This list was originally published at Booklights on July 13 and July 20, 2009, in response to a request for book suggestions for series titles featuring adventurous girls. I kept the original list fairly well focused on a few spunky, middle grade, female protagonists. However lots of others were suggested in the comments of the original post, and so I did an add-on list. This post combined the two lists into one.
Series Books Featuring Adventurous Girls
A commenter on my personal blog asked an interesting question the other day about book recommendations for girls. Susan wrote:
"My friend and I each have a son and daughter in the 3rd to 5th grade range. We were talking about what the kids were currently reading. In the course of our conversation, we both agreed it was much harder to find books that our girls were interested in than our boys. Given that I often read about the reverse here and on other kidlit blogs, I thought I'd mention it.
There are some great series that are more geared for boys like The Ranger's Apprentice, The Overland Chronicles and even the Percy Jackson books. While many girls enjoy these books, they have more of a boy bent to them to me. The series books for girls are about fairies or horses or mean girl behavior. In terms of currently popular series books, you've got those subjects or the Clementine/Ramona/Junie B. Jones genre which our daughters loved but have outgrown.
Where are the adventure series with the female main character that have our daughters eagerly anticipating the next book being published? There are lots of good single books, but I find that my kids dig into the series more. I haven't run across a great series that appeals more to my daughter than my son yet."
I responded briefly to Susan last week, but I thought that this might be a topic that other parents would find interesting, so I have expanded on my response here at Booklights. I think that the proliferation of adventure series with boy protagonists happens because of a common perception that boys won't read about girl heroines, but girls will read about boys. This was mentioned in a recent post by Mr. ChompChomp at Guys Lit Wire. He said: "I read somewhere that the reason Disney makes so many more "boy" movies than "girl" movies is that girls will go to see boy movies but boys won't go to see girl movies. "We don't like it. That's just the way it is," Disney executives say. But if you look at the girl movies that they make, it's no wonder guys aren't interested. They are nearly all about princesses."
I do think it's a bit of an unfortunate situation, for girls and boys, resulting in fewer adventures with girl protagonists, and kids of both genders potentially missing out on great books. I also think that this viewpoint is probably why there seem to be more adventure series out there centered around male protagonists.
Fortunately, I have several ongoing series to suggest that feature girls as the hero. In all cases, I've read at least the first book or two. They are listed roughly in age order, from books for elementary schoolers up to books that I think will also work for girls in middle school. [Ed. note: As this list was originally generated for PBS, I did not include young adult recommendations. But there are some great titles for adventurous high schoolers, too, like the Scarlett Wakefield series by Lauren Henderson]
The Gilda Joyce series, by Jennifer Allison, about a young girl who is a "psychic investigator". These are very fun, and set in a more modern setting. Gilda is fun, smart, and a bit wacky. There are four books out, and hopefully more on the way (I wasn't able to confirm that). The first book is Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator (reviewed here). [Update: Book 5 is due out in June of 2011]
The Theodosia series by R. L. LaFevers, featuring Theodosia Throckmorton, Egyptologist and adventurer. These are historical / supernatural mysteries, featuring a smart Victorian girl who runs rings around her distracted parents. There are 2 books out, and a third on the way. The first book is Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (reviewed here). [Update: Book 4 is due out in April of 2011]
The Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer, featuring Sherlock Holmes' younger sister. Enola runs away and starts her own detective agency, and is more than a match for her smug older brother. There are five books currently available in this series, and I would imagine that more are on the way here. The first book is The Case of the Missing Marquess (reviewed here). [Update: Book 6 was apparently the final book in the series]
Laini Taylor's Dreamdark series, about Magpie Windwitch, the strongest and feistiest of fairies. Currently the first book, Blackbringer, is available in paperback, with the sequel, Silksinger, due out in September. Others are planned for this series. Don't let the books being about fairies fool you - these are excellent books for strong middle grade and middle school girls.
Elizabeth Cody Kimmel's Suddenly Supernatural series, featuring a middle school girl who discovers that she has psychic powers. Despite the supernatural aspects, these books also feature realistic tween friendship dynamics. There are currently 3 books available. The first book is Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit (reviewed here). [Update: Book 4 was released in May 2010]
Kristen Miller's Kiki Strike books, about a team of tween girls who fight crime in New York City. These books are clever and quirky, with interesting settings (including a city below NYC). There are currently two books available, and I'm hoping for a third. The first book is Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (reviewed here).
[Here are the add-on titles, after suggestions from commenters on the first post]
Michael Buckley's Sisters Grimm series was suggested by both Stephanie and Laura. I actually had this series on my mental list at one point, and then neglected to include it. I've only read the first two books (reviews here: The Fairy Tale Detectives and The Unusual Suspects), but there are seven books available. [Update: now 8 titles] This is an excellent series for elementary school readers. It features two sisters who find themselves in the family business of investigating criminal behavior among the EverAfters (fairy tale characters living real lives in a particular town). The irrepressible Puck was my favorite character from the first book, The Fairy Tale Detectives. They're lovely hardcovers, too, excellent gift books.
Diane Duane's Young Wizards series (currently at eight books, with a ninth expected in 2010), was recommended by Deva Fagan. This series actually has two primary protagonists, a boy and a girl who are wizard partners in a society that lies hidden within our own. The presence of a very strong younger sister character makes this series definitely qualify for inclusion. Nita, Dairine, and Kit are all among my favorite characters. This is a series in which the magic is relatively mathematical, and in which real-life family dynamics play a strong part, too. As with many series, the books do get a bit darker as the series progresses, with the later books more suited to middle school and up than elementary school. The only one that I've reviewed is the most recent, Wizards at War, because I read the other books before starting my blog. (And, in fact, this series is one that kept me reading YA as an adult, even when I wasn't blogging.) The first book is So You Want to Be a Wizard, in which Nita discovers a wizard's manual, and is partnered with Kit.
Deva and My Boaz's Ruth also both recommended Tamora Pierce's books (specifically, the Protector of the Small and the Circle of Magic series). I hadn't included Pierce because I think of her books more as straight-up YA, but Deva and Ruth both remind me that these series start with the characters around 10 or so. The only Pierce title that I've reviewed is Wild Magic (#1 in the Immortals Quartet). But I have read the first Circle of Magic book, Sandry's Book. The first book in the Protector of the Small series is First Test. Tamora Pierce is known for writing about strong female characters, and her books are huge hits with teen readers. I personally tend more towards fantasy that is set in and around our modern world, rather than your knights and castles sort of fantasy, which is why I haven't read more of these. But I have read enough to feel quite comfortable recommending these books.
My Boaz's Ruth also mentioned several older titles that feature strong girls (Trixie Belden, etc.). This reminded me of a list that I created on my blog in 2006, 200 Cool Girls of Children's Literature. I started with a list of a few girls from children's literature who I thought were smart, brave, strong, and independent. With the help of many, many reader suggestions, I eventually collected a list of more than 200 cool girls. I later added a Cool Boys list, now at about 175 or so. Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading were inspired to create their own list, of 100 Cool Teachers of Children's Literature, which is delightful. And TheBookDragon collects "Great and/or Infamous Librarians in Children's and YA Literature" in her sidebar. One day, I'll find time to update the Cool Girl and Boy lists with my discoveries from the past three years. Meanwhile, I thought that I would share the links here, in case any of you find them useful.
Once they are ready for young adult books, there are tons of series featuring female protagonists, including Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series and Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls spy series [and Kristin Cashore's Graceling books, though those are only loosely a series]. And there are other series books for younger girls that are wonderful, though not "adventures". For example, The Penderwicks books by Jeanne Birdsall and the Casson family books by Hilary McKay.
Readers, can you suggest any other series with adventurous female main characters that will have middle grade girls "eagerly anticipating the next book being published"? And if you're interested in the issue of gendered readers' advisory in general, check out Lisa Chellman's recent post on this subject.
This post was originally published at Booklights on July 13, 2009 and July 20, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.