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Parenting

21 Children's Books With Compelling Girl Leads

Some highlights of empowering picture books, middle grade titles and YA reads of the past 10 years.

Children’s books have long been a vehicle for showing kids who and what they can be. Thanks to classic characters like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Beezus and Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones, little readers have long seen that girls are more than sidekicks and can be just as adventurous as boys.

Over the past decade, a variety of titles have come out starring more girls who are unapologetically feisty, brave and full of spunk. They feature girls who challenge the norm and save the day. And most importantly, they put the spotlight on girls who embrace their differences and forge their own paths.

Here are a handful of these inspiring and fun titles, from picture books to graphic novels to middle grade and young adult reads. Check them out below.

"Ada Twist, Scientist"
Ada Twist, Scientist stars Ada, a character who loves problem-solving just like mathematician Ada Lovelace and scientist Marie Curie. Author Andrea Beaty is also behind the story Rosie Revere, Engineer and her upcoming book Sofia Valdez, Future Prez. (Buy here)
"Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match"
In this bilingual book, Marisol McDonald inspires kids to embrace what they love, even if it's not the norm. Little readers can take cues from Marisol's love of polka dots and stripes as well as peanut butter and jelly burritos. (Buy here)
"Ladybug Girl at the Beach"
The New York Times best-selling Ladybug Girl series highlights topics like friendship, playing outside and even rescue dogs. In this title, authors Jacky Davis and David Soman, who are married, highlight the way Lulu (also known as Ladybug Girl) overcomes her fear of the ocean. (Buy here)
"Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu"
Author Ylleya Fields created Princess Cupcake Jones to tackle the lack of representation in children's books. In the first book in her children's series, the princess, whom Fields based on her daughters, learns the importance of cleaning up and putting things where they belong. (Buy here)
"Lottie Paris and the Best Place"
Lottie Paris' love for the library shines in this book in which she makes friends with another child who loves reading. Together, they follow the rules of the library -- most of the time. This title is a follow-up to Angela Johnson's Lottie Paris Lives Here. (Buy here)
"Pepper Zhang, Artist Extraordinaire!"
Pepper Zhang, Artist Extraordinaire! is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign from author Jerry Zhang. He set out to create an Asian character for his daughter who was similar to the spunky book characters she already loved, like Eloise and Madeline. (Buy here)
"Extra Yarn"
In the New York Times best-seller Extra Yarn, a girl discovers a magical box full of yarn and brings color to her world through knitting. (Buy here)
"Dory Fantasmagory"
The mischievous Dory learns to play on her own since her siblings think she's too childish -- until Dory finally gets to prove herself. (Buy here)
"Harriet Gets Carried Away"
Harriet loves wearing costumes. But one day while wearing her penguin costume to shop for her birthday party, she gets caught up in a group of real penguins and must find her way back to her dads. (Buy here)
"This Is It"
Reminiscent of trailblazing ballerina Misty Copeland's kids' book Firebird, This Is It stars a character who doesn't start out confident in her dancing abilities but learns about her strengths through the help of her lively shadow. (Buy here)
"The First Rule of Punk"
After a rough first day of school, Malú takes her dad's advice and remembers the "first rule of punk," which is to be yourself. She ends up starting a band and standing up for self-expression. (Buy here)
"Bink and Gollie"
Bink and Gollie are best friends with distinctly different eccentricities. The book series from award-winning authors Kate DiCamillo (the author behind The Tale of Despereaux) and Alison McGhee (author of Someday ) puts their friendship on display as they go on adventures together. (Buy here)
"Roller Girl"
Roller Girl, a New York Times best-selling graphic novel, is about a girl who goes to roller derby camp. Along the way, she worries about the possibility of a lost friendship and her impending first days of middle school while learning her strengths through roller derby. (Buy here)
"Merci Suárez Changes Gears"
In this Newbery Medal-winning title, author Meg Medina sums up the struggles of middle school and highlights family relationships through her character Merci Suárez. Robin Yardi, author of The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, described Medina as the "Judy Blume for a new generation." (Buy here)
"Nimona"
This National Book Award Finalist and New York Times best-selling graphic novel introduces readers to Nimona, a shape-shifter who teams up with a villain. (Buy here)
"Front Desk"
Mia Tang's parents are immigrants working at a motel who secretly help other immigrants by letting them stay in empty rooms for free. Throughout the book, Mia grapples with the risks her family takes as well as the possibility of becoming a writer, even though English is not her first language. (Buy here)
"Giants Beware!"
Giants Beware! is the first book about the adventures of Claudette, a scrappy warrior who learns giants aren't what she originally thought. The book earned a spot on A Mighty Girl's 2018 list of "Top 60 Graphic Novels Starring Mighty Girls." (Buy here)
"Amal Unbound"
In her Pakistani village, Amal puts her dreams of becoming a teacher aside to help her family and is later forced into indentured servitude to settle a debt. This New York Times best-seller puts the spotlight on the fight for girls' education. (Buy here)
"To All the Boys I've Loved Before"
Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before has been everywhere in the last year, thanks to the 2018 Netflix film based on the New York Times best-seller (the first in a series). Protagonist Lara Jean writes letters to her crushes she never intends to deliver, but when they do land in the hands of the boys she's loved, she has to juggle the consequences. (Buy here)
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone features multiple strong young women, most notably its main character Zélie, who is fiercely loyal as she sets out to return magic to her people. The sequel is due later this year, and the movie adaptation of the first book recently landed its director. (Buy here)
"On the Come Up"
Angie Thomas, author of the New York Times best-seller The Hate U Give (now a movie starring Amandla Stenberg), returns with a story about 16-year-old Bri, the daughter of a hip-hop artist on his way to fame before he was murdered. In spite of the stereotypes she faces, Bri fights to become a successful rapper in her own right and help her family. (Buy here)