As a middle school and high school English teacher, I often get requests for good book lists, often for girls because discerning mothers have found a lot of young adult fiction inappropriate.
The trick in finding good girl material revolves mainly around the issue of romance and self-esteem, which are generally the themes holding adolescent female fiction together. These themes deserve even more consideration for a girl who is reading above her reading level and might still be an elementary-aged child. Romances shape the way girls think about themselves, boys, and the process of dating and falling in love. Finding the right guy and getting married are pretty important choices, so helping girls develop an accurate perspective is paramount.
Below are some ideas and observations about teen and pre-teen girl lit, as well as a long list. Feel free to add your recommendations in the comment section. Advanced teen readers will be ready for adult literature. (If the advice below is indicative of pre-teen romance novels, you know what to expect in adult romances.)
Reading level is a critical consideration. I have a couple of cautions concerning this topic that all parents are serious about identifying and improving in their children.
1. While young children may test at a middle school reading level (because of their familiarity with advanced vocabulary or their ability to answer comprehension questions), their own personal reading level may actually be a little lower. We all tend to enjoy reading at a level that is not too difficult for us. While your young teen daughter may be able to read the vocabulary of Jane Eyre, she would likely not follow the story well enough to enjoy or understand the conflicts and characterization being articulated. Therefore, she would not enjoy the book, and she may dismiss reading that book in the future (when she could understand and enjoy it). This is critically important in regards to reluctant or slow readers! These children will never learn to enjoy reading if their reading material comes across too babyish or too cumbersome.
2. During middle school, you should (if possible) read aloud from books that are still too hard for your daughter to understand (see above advice), because hearing the difficult vocabulary and the cadence of reading complex sentences will boost their reading comprehension. Suggestions might include Shakespeare, the Brontes, Austen, Dickens, etc. (Reading to or with middle schoolers is still okay! It will help reluctant or poor readers to engage in the activity. Advanced readers may show impatience at being read to.)
3. Middle school is a great time for children to re-read a book that was a read-aloud two years before. (Hence, some of the easier books mentioned below.) There might also be allegories, allusions, and other literary devices which were too hard for a child to catch or understand when she was younger. Also, re-reading any book opens the possibility for a child to read like a teacher or a writer, instead of a student, because she is no longer reading for comprehension–she is exploring the story at its foundations. What a great opportunity!
Today’s literature for middle school and high school girls tends to include some or all of the following elements, so do your homework before you buy the book:
- girl hero–strongest character in the story (even stronger than adults or moral characters)
- weak, cruel, or absent males, other than the boyfriend (who will likely still be weaker than her)
- few or no in-tact family units–single mother, single father, or orphaned children
- romance: often includes a sexual encounter
- sexual or emotional abuse in main character’s past; sometimes minimized or presented as a reason for her merited violence or retaliation
- violent retaliation against a corrupt system of authority
- profanity, vulgar language, and/or sexual innuendos
Suggested criterion for teen girl-friendly reading material:
- beauty through character and integrity
- sexual purity of characters
- healthy adult relationships (at least one)
- promotes strength of family unit
- romantic relationship that grows out of mutual admiration, respect, communication, connectivity
- evil characters demonstrate cruelty, wrong choices, and selfish behavior, and they are punished/conquered by good characters or through natural consequences
- good triumphs over evil
Suggestions, for a girl reader (approximately 5th-9th grade reading level):
any Elizabeth George Speare books, esp. The Witch of Blackbird Pond & The Bronze Bow
Jacob Have I Loved
Helen Keller: The Story of My Life
any Madeline L’Engle book
The Secret Life of Bees
The Hiding Place
The Diary of Anne Frank
Claire Darcy period romances–out of print
Janette Oke romances (Lifeway Stores)
any Louisa May Alcott, esp. Little Women (& 2 sequels) and Eight Cousins (& 1 sequel)
any Jane Austen book (advanced reader)
short stories by Katherine Mansfield, O. Henry, Mark Twain, Jack London
Sherlock Holmes stories
Agatha Christie mysteries
any Irving Stone (historical romances)–out of print
any Lois Lowry, especially The Giver (& 2 sequels)
Marguerite Henry horse stories: Misty of Chincoteque & Stormy, Misty’s Foal, etc.
Gone with the Wind
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Chronicles of Narnia series
The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, & Little Lord Fauntleroy
The Anne of Green Gables series
A great website:
education/bookfinder/ empowering-books-for-girls/ empowering-books-for-middle- school-girls/
Have fun sending your daughter on a new adventure in literature!