5 min read
by Clare Reynders, MEDIAGIRLS editorial volunteer
There are so many good books for middle schoolers with strong female protagonists out there to choose from! Luckily, MEDIAGIRLS has you covered. With help from Robin Brenner, the Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Brookline, MA, we’ve compiled a list of books that center around strong, smart, powerful female characters. As an extra bonus, they’re all by female authors, giving us a genuine perspective on each story.
Edited to add:
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FOR ALL MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRLS
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
This book, which was released only a few months ago to great reviews, follows siblings Tess and Theo along with their friend Jamie, who are tasked with solving a centuries-old puzzle built into New York City by its architects. This fast-paced mystery shows readers that being smart is cool (and might get you some sweet treasure along the way).
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon and Dean Hale
Think of this book like Spiderman, but replace Peter Parker with Doreen Green and spiders with the far cooler, far cuddlier – squirrels! This book follows the story of 14-year old Doreen balancing her new school, new friends, and squirrel-like powers. This Marvel hero (she’s got comics, too) is a wonderful role model for young girls because of her strength, heroic nature, optimism, and unique personality.
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
This book is a graphic novel, so it’s a quicker read, but with plenty of heart! Awkward follows Peppi during her first year at a new middle school, making mistakes and friends along the way. On her first day, when she’s hoping to fly under the radar, Peppi trips and falls in front of everyone, pushing away Jaime, the one person who tries to help her. As her art club battles Jaime’s science club during the next few weeks, will she gain the courage to apologize to him and make things right? Peppi is a real and complex character who shows us that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson’s award-winning book of poetry is a must-read for any young girl. Brown Girl Dreaming consists of poetry that captures Woodson’s life growing up as an African American girl living in North Carolina and New York in the 1960s. Her poems are important and universal, they capture the voice of a child while at the same time showing the reader an entirely new perspective. This book shows girls that their voices matter.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
This book stars Cimorene, who is a not-your-average princess. Instead of being a damsel in distress, Cimorene decides to run away from her boring castle life and befriend a dragon. This sets her on a quest through the Enchanted Forest, where she meets a cast of interesting characters. Cimorene is an inspiring protagonist, using her wits, sarcasm, and unique problem-solving skills to make it through the forest.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
In this classic sci-fi tale, a group of children embarks on a quest across space to find their missing father. The main character, Meg, has enough confidence and charisma to inspire any reader, and on top of that, a film adaptation by the incredible Ava Duvernay is slated to come out next year. What’s not to love?
FOR 7th GRADE AND UP:
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger (the first book in the Finishing School series)
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is sent off to finishing school by her mother, in hopes that she’ll become less of a tomboy and learn some more “ladylike” manners. To her surprise, the finishing school teaches more than just manners; she is also learning to become a spy! This fun and thrilling book flips gender stereotypes on their heads, showing young girls that you can wear a pretty dress and be the next James Bond.
Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
Pierce is a top-notch fantasy writer who knows how to write complex, compelling women. In Trickster’s Choice, Aly is captured by pirates and sold to an exiled royal family as a servant. She makes a deal that if she can protect Sarai and Dove, two young noblewomen, for the summer, she will be released. But with murderous plots and unwieldy girls, this task proves more difficult than it seems. This book focuses on Aly’s problem-solving skills, optimism, and ability to lift herself up out of a bad situation.
FOR 9th GRADE AND UP:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This riveting piece of historical fiction is for slightly older girls, but still 100% worth a recommendation. It follows British spy Verity after she is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and separated from her best friend Maddie, a pilot. This intricately woven mystery is intriguing for sure, but nothing beats a story about female friendship. Verity and Maddie will inspire readers everywhere.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This book also contains more adult themes that could be upsetting to younger girls, but it will be a life-changing read for older girls. It follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer. This book is extremely timely, and teaches girls about the power of activism, speaking up, and standing up against what you know is wrong.
Clare Reynders is a junior at Vassar College majoring in Media Studies with a minor in Women’s studies. She loves singing in her a cappella group, reading books, and, of course, empowering young women!
This piece was originally published on MEDIAGIRLS.ORG as “10 best summer reads for middle-school girls” and is lightly edited and republished here with permission. Michelle Cove is the Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS®, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls how to critique the way girls and women are portrayed in pop culture with an emphasis on creating empowering content.
She is also an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and author whose projects have been featured on numerous national platforms including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Katie Couric’s talk show “Katie,” “The Today Show,” The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
Visit www.mediagirls.org to learn more.