empty containers and bottles, cereal boxes, toilet paper tubes and masking tape. Now, use your imagination and create something!

Crystal Givens is Early Learning Indiana‘s vice president of statewide support. Crystal has a bachelor’s degree in child development and family life from Indiana State University and an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University. This is her pick:

Dream Big, Little One
Vashiti Harrison, author
Best for: babies, one-year-olds, two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come. Among these women, you’ll find heroes, role models and everyday women who did extraordinary things — bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come.

“This book celebrates African American women who have made significant contributions to our country and world.”

After you read: Ask, “What is something you are proud of doing that you were scared to do before?” “How did you feel after doing that?”

Lisa Land is the mother of two awesome little boys! This is her pick:

Mae Among The Stars
Roda Ahmed, author, and Stasia Burrington, illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds, school age

When Little Mae was a child, she dreamed of dancing in space. She imagined herself surrounded by billions of stars, floating, gliding, and discovering.
She wanted to be an astronaut.
Her mom told her, “If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.”

“My boys love this book. To them, it’s just a true story about a kid following her dreams. They don’t care that she’s a girl or that her skin is darker than ours. Someday they’ll understand the history around these issues and how they make Mae Jemison’s story even more awesome, which is a great reason to have them grow up with stories like this one.”

After you read: Talk about your dreams. “What is something you’ve always wanted to do?” “Are there places you want to visit some day?”

Vicci Rydzinski is a wife and the mom of a spunky two-year-old boy! Vicci is also the manager of family child care support at Early Learning Indiana. These are her picks:

This Little Trailblazer
Joan Holub, author, and Daniel Roode, illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

This book is all about influential women who changed history in this engaging and colorful board book perfect for trailblazers-in-training!

Paving the way
to a future that’s bright.
Helping the world
with their skills, smarts, and might.

Little trailblazers cause great big changes.

“This book is a great story of influential women who changed history. The illustrations are so colorful and full of life!”

After you read: Talk about the characters. “Who is your favorite trailblazer?” “Why is she your favorite?” “Why do you think what she did was important?”

Mynda Cruz is a youth librarian at Tippecanoe County Public Library. These are her picks:

Mister and Lady Day
Amy Novesky, author, and Vanessa Brantley Newton, illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds, school age

Billie Holiday — also known as Lady Day — had fame, style, a stellar voice, gardenias in her hair and lots of dogs. She had a coat-pocket poodle, a beagle, Chihuahuas, a Great Dane and more, but her favorite was a boxer named Mister.

“This is a picture book biography about Billie Holiday. It introduces her through her love of dogs and her special dog called Mister. I like the idea of it as a lead in for kids to a famous singer and jazz.”

After you read: Listen to the music of Billie Holiday. Sway, dance and sing.

Ada Lovelace Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer
Diane Stanley, author, and Jessie Hartland, illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, read along with pre-school and pre-k learners

Two hundred years ago, a daughter was born to the famous poet, Lord Byron, and his mathematical wife, Annabella. Like her father, Ada had a vivid imagination and a creative gift for connecting ideas in original ways. Like her mother, she had a passion for science, math and machines.

“Ada Lovelace was the female version of Leonardo Da Vinci. She has become famous today as the first computer programmer, but she was interested in so much more, including a flying machine. This picture book biography introduces her in a fun and creative manner.”

After you read: Talk about the gifts and talents of each family member. Everyone is good at something, and we all learn from each other. “What is something you learn from mom?” “Do you know what I’ve learned from you?”

Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly
Alan Madison, author, and Kevin Hawkes, illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds

This book is great for children with older siblings: Velma, is littlest Gratch, entering the first grade. Everyone has marvelous memories of her two older sisters, who were practically perfect first graders. Poor Velma — people can barely remember her name. But all that changes on a class trip to the magnificent Butterfly Conservatory — a place neither of her sisters has ever been.

“Butterflies are neat, and we all love it when we visit a butterfly pavilion and a special one lands on us. Velma is a first grader who finds her confidence in this special meeting with a butterfly.”

After you read: Spend some time outdoors, and find bugs and insects. Make plans to visit a butterfly sanctuary or a park where you can be surrounded by nature.

Me… Jane
Patrick McDonnell, author
Best for: two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds, Infants, five-year-olds

This is the story of the young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of “a life living with and helping all animals,” until one day she finds that her dream has come true.

“This is a lovely, very simple, picture biography. The adventures of Jane and her stuffed toy Jubilee show the world of kids when allowed to explore their curiosities.”

After you read: Ask, “What do you dream of doing some day?” Consider reading more books about chimpanzees or Goodall together to continue to learn from her example.

Jennifer Delgadillo is a proud auntie and the content specialist for Early Learning Indiana. This is her pick:

My Name is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter
Jeanette Winter, author and illustrator
Best for: two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

“This is the story of how Georgia O’Keeffe dreamed of being an artist and then became an artist. The story shows little readers how an artist has a special way of seeing the world, by explaining how and why O’Keeffe painted flowers, deserts, bones and clouds. Even if you are not an artist, the story shows there are special ways to see the world, and anyone can appreciate them if they know how to look. “

After you read: Go to a museum and see a painting made by Georgia O’Keeffe. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields and the Brauer Museum at Valparaiso University all have pieces in their collections. Not up for a trip? You can find beautiful examples online too. Or head outdoors and find something special to draw or paint.

CJ Woods, III, is a retired creative director and currently a writer/columnist for The Weekly View community newspaper in Indianapolis. He’s also the father of two girls and one boy and grandfather of two girls and one boy. He’s been a joyful reader to them all. This is his pick:

I Like Myself!
Karen Beaumont, author, and David Catrow, illustrator
Best for: babies, one-year-olds, two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

High on energy and imagination, this ode to self-esteem encourages kids to appreciate everything about themselves — inside and out. Messy hair? Beaver breath? So what! Here’s a little girl who knows what really matters.

“A girl proclaims that she likes herself in every way possible; the exuberant illustrations serve to make the point that she is happy to be who she is.”

After you read: List all the things you like about yourself and each other.

Brighter Readers Book Crew is a group of early education professionals, child advocates, parents and book-loving experts that want to share their love of stories and books with families all across the state. Want to share the books you love and why you think they are great? Send a message to with the subject line Book Crew.

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