Inside: Girls can do anything is a book list to inspire your daughter to believe in herself, dream big, and color outside the lines.
I heard some maddening things when I was growing up. Most times it was subtle and unintentional (“It’s a pretty good kick for a girl” because obviously, girls can’t play soccer). Often it was simply unfair like when you were supposed to do dishes and wash the floor because “you are a girl” while your brother was outside kicking a ball because “he is a boy.”
The worse was the flagrantly offensive statements like: “You should consider stopping athletics. Girls should be soft and huggable, not muscular,” and “The most important thing a girl can do is bear a son.“
So how did a girl brought up that way manage to leave her family at sixteen to go to college in another country and explore the big, wide world on her own terms?
I read a lot.
From the books, I learned that girls don’t have to be weak and helpless. It’s a choice. Girls can be as strong and independent as they wish. In fact, the only thing to stop them is their imagination’s limits.
My kids live in a different world, but I like to introduce them to books that open their sense of possibilities, stir their imagination, and expand their definition of “brave.” We read a lot of books about those subjects.
Here are some of our favorites.
P.S. Boys will love these books too.
A book list to inspire your daughter
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Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Jane Goodall might go down in history books as the most famous primatologist of all times, but, for me, her story always is about girls sticking together and the power of a mother’s love. In her twenties, Jane got her first opportunity to live in Africa and study wild chimpanzee on the shores of Lake Tanganyika (what she had dreamed about since childhood), but the British government wouldn’t allow it. A single young woman living in Africa with a group of male scientists? Out of the question. Mom to the rescue! Jane’s mom volunteered to travel with Jane and live there with her.
This picture book biography by Patrick McDonnell doesn’t go into too many details, but it’s a great introduction to Jane Goodall, a little girl who decided that one day she would study African animals in the wild, and she did. I love the cream-colored paper, ink and watercolor drawings. I also love glimpses of her science notebooks and the jump to a color photograph on the page where her dreams come true. The Caldecott Honor medal is well deserved.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Molly Lou Melon is short, but she doesn’t mind. Her grandmother told her that if she walks proudly, the world will look up to her. Molly Lou Melon has buck teeth, but her grandmother told her to smile big anyway, and so she does. Molly Lou Melon makes mistakes, but it’s okay because the most important thing in life is to “believe in yourself and the world will believe in you too.”
One day, all of the grandmother’s pearls of wisdom come to a test. And you know what? Grandmother was right! The illustrations are absolutely delightful, and I guarantee you will be running to the library to get the other Molly Lou books to teach little girls (and boys) to love who they are and to believe in themselves.
Marie Curie by Demi
Marie Curie is best known for discovering radium and coining the term “radioactivity.” But she is also responsible for breaking many gender stereotypes in her lifetime. She is the first woman to win the Nobel prize and the first person to win the Nobel prize twice (in physics and chemistry). She is the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from a French university. And the first female professor at the Sorbonne.
Writing a kid-friendly book about such a fascinating and complex life is not easy, but Demi does it with great skill and enthusiasm. We get a picture of a hard working lady, who’s is undaunted by the challenges of motherhood, poor working conditions, and her husband’s tragic death. We learned she even drove and operated a mobile x-ray track during the First World War! Through beautiful artwork and elegant narration, Demi manages to turn all the different facts of Marie Curie’s life into an inspiring story about an extraordinary scientist.
Tough Chicks by Cece Meng, illustrated by Melissa Suber
This hilarious book is sure to become one of your favorites. Baby chicks are supposed to be cute, quiet, and good. But chicks Penny, Polly, and Molly don’t think so. They wrestle with worms and race bugs. They also dive off the fence after the flies. “Make them be good,” say farm animals to the mama hen. “They are good,” she replies, but sometimes she worries. When farm birds try to teach her daughters basic chicken skills like scratching for grain and clucking, Penny, Polly and Molly sketch tractors, experiment with mud, and study the trajectory of flight. It all comes home to roost one day when a broken tractor is racing down the hill into a henhouse. Who will save the day? The tough chicks, of course. You will hear, “read it again” from your children the moment you read the last word on the last page.
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca
There weren’t many (any?) female animal scientists in the 1960s, but Temple Grandin didn’t let that bother her. After all, she was used to challenges. As an autistic child, she was teased, misunderstood and sent away from her family in Boston to live with a relative on a farm in Texas.
She went on to earn degrees in psychology and animal science, revolutionized the cattle industry, wrote books, and became a world-renowned speaker. The book encourages you to follow your interests, grow at your own pace, and to “keep learning, especially from your mistakes.” All great lessons delivered in a fun, bouncy, rhyming prose.
Someday by Eileen Spinelli
This a great book to encourage girls to dream big but enjoy the simple pleasures of today. Painting by the sea, digging for dinosaur bones, becoming an Olympic gymnast, studying penguins at the South Pole, having lunch with the president: nothing is off limits. At the same time, the author encourages children to grasp each moment and see what it has to offer.
We enjoyed the humor in the illustrations, like when the little girl imagines the day she would find dinosaur bones in a farmer’s field. She thought “the farmer will faint with surprise,” and you can see his legs sticking out from the corner of the page. My seven-year-old just loved it.
We fell in love with Eileen Spinelli from the first book, and she has never disappointed us yet.
Curious George Joins the Team by Margret & H. A. Rey
Tina wants to play with other kids on the basketball court, but she is too shy to ask. When she finally finds the courage to do so, the other kids look skeptically at her wheelchair and wonder, “you play basketball?” They don’t have to wonder for long. Curious George throws the ball to Tina, and she scores, and then again, and again because despite what everyone thinks, Tina is very good at basketball.
The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca
“If you like to think big, but some say you’re too small, or they say you’re too young or too slow or too tall… Pay no mind to their doubts, and just follow the path of one awesome inventor Patricia E. Bath.” When Patricia was a little girl, she got a chemistry set and discovered that science is cool. She decided that when she grew up, she would use science to help the world’s sick and the poor. Her parents encouraged her to start by getting a good education.
In her life and career, Dr.Bath met many obstacles and unfair restrictions. In medical school, girls weren’t allowed to sit in the front row. But she knew “anything boys can do, girls can do too.” And she went on to do many great things, including inventing a laser tool that helped restore and improve vision. She also became the first African American female doctor to receive a patent for medical purpose.
“So, if helping the world seems too hard, you are wrong. If some say you can’t do it, don’t listen. Be Strong. Like Patricia, stay focused. Push forward. Shine bright. And you’ll find all your dreams will be well within sight.”
Olivia Forms a Band by Ian Falconer
Not every inspiring character has to be a famous scientist or a talented mathematician. Olivia is neither. But there’s one thing she does really well and that’s being Olivia. She has a strong personal sense of style. She is tireless in pursuit of what’s right. She has a huge imagination, and she’s not afraid to show her original thinking. She also is energetic, and even though it often lands her in trouble, she never stops experimenting.
There are eleven original books in the Olivia series, plus eight more inspired by the television series. The original eleven books were written and illustrated by the amazingly funny Caldecott Honor author Ian Falconer. I don’t know other children’s books that make us laugh so much. I never get tired of re-reading books about Olivia’s adventures.
The Girl on the High-Diving Horse: an Adventure in Atlantic City by Linda Oatman High, illustrated by Ted Lewin
It’s the 1930s, and the High-Diving Horses are the biggest show in Atlantic City. A pretty teenaged girl dressed in a swimming suit rides a horse up a 40-60 foot tall ramp and jumps, “the horse and rider suspended high in silent air… dropping” into a pool of water. Crazy? Brave? You will get a thrill looking at the beautiful illustrations made in the style of linen postcards while learning about this true historical attraction.
This is another book about dreams coming true, but not right away. At the center of the story is a girl who has a dream to become one of the girls on a high diving horse. Is she brave enough? What would her dad say? Ten years later her dream comes true, and her dad is right there by her side taking pictures.
A fascinating fact not mentioned in the book (that you might want to share with your children) is that one of the high diving girls was blinded when she hit the water with her eyes open (the impact separated the retinas). She kept jumping for 11 more years, even though she was absolutely blind. Another astonishing fact is those horses would sometimes not wait for the rider but raced up the ramp and jumped off into the water on their own accord because they loved doing it.
Zephyr Takes Flight by Steve Light
In this story, a bright little girl named Zephyr dreams of being a pilot. Someday. Right now she gets into trouble for executing her signature triple loop-de-loops off the couch and straight into the china cabinet. Her parents send her for a timeout in her room where she has an amazing adventure that involves (yes) piloting a flying machine and flying pigs. Imagination can be a great friend if you know how to put it to good use.
If you are familiar with Steve Light’s illustrations from his other books, you know you are in for a treat. A beautiful combination of sienna, yellow, and ochre, as well as a mix of ink, colored pencils, and panpastels creates amazing illustrations that your children will study with a magnifying glass. Many rich and exciting details from photographs on the walls to flying pigs’ memorabilia contribute to making this creative story even better.
Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Amy Krouse Rosenthal (a talented Chicago author who recently died of cancer) and her daughter packaged life-earned wisdom and practical advice into a kid-friendly letter-format book of inspiration. The main premise is that girls can do anything as long as they heed to their instincts and listen to their brave side. And if they need to have a good cry along the way, it’s totally fine.
I love everything about this book: humor, illustrations, and touching advice. Each page will spark something deep inside any girl who sees it. I think it’s one of those books that every girl should own and use as a pick-me-up when she needs it.
“Dear Girl, you know what’s really boring? When people say how bored they are!”
“Dear Girl, if your instinct is telling you to say no, say no, you know?”
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
This book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 70 weeks for a reason. It’s fun, dynamic, inspiring, and moving. The second-grader at the center of the story dreams of being an engineer but almost gives up on her dream because her first few inventions don’t come out exactly as she envisioned them. She’s lucky that a relative with just the right attitude turns up to show her that “the only true failure can come if you quit.”
A Chicagoland author, Andrea Beaty, has an extensive background in technical writing, which she claims prepared her for writing for kids. The rhyming verse of Rosie Revere is perfection. It reads almost like a song. Detailed, mixed media illustrations are sure to keep you busy for a long time. Definitely read this together with other Andrea Beaty’s amazing books.
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker
Katherine was good at math. In fact, she was so good that she was ready for high school by the time she was ten. It didn’t impress the all-white school board of the local high school, and they refused her admission. But Katherine’s intense curiosity and love of math served her well. She became a great public school teacher and raised three daughters.
When her girls were older, an opportunity presented itself for Katherine to become part of the NASA team, and the rest is history. My kids enjoyed learning how NASA uses math to make navigation charts and calculate the trajectory of flights. And, of course, we learned how Katherine’s math brilliance helped Apollo’s astronauts return home.
Betsy Ross by Alexandra Wallner
Betsy Ross is the person credited with designing the first American flag. There’s not enough historical evidence to say if she did or didn’t, but one thing is for sure: Betsy Ross is a pretty fascinating character.
Women might have had little power in Colonial Times, but Betsy Ross didn’t let it stop her. While her husbands (three to be precise, but not at the same time) were marching off to wars and getting themselves killed, Betsy Ross rolled up her sleeves and built a successful business while raising a bunch of kids.
This book is written for older kids, but you can easily make it interesting for younger ones by condensing details of her love life into “hmm… another wedding,” and employing suspenseful “oh no, oh no,” as you quickly scan the page to see which details you can skip.
There are so many more wonderful books that can be included here. Did I miss your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.