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Empowering Books for Middle-School Girls

As your daughters enter middle school and navigate the intimidating path and unique pressures of womanhood, there is always one resource we can rely on to make sense of it all: books. We’ve compiled a list of books intended to ease the transition from tween to teen, to help your girls find positive role models and answers to questions they may feel uncomfortable asking. Browse through the titles and find the books that’ll help your daughter become the wonderful woman you raised.

Ella Enchanted
by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted bookDetermined to have her untraditional “happily ever after,” Ella fights against blindly obeying a way of life she doesn’t believe in. Gail Carson Levine keeps the fairy-tale theme lighthearted, but adds an intriguing and enlightening twist on traditional female characters, portraying Ella as a strong-willed heroine who needn’t be saved.

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Secret Garden bookA classic piece of literature, Burnett’s story focuses on one little girl who is left orphaned by her rich, socialite parents and ignored and neglected by distant family she is sent to live with. The story is not only empowering for young girls, who find strength and voice in Mary, but also for any children dealing with loss, disability and loneliness. The story ends happily, but not after a long, gut-wrenching uphill battle for the vulnerable heroine, Mary.

Esperanza Rising
by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising bookSet in the beginning stages of the Great Depression, “Esperanza Rising” reveals the story of a girl and her mother forced to leave their lavish life for one of manual labor and discrimination. Subject to increasingly life-threatening persecution, Esperanza and her mother flee Mexico for America and reinvent themselves despite constant adversities. This story spotlights genuine characters with a passionate love for life and for each other.

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me bookAn intriguing mix of science fiction, fantasy and mystery, the award-winning “When You Reach Me” is set in upper Manhattan and follows three storylines surround the life of a sixth-grade girl; her mother appearing on a game show, her best friend ceasing to talk to her after being mysteriously punched in the face, and a laughing homeless man. Dealing with issues of race, friendship, social class and time travel, this story echoes a theme of actions and consequences in a nonpreachy, relatable tone.

by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl bookEveryone at Mica High School has a theory about Stargirl, ranging from “homeschool gone amok” to “her parents were circus acrobats!” Being different is what everyone loves about Stargirl … initially. Soon, it becomes the very thing they use to isolate her and tease her endlessly. Will Stargirl continue to shine in her quirky ways? Or will her peers and her first love, Leo, convince her to be her worst nightmare: normal?

Caddie Woodlawn
by Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn bookCaddie is the epitome of an 1864 daddy’s girl: much to her mother’s dismay, she loves hunting and adventure rather than sewing and tea parties. Although misunderstood, Caddie is brave and big-hearted. With each turn of the page, Carol Ryrie Brink sends Caddie a new obstacle to overcome, including her loyal friendship with a neighboring Indian tribe. Brink brings a true heroine and role model, based on her own grandmother, to life in “Caddie Woodlawn.”

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
by Judy Bloom

Margaret bookJudy Blume books are often considered a teen girl’s rite of passage. In “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” Blume creates a vivid, relatable heroine in Margaret to help guide young girls through the process of becoming a woman. When Margaret feels as though she can’t confide in her friends or family about her growing anxieties regarding boys, bras and other puzzling pre-teen problems, she finds comfort and answers by talking to someone else… someone who will always listen.

by Deborah Ellis

Breadwinner bookIn a time of fear and uncertainty, Parvana’s family is growing weaker. Since the Taliban has taken over Kabul, Afghanistan, her father has been arrested and she is forbidden from attending school or even playing in the street. Get a glimpse of the harsh lives of women under the Taliban as Parvana is forced to dress as a boy in order to make ends meet for her mother, two sisters and baby brother.

Staring Down the Dragon
by Dorothea N. Buckingham

Staring Down Dragon bookWhat does it mean to be brave? What does it mean to be a hero? Rell isn’t sure, but she knows one thing: she’s not brave and she’s not a hero—at least, she doesn’t want to be. She wants to be normal Rell—Rell precancer. When she comes back to school after treatment, kids expect her life to be like the ones they see in movies, where Rell will come back full strength, win homecoming queen, and be cured. Will her friends accept her the way she is? Better yet, will she accept herself?

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind
by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Shabanu bookStrong-willed Shabanu is in a tough spot: give up the freedoms she has (that most women do not have) in Pakistan, or sacrifice everything she feels to uphold her family’s honor. Get a glimpse through the eyes of a Pakistani girl striving to be independent as her hopes, dreams and potentially family life hang in the balance.

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks
by Jeannine Atkins

Girls Under Rocks bookWhat do Maria Merian, Anna Comstock, Frances Hamerstrom, Rachel Carson, Miriam Rothschild and Jane Goodall all have in common? More than you think! By peeking into the world of these renowned scientists, artists and writers, young women all over the world will find inspiration and positive reinforcement to follow their wildest dreams. Take a bite out of a female history book and learn about women who made a name for themselves, just like you can!

Gutsy Girls: Women Who Dare
by Tina Schuerger

Gutsy Girls bookWhether or not a more inspiring book exists is questionable! Twenty-six young women share a first-person perspective on incredible achievements and exciting experiences, from extreme sports to daring discoveries. In addition, this book features uplifting segments encouraging your own daughters to follow their dreams and reach for the mountains, stars and everything in between while staying healthy and safe.

Catherine Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

Catherine Called Birdy bookUnusual and intriguing, this book succeeds in giving an in-depth look at the life of an English nobleman’s daughter in the 1290s. Her wit is sharp and her criticism quick, adding a breath of relatable teenage angst to a “proper” girl entering womanhood. Readers will learn about medieval England without realizing it as they get caught up in the lively and comedic diary of Catherine (who goes by Birdy).

  • Frin

    Missing in Time by Catherine Harriott — An American girl and a British boy meet, 100 years between them on the same day.

  • Linda

    I think this is the best since fried cactus! Whomever thunk this up is a genius! Still wondering why it doesn’t mold, though.

  • Nashville dad

    The list is helpful. Then I see a link at the bottom of the page to find out more about family members of one of the most horrifying examples of self-objectifying females currently available in our society? What is PBS doing with this on the site, particularly on this page that is trying to promote girl empowerment? Down goes another site to provide a safe message for teen girls.

  • Irony at its worst

    Miley Cyrus’ dress??? What dress??? PBS, what are you thinking? My 12-year-old girl will not be visiting your web site. I don’t want her to know how much like a prostitute a young woman with a lot of publicity will dress in public. And get featured on a site that’s supposed to be about higher thinking. You failed me.

  • Kris

    Slightly less serious but still full of strong, well developed and powerful female characters overcoming widely varied obstacles, including at times a world that doesn’t believe women can be hero’s, check out basically everything by Tamora Pierce, starting with her Lioness Rampant quartet.

    Wonderful books about individuals, often women, who aren’t out to change world, just live a good life and do what they feel needs to be done, and if doing that results in changing the world then so be it.

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