Consider books about 'real' life
Girls love to read books that portray real life situations and characters to which they can relate. This might involve the characters dealing with topics they are interested, or simply the same challenges and problems that they deal with day by day. Here are some examples:
1. 'Pippi Longstocking' by Astrid Lindgren - The are many Pippi Longstocking books; all involve the escapades of a little girl who lives with a horse and a monkey (but no parents) near a Swedish village. In spite of her unusual family arrangements girls love these books.
2. 'Anastasia Krupnik' by Lois Lowry - Anastasia is 10 and lives with her father, an English professor, and her mother an artist. She learns that her mother will be having a baby soon and struggles to come to terms with the news. An important part of the book is Anastasia's lists of things she loves, and things she hates.
3. 'Matilda', by Roald Dahl - Matilda loves reading and learning, and is very smart but struggles at home in a family that isn't quite set up for a bright child. Matilda teams up with her teacher, the beautiful Miss Honey to overcome her enemies.
4. 'Ramona the Pest', written by Beverly Cleary and illustrated by Tracy Dockray - Ramona Quimby is an interesting character. She wants so much to be good, yet her boisterous and impulsive nature often get in the way. Ramona often reacts badly when she is embarrassed or hurt. Her adventures will entertain the average girl.
5. 'Penny Pollard's Diary', by Robin Klein - This is an hilarious story about a girl who loves horses and hates dresses, old people and homework. However, things change when Penny has to interview an (nearly) eighty-one year old lady for a school project. Mrs Bettany turns out to be as feisty as she is. The book in diary format (and great illustrations) tells how Penny gains friendship and in the process grows up a little.
6. 'Dear Mr. Henshaw' by Beverly Cleary - tells the story of Leigh Botts who is now in the sixth grade. He lives with his mother and moves to a new school. He is lonely and misses his father, who is a truck driver. One day Leigh's teacher assigns a letter-writing project and this changes Leigh's life.
Consider Books About Adventure
1. 'Anne of Green Gables', by L. M. Montgomery - Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.
2. 'Island of the Blue Dolphins', by Scott O'Dell - Left alone on a beautiful but isolated island off the coast of California, a young Indian girl spends eighteen years, not only merely surviving through her enormous courage and self-reliance, but also finding a measure of happiness in her solitary life.
3. 'Little House on the Prairie', by Laura Ingalls Wilder - There is a whole series of these books with 'Little House on the Prairie' the best known. It tells of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood in the Midwest of the USA during the late 19th century. The best known of the books is Little House on the Prairie.
5. 'Heidi', by Johanna Spyri - “Heidi” is an orphan delightful story about life in the Swiss Alps. She first lives with her aunt Dete, but she takes Heidi to her grandfather, an unusual old man living in an alpine cottage far from the next village. He refuses to send Heidi to school and instead she goes to the pastures, together with Peter, a shepherd boy looking after the goats. The story tells of her life in the idyllic setting.
1. 'A Wrinkle in Time', by Madeleine L'Engle - Meg Murry's father disappears while doing secret service work for the government. Things are rather strange with her father disappearing and her friends becoming involved with unearthly strangers.
2. 'The Borrowers', by Mary Norton - is a children's fantasy novel about tiny people who "borrow" things without letting people know they exist. The key characters are the Clock family, consisting of father Pod, mother Homily and their spirited thirteen year old daughter Arrietty. It won the Carnegie Medal in 1952 and was selected in 2007 as one of the ten most important children's books of the past 70 years.
3. 'Harry Potter', J.K. Rowling - is a series of 7 fantasy novels that have wide appeal to children adults. The books describe the adventures of the teenage wizard Harry and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and the students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The central core theme of the books centres on Harry's struggle against the evil wizard Lord Voldemort who killed Harry's parents in his quest to conquer the world and in particular, the supernatural world.
3. 'Peter Pan', J.M. Barrie - this book centres on the story of the mischievous boy Peter Pan who can fly and refuses to grow up. Peter spends his never-ending childhood pursuing adventures on the island of Neverland in charge of a gang, the Lost Boys who meet mermaids, Indians, fairies and pirates and the occasional normal child.
4. 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland', Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) - written in 1865, this is the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into an amazing world of strange animals and unlikely situations. Carroll plays around with logic and taken for granted assumptions of the world. His silliness is part of the amazing appeal of this book.
5. 'Shatterbelt', by Colin Thiele - Tracy is puzzled by strange mind pictures that suddenly appear. When one of these visions helps to save the life of her two best friends her life changes.
I've written a previous post on the value of historical fiction (here), Here are a few examples that girls seem to like.
1. 'Little House on the Prairie', by Laura Ingalls Wilder - This story deals with a year in the life of two young girls growing up on the Wisconsin frontier, as they help their mother with the daily chores, enjoy their father's stories and singing, and share special occasions when they get together with relatives or neighbours.
2. 'Number the Stars', by Lois Lowry - In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, ten-year-old Annemarie learns how to be brave and courageous when she helps shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis.
3. 'Playing Beattie Bow', by Ruth Park - When Abigail Kirk joins in a traditional chanting game of 'Beatie Bow' in modern day Sydney she sees a mysterious urchin girl in the background and follows her. Unwittingly she stumbles into the past as she follows her up stairs and down alleys in the Rocks area of Sydney.
4. 'Callie's Castle', by Ruth Park - this story isn't as well known as the above but it is a wonderful story for girls aged 7-10. Callie Cameron is unhappy with her friend Frances, her family and life in general. With her brothers and sister always annoying her she is desperate for a space to call her own. This changes when her grandfather helps her find a solution at her new house.
5. 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit', by Judith Kerr - Anna was only 9 years old in 1933 when Adolf Hitler emerged in the Germany of her youth. But as a Jewish girl she was soon to find that her world had changed when her father went missing.
Consider book series
Book series are also of great interest to girls. The appeal of book series is that the character's are familiar from one book to the next, as generally are the settings, plots and situations. This familiarity makes reading faster, easier and somehow more 'comfortable'. Here are a few examples that many girls like.
'Nancy Drew', by Carolyn Keene
'Bobbsey Twins', by Laura Lee Hope
'Secret Seven', by Enid Blyton
'Mrs Pepperpot', Alf Proysen
'Anne of Green Gables', L.M. Montgomery
'Chronicles of Narnia', by C.S. Lewis
'Baby-sitters Club', by Anne M. Martin
'Trixie Belden', by Julie Campbell Tatham
'Hannah' series, by Libby Gleeson
'Anastasia Krupnik', by Lois Lowry
Biographies are worth a try with many girls. For example:
'The Diary of Anne Frank', by Anne Frank
'So Much To Tell You', by John Marsden
'Amelia Earhart: Young Aviator', by Beatrice Gormley.
'Helen Keller', by Margaret Davidson
'Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe', by Charles Edward Stowe
Consider Specific Authors
While not wanting to attempt a comprehensive list, parents and teachers can help girls to finds authors whose work they enjoy. Here are a few that some girls I've known seem to enjoy and want to revisit.
Roald Dahl - e.g. 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', 'Fantastic Mr Fox', 'Matilda' and 'James and the Giant Peach'
Libby Gleeson - e.g. 'Hannah the Famous' and 'Dear Writer'
Patricia Wrightson - e.g. 'A Little Fear'
Robin Klein - e.g. ‘Boss of the Pool’, 'Hating Alison Ashley'
Emily Rodda - e.g. 'Dog Tales'
Colin Thiele - e.g. 'Jody's Journey', 'Shatterbelt' and 'Storm Boy'.
Betsy Byars - e.g. ‘The Eighteenth Emergency’, 'Pinballs'
I hope the above ideas are helpful. Please note that not all of the above suggestions will suit your children. Children's tastes obviously vary and of course age will make a difference to the appropriateness of some titles. I've written separately about helping children to choose books (here). Finally, the above suggestions are not meant to be the definitive list. I'd welcome your suggestions.
All posts on children's literature (here)