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Series Books Featuring Adventurous Girls

Posted by Jen Robinson on July 13, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Middle Grade BooksRecommendations
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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.

gilda_joyce_cover.jpgThe 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).

THEO_crop.jpgThe 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).

enola_holmes1.jpgThe 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).

Blackbringer pb cover sm.jpgLaini 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.

suddenlysuper.jpgElizabeth 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).

kiki.jpgKristen 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).

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 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.

25 Comments

Rasco from RIF writes...

Jen, as usual you have provided a great wealth of information here, thank you! We hear this same request about "girls starring in series books" often from RIF coordinators as they order for the year...I am delighted to have this information to pass along to them.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Glad you found the post useful, Carol! Hopefully others will suggest great series that I missed, too. Thanks for sharing RIF's experience with this issue. You've definitely reinforced the need.

Deva writes...

Thanks for the recommendations! I just started the first Theodosia book and am loving it. I'm also eagerly awaiting SILKSINGER.

Some others that might work:

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD? by Diane Duane, and the rest of the Young Wizards series, which feature Nita (and later her younger sister) as main viewpoint characters having adventures as wizards in a contemporary urban setting (there is also a boy main character). These were some of my favorites at around age 10!

FIRST TEST by Tamora Pierce, and the rest of the Protector of the Small series, which have Kelandry working to prove herself as a Lady Knight in a fantasy world. She starts of at age 10, but ages to adulthood over the course of the series so I'm not sure what age level the later books are appropriate for.

SPELL HUNTER by R. J. Anderson, featuring a strong-willed fairy girl and her forbidden friendship with a human boy. The sequel WAYFARER is due out next year.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for the suggestions, Deva! I love the Diane Duane books - I didn't list them because Kit is also a viewpoint character sometimes, but I do love him, and I do think that this series is a great recommendation for girls. Dairine has really grown on me over the course of the series.

Hope you like Theodosia. And I promise that Silksinger is worth waiting for. Thanks again for the suggestions!!

Stephanie writes...

Great recommendations! I currently recommend 3 of the series to my 4th graders (will have to look into Theodosia!) I wanted to add another series that is really popular with my girls, The Sisters Grimm, by Michael Buckley. It is an exciting and fun twist on fairytale characters. The sisters are descendents of the Brothers Grimm and are now fairytale detectives. There are currently 7 books in the series.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for the suggestion, Stephanie. I thought of that series, and then ended up leaving it off of my list. I do think it's a good one, and especially nice for this purpose, since there are so many books in the series. I hope that you like Theodosia (and that there are eventually multiple books in that series, too).

Laura writes...

There are some great recommendations. Several I've never heard of and I am now anxious to read. What about THE SISTERS GRIMM series? There are 7 of 9 out right now. I've read the first one aloud to my class the last several years and the kids LOVE it.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for commenting, Laura. And yes, the Sisters Grimm series should be on this list. That's an oversight on my part. Glad to hear that your students enjoy the first one. I've read the first 2 or 3 - one day I'll sit down and read the whole series, once they're all available. Anyway, thanks for the feedback!

Lisa writes...

Thanks for the link, Jen! I love your suggestions. I really need to read the Theodosia books; I've heard so much good about them. And Enola Holmes rocks!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thank, Lisa! And yes, you must read the Theodosia books. I am certain that you'll like them. I've only read the first 2 Enola Holmes books - I'm kind of saving the next ones to read together sometime.

My Boaz's Ruth writes...

Disney may have a point there. I read, voraciously, growing up. And it never mattered to me if the hero was male or female.

Harriet the Spy
The Encyclopedia Brown mysteries
Me and the Great Brain (and that series)
The Happy Hollisters
The Bobbsey Twins
Trixie Belden
Cherie Ames
Nancy Drew
(I didn't like the Hardy Boys as much, oddly)

Wizard of Oz (this is a whole series)
Little House on the prairie
Anne of Green Gables

I didn't find Tamora Pierce until I was older, but I'm sure I would have loved her regardless (And she has more than just the Protector of the Small series. Her Circle of Magic is great too. And the kids start young too)

Edward Eager's stories -- Half Magic, Seven Day Magic, etc.
Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace
The Naughtiest Girl in the School
All-of-a-King Family by Sydney Taylor
The "Shoes" series by Noel Streatfeild

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for sharing some favorites, My Boaz's Ruth. I loved many of those books as a child, and still do, also. I actually just watched the DVD of the newest Ballet Shoes movie (with Emma Watson).

I do think that Tamora Pierce does an amazing job of creating adventurous female heroines. I must read more of her books! Thanks for the reminder.

My Boaz's Ruth writes...

One more (and its not a series) But we read Island of the Blue Dolphins in 4th grade. And the heroine there is female.

Dana writes...

I've just started reading the Rowan Hood series by Nancy Springer. My nephew recommended them to me actually, but the protagonist is the daughter of Robin Hood. Very quick easy reads, with good descriptions of the natural surroundings. Plenty of adventure including fights with outlaws, chases, rescues, etc.

Interestingly enough, the father-figure for many of the children in the book is either MIA or a jerk. (I'm starting book 4 and so far 1 father was absent during childhood, and 2 fathers were evil.) One of the underlying themes is how the children eventually deal with, solve, or accept that. It may be a good series for helping children to deal with a problematic relationship with a parent?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for the recommendation, Dana. I haven't checked out the Rowan Hood series, and it sounds like I need to do so.

Seems to me that a lot of children's books feature the MIA father-figure, especially in the fantasy genre. I think that often this is a device intended to make the child the one who takes action. But it does sound like in this series, Nancy Springer goes a step further, in actually having kids deal with this. I'll check the books out. Thanks!

Jennifer writes...

Some books my girls (twins age 8 and a half) and myself LOVE are

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Big Sis Mallory is more involved in the books that in the movies.

The Sister's Grimm series, there are 7 out right now. by Michael Buckley

The Mysterious Benedict Society (there are two books out so far)

The Penderwicks (Also two books)

N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for taking time to share your girls' favorites, Jennifer. I really must read the Spiderwick books one day (I must confess to only having seen the movie). But I do agree with your girls completely about the joy that is the Sisters Grimm, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and The Penderwicks. I didn't care so much for 100 Cupboards, but I'm nevertheless found myself eyeing Dandelion Fire. Thanks for the recommendation! It's wonderful to hear about girls who love books.

Katie writes...

I have a very fantasy-related leaning, but I can give it a try:

The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce,

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede,

and Keeper's Chronicles by Tanya Huff).

All of these series are between 3-4 books, but I remember loving them as a kid.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Nothing wrong with fantasy-related leanings, Katie. I think that there are a lot of strong girl characters within fantasy. I actually talked about Tamora Pierce in a follow-on post. I haven't read the other two, though I run across Dealing with Dragons a bit. Thanks for the suggestions!!

Schatzi writes...

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Island of the Blue Dolphins & Julie of the Wolves by Scott O'Dell
many Zilpha Keatly Snyder books
books by Patricia Beatty
Lloyd Alexander's Vesper Holly books (about a young, Indiana Jones-type girl)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for the suggestions, Schatzi. I loved Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books when I was growing up.

Maya writes...

Hi Jen,

I just thought I would write about a series I loved. It's the " Emily Winsnap" series. Yet, I know right now it only has 3 books. I loved it!

Thank you,

Maya

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for commenting, Maya. It's nice to hear from you. I have heard good things about the Emily Winsnap series, but haven't had a chance to read them yet. Thanks for the recommendation!

Susannah writes...

Great list! I'll pass some of these on to my daughter.

What about THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE by Louise Erdrich and THE GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale -- both first in a series.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for sharing the list with your daughter, Susannah. And yes, of course, those are great series, too. Thanks for the suggestions!

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