15 Books to Empower Tween Girls
Reading a book that speaks to her struggles is a great way for a tween girl to feel empowered to become her own biggest advocate as her life changes. Empowered female leads with similar life obstacles will help your tween feel less lonely as she matures and begins to navigate a wider world.
As you peruse the list of YA books below, keep your child's specific needs and maturity level in mind as some books are not appropriate for every tween.
by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman may tell fairy tales, but they’re not the light and fluffy fare you’re used to. Coraline is a twisted tale where the young heroine finds herself in an alternative universe with alternative versions of her parents. But these new parents are slightly sinister, and Coraline has to use her wit and courage to get back home.
Girls who aren’t into fairy dust but love to read fantasy will love to adventure alongside Coraline.
Harriet the Spy
by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet sees herself as a spy. Taking her duties seriously, she writes down everything she knows about her friends and family in a notebook she always has with her. Of course, trouble comes for Harriet when she loses her notebook and secrets that she was never meant to tell leak out into the open.
This book will show young girls that it’s not only important to take responsibility for their actions, but it’s important to repair relationships as well.
by Gail Carson Levine
Yes, this is a retelling of Cinderella, but in this version, marrying a prince won’t help Ella solve her problems.
In Levine’s charming story, Ella’s well-meaning (but rather unskilled) fairy godmother “blesses” Ella with a terrible gift – Ella must obey any direct order given her. But Ella is intelligent and strong, and she has many spectacular adventures as she works to overcome obstacles and solve her own problems.
Girls who lean toward independence while maintaining strong friendships will love this book.
by Cynthia Kadohata
Katie Takashima’s world changes when her family moves from Iowa to Georgia in the 1950s. The Japanese-American family experiences racism and other hardships as they adjust, but they only really start to fall apart when Katie’s sister is diagnosed with lymphoma.
It’s the thought of kira-kira (things that glitter and shine) that keeps Katie focused on the good things in her world. Things like the shining sky, the twinkle in the eyes of a friend, and the sparkling hope of the future.
Kira-Kira will speak to girls who are experiencing difficult situations that are completely out of their control.
A Smart Girl’s Guide to Knowing What to Say
by Patti Kelley Criswell
As girls grow up, they’re confronted with increasingly difficult life experiences as well as more complicated relationships. This non-fiction book will help empower girls by guiding them through hundreds of potentially difficult conversations, from asking for help to comforting a friend who has lost a loved one.
This book is part of a series, and it will help tweens become better communicators as they navigate life changes and new emotions.
Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O’Dell
After a series of increasingly tragic events, a young girl named Karana finds herself living alone on an island. Karana learns to survive on her own; she builds shelter, finds and stores food, and even builds weapons for hunting and protection.
This story of survival is based on true events in the mid-1800s off the coast of California. This book will speak to tweens who love adventure stories or to tweens who may feel lonely or out of place.
by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl isn’t like the other girls. She’s colorful, she’s outspoken, and she definitely marches to the beat of her own drum. When she first bursts onto the scene of her new school, her differences enchant her fellow classmates – but that doesn’t last long.
Most students eventually begin to shun Stargirl when she doesn’t conform to the “norm”, but Stargirl never wavers from her strong sense of self.
Stargirl will inspire tweens to be themselves when the world around them seems to demand conformity.
The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia
by Esther Hautzig
There are many worthwhile books about WWII and the Holocaust, but this one is a little different. This is a non-fiction story of a Jewish family that was arrested in Poland and sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. The reader sees the family’s struggles through the eyes of 10-year-old Esther. She works long hours in the fields with her grandmother while her mother and father mine gypsum. The family endures harsh Siberian weather, hunger, and other hardships.
Esther draws strength and support from her family to survive these hardships as well as normal coming-of-age issues, so girls who have close relationships with their families will love this book.
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories
by Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew, girl detective. You’ve heard of her, and you might think the stories are old-fashioned or cheesy, but Nancy has influenced several powerful, real-life women. The list includes Sandra Day O’Conner, Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and more.
Over the years, Nancy has become a symbol representing culturally contradicting values, showing girls that they can be both sweet and strong, independent and dependent, and discerning and accepting.
These books are lighter, fun-loving fare, but they’re potential compelling reads for almost any tween.
by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
In this retelling of Rapunzel, our heroine isn’t exactly a damsel in distress. Instead, she’s a Wild West hero who rights wrongs and saves lives. While her long hair is still a part of her identity, it’s a symbol of her power and resourcefulness since she uses it as a lasso and whip.
Even though Rapunzel is a hero in her own right, she pairs up with Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame) to tame the wild landscape she finds herself in.
This graphic novel will show tween girls that it’s OK to be strong and resourceful members of their communities.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
During the Great Depression, young Cassie Logan and her family are doing everything they can to keep their farmland in Mississippi, but money isn’t their only worry. The Logan family is black and living in the South where racism is an everyday occurrence. White kids bully the Logan kids at school, and adult friends and neighbors are enduring violence and death.
Reading about the emotional and physical hardships of the Logan family, as filtered through 9-year-old Cassie, will help tweens learn about compassion and the value of looking out for family and community members.
The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley
If you were a princess, what would you do if your mother died of distress because you weren’t a boy? If your red hair and pale skin set you apart from your entire community? If you didn’t inherit the magical powers that all royalty in the past and present has inherited?
Princess Aerin finds herself in such circumstances. Rather than mourn for her broken path, Aerin sets out with determination to create her own path. It’s an exciting journey that includes science, swordplay, and dragon slaying.
Girls who may appear shy on the outside but long for adventure on the inside will relate to Aerin’s patience and internal determination. This is the first in the Doran book series, which is non-linear.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith
In 1912, Francie Nolan is a second-generation Irish-American living in Brooklyn. Her family is poor, her father’s an alcoholic, and her mother works as a cleaning lady to support the family.
But Francie has something going for her; it’s a word her family uses with reverence – education. While Francie loves learning and is as smart as a whip, it’s not easy to pull out of poverty no matter how hard you work. Despite the difficult story, this novel is a sensitive and beautiful masterpiece.
If your tween is thoughtful, emotional, and loves to learn, this book will resonate with her. Please note that while it’s not graphic, this story has an attempted sexual assault.
The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros
This coming-of-age story is told from the point of view of Esperanza Cordero. The author tells the story with journal vignettes, giving the reader glimpses into Esperanza’s life in an impoverished Latino community in Chicago.
This book is not only critically acclaimed, but it is beloved by readers and is required reading in many schools. Girls who are living their own coming-of-age story will relate to this book.
While the book isn’t graphic, it’s important to know that this story includes a sexual assault.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
by Marjane Satrapi
Based on the author’s own life, Persepoli begins in Iran, one year after the Islamic Revolution. Marjane navigates through normal growing pains while the country becomes more violent and unsure around her.
Many of her friends and loved ones are imprisoned or killed, and Marjane’s response is to become rebellious against the new and incredibly restrictive rules of her country.
This graphic novel is better for more mature readers, but it will help give tween and teen girls a wider sense of the world and encourage them to use the power they have as individuals.
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