Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Girls of Character: Teaching Biblical Femininity to the Next Generation through Literature

“What should I give my daughter to read?” This was the question that prompted me to create the following bibliography. Christian mothers of young girls find themselves in a difficult spot. Many “girly” books encourage frivolity by telling silly, shallow princess stories; while others seek to empower girls to "be all they can be" -- which usually includes throwing off traditional gender roles. How do we counter a culture in which the "Bratz" dolls tell our girls what they need to look like, and Disney Princess tells them that true love is their dream? For parents who want to encourage Christian character and instill a Christian worldview in their daughters, the task of finding appropriate, well-written books for them to read may be daunting. But be encouraged! There is a treasure trove of excellent literature out there just waiting to be discovered!

My purpose here is to do some of the discovering for you. This list is far from exhaustive. Certainly you know of other books that you believe every girl should read. I do too. I also think girls should read plenty of good “boy books”! But my purpose here is to suggest books that portray females of all ages who have character, godliness or learn lessons from their mistakes. I have tried to carefully consider the heroines in these books -- what portrait do they paint of admirable femininity? I have grouped my recommendations into three categories -- stories, which are lesser known or older books that should not fade into the night unread; classics and series, books that are more visible in a modern library or bookstore; and biography, true stories of godly women that will inspire. Apart from the biographies, I have not included non-fiction recommendations, because books on spiritual growth and Christian theology seem to be better-known to most of us and more easily-recognizable. I also think that stories can teach, in some ways, better than the direct instruction of non-fiction. Stories engage the affections and demonstrate what the virtues look like in real life. Did not Christ use parables?

As a final word, I want to acknowledge that not every parent will favor the same exact books. Clearly, some books on this list will be okay for some families, and not for others. This resource is meant to be a starting position to inspire you to discover more and more. I want to encourage you to plunge into sharing the adventure of reading with your daughter! Read with her, read to her, talk about the books, ask her questions, stimulate her thinking and motivate her to think critically. How rewarding it will be! Happy reading!

Stories, Tales and Fiction -- to engage her imagination

All-of-a-Kind Family, et.al. by Sydney Taylor -- this precious Jewish family of 5 girls will be a hit with girls of all ages. Set at the turn of the 20th century up to World War I, these sweet stories are packed with details about that time in history as well as Jewish traditions, customs and holidays. You will want to read the whole series and watch Ella, Hennie, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie grow up! (ages 7 and up)

The Little Girl and the Big Bear by Paul Galdone -- fantastic read aloud about a little girl who is clever and brave and outsmarts the huge bear that kidnapped her to return safely home to her family. It is one of my favorite books of all time, but sadly out of print. Look for it used or at the library. (Picture book -- ages 3 and up)

Adara by Beatrice Gormley -- the Biblical story of the little girl who was the slave of Naaman’s wife, who told Naaman to seek out Elisha to be healed from leprosy (ages 8 and up)

Five Children and It, Railway Children by E. Nesbit -- Excellent fantasy literature by a Victorian-era writer who influenced C.S. Lewis (ages 10 and up)

Melisande by E. Nesbit -- a beautiful story of a princess whose character is as big as she is! Written at the turn of the 20th century in the spirit of the old fairy tales. Out of Print, but find it at the library. (Picture book -- ages 3 and up)

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle et.al. by Betty MacDonald -- funny short stories about children whose flaws are treated by a clever lady who has medicine fit for every crime. Good for further instruction on sinfulness. (Short chapter book with some pictures -- ages 5 and up)

The Princess and the Kiss by Jennie Bishop -- a well told tale of a princess who guards her prized first kiss and deems the poor man she chooses to be worthy of her love because he has the same treasure himself. There is a companion book, Life Lessons from the Princess and the Kiss, that has activities and applications a mom and daughter(s) (or dad and daughter!) could do together after reading the book. (Ages 8-12)

“The Girls of Many Lands” series, especially Neela, Saba, Camille and Minuk -- this series from American Girl is designed for older readers, and features girls from around the world during exciting times in history. Though not Christian, these stories are well-written, exciting tales that feature courageous girls in different cultures (clearly a mature reader would understand, for instance, that Minuk -- an Eskimo girl -- believes in false gods). Girls of other cultures are portrayed in distinctly feminine roles, but still get in on the adventure of the stories. (10 and up)

Brave Irene by William Steig -- Irene is steadfast and brave when she gets lost in a snowstorm trying to help her mother by delivering a dress to the duchess. She actually contemplates giving up and just laying down and staying in the snow, even though she knows she will die, but remembers her mother is counting on her and her love for her mother compels her to do what is right. She obviously enjoys success in the end, but the story is a good picture of perseverance even when things seem impossible. (Picture Book -- ages 4 and up)

The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright -- this quartet of stories about four siblings who live in New York City and then the countryside are splashed with color, humor, and genius. I just love the relationship between the siblings -- realistic, but they truly love each other and are the best of friends. Enright captures exactly how it felt to be a child. These were exactly the kind of books I loved as a child. (ages 8 and up)

Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright. This is a Newberry Award-winners by the same author. Cousins discover a little town that froze in time when the lake dried up, and befriend two wonderful people who stayed on in the town. Elderly Minnehaha and her brother Pindar are full of funny stories and wisdom for the kids, who eventually convince their parents to buy a huge house and move into the old town. (ages 8 and up)

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo -- a timeless story of a prideful toy rabbit who is lost by his loving owner and finds himself passed around from owner to owner. The real journey, however, is inside, as Edward Tulane learns what love is, and wakes up to his own selfishness. The happy ending seals this book’s future as a classic. Not a Christian book, but paints a clear picture of redemption. (ages 7 and up)

The True Princess by Angela Ewell Hunt -- a Christian story of a princess whose relationship with the king teaches her that true beauty is inside. Good for combating silly princess stories. (Picture book -- ages 4 and up)

Seeker’s Great Adventure by Dian Layton -- a great early-reader allegory in the spirit of Pilgrim’s Progress. Children in the kingdom discover how wonderful it is to have a relationship with the King (these books are primarily beneficial for showing how great King Jesus is!). The whole series is great -- simple, but quite original. Other titles include Rescued from the Dragon, The Secret of the Blue Pouch, In Search of Wanderer, The Dreamer, Armor of Light. (ages 5 and up)

Classics and Series -- well known books

Hundred Dresses by Elenor Estes -- every little girl must read this book and discuss the story with her mother. Poor Wanda is made fun of day after day by the other girls in school because she says she has a hundred dresses at home in her closet, all lined up. Maddie -- a girl who goes along with the mocking because she wants to be popular but always feels bad about it -- serves as the conscience of the story. The surprise ending gives cause for personal reflection over issues of showing favoritism, speaking hurtfully to one’s peers, and judging others as well as speaking up and taking a stand against wrongdoing. (ages 6-12)

Little House on the Prairie et.al. by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- for mature readers. Though Scout is a tomboy in every sense of the word (and there is certainly nothing wrong with that!), her father Atticus Finch can serve as an example of a truly admirable man for a female reader. Their delightful neighbor, Miss Maudie, is a wonderful woman of character who helps Scout and Jem understand how truly great their father is.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Warner Chandler

American Girl Series -- especially Addy, Felicity, Kirsten, Josefina and Samantha. Some families shy away from this series because they are not Christian and do not want to spend money on the dolls, but the books are such excellent stories, and the girls in this series do live out traditional gender roles. These books are designed to keep little girls from growing up too fast. (ages 7-10)

Betsy-Tacy, et al by Maude Hart Lovelace

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor (retelling of John Bunyan’s classic). Includes the story of Christiana. (read-aloud to ages 7 and up, read for self ages 10 and up)

Biographies and autobiographies --true stories to inspire

Nothing Can Separate Us -- the Story of Nan Harper (Beautiful Girlhood series -- www.visionforum.com). As the Titanic sank, Pastor John Harper of Scotland cried out for lost souls, led dying men to Christ, and ultimately sacrificed his life for others. On board with him was his daughter Nan. This is a love story about a father and a daughter, and how one girl grew up to pass on her father's legacy of heroism and Christian faith to future generations. Other historical figures featured in this series include Dolly Madison, Sacagawea, Priscilla Mullins, and Barbara Leninger (ages 7-10)

Are All the Watches Safe by Catherine MacKenzie -- this early reader introduces girls to a real life heroine, Corrie Ten Boom. Written on an early reader level, with lots of pictures, this would make a good read aloud for younger children (ages 5 and up)

Can Brown Eyes be Made Blue? By Catherine MacKenzie -- childhood story of Amy Carmichael for younger children (ages 5 and up)

Trailblazers Series by Catherine MacKenzie -- biographies of Christian women such as Mary Slessor, Joni Erickson-Tada, Corrie Ten Boom, Gladys Aylward and many others (Christian Focus) (3rd-6th grade)

Heroes of the Faith Series -- an inexpensive series of small biographies of famous Christians. Both egalitarians and complementarians are featured in this series, such as Amy Charmichael, Mary Slessor, Fanny Crosby, and Florence Nightingale and Edith Schaeffer. (4th-8th grade)

Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward -- nice little autobiography that tells this missionary’s story of living in dependence of the Lord’s leading. The simple writing and short chapters make it perfect for introducing a younger girl to reading autobiographies. (Ages 11 and up).

A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot -- a sharp teen reader could really benefit from digging deep into the life of a hero in this top-notch biography from a great writer. Reading this book could also open up her world to reading more books by Amy Carmichael (a young poetess could really enjoy some of her beautiful poetry) and Elisabeth Elliot. (Middle teenage)

Mimosa, A True Story by Amy Carmichael -- this little book contains an amazing story of redemption and perseverance. As a little girl, Mimosa spends one day learning of Christ, and that small amount of knowledge sustains her throughout a life of hardship. In the face of great persecution, she refuses to worship Hindu idols, and clings to Christ, whose name she cannot even remember. Because of Mimosa’s intense hardship, I recommend this book for a mature middle-school aged girls or older.

The Hiding Place, In My Father’s House, Tramp for the Lord by Corrie Ten Boom -- Many have been changed and challenged by Corrie Ten Boom’s stories. Great for mothers and daughters to read together! (middle school and up)

Through Gates of Splendor, These Strange Ashes, the Savage My Kinsman by Elisabeth Elliot -- these books weave together the story of the author’s life as a missionary among the Colorado, Quechua and Auca Indian tribes of Ecuador. Excellently written and thick with application, these books tell the story of a woman who lived her life utterly dedicated to God’s will. Perfectly appropriate for a high school girl to read. Older teens would also benefit from reading Passion and Purity, the story of the author’s God-centered romance with Jim Ellliot.

With Daring Faith -- A Biography of Amy Carmichael by Rebecca H. Davis (6th grade and up)


Donette said...

Wow! You really did your homework for this post! I am so thankful that you did!

I have been so frustrated with the scenario you described perfectly: either books about princesses or books that devalue gender roles. I saw "The Girls Book: How to be the Best at EVERYTHING" at the library last week (an obvious attempt to ride the coattails of the wildly successful "Dangerous Book for Boys"). I glanced through it while the kids played and was dismayed to see titles such as "How to act like a movie star" - like any girl needs lessons in that!

Anyway, I am going to print out your list and save it for the day that Alli and I start to read together. Right now I am lucky to get through "Goodnight Moon" entirely. Unless, that is, you have suggestions for training girls in Biblical gender rolls for board books! ;)

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for all of your research and hard work (joyful, I'm sure, but work nonetheless) to put this list together. I too, shall print it out and let it serve as a reference. I was not familiar with many of the books on your list, so will look forward to exploring them with Clara Anne and Chloe together! Right now they are still loving Curious George, Frog and Toad, their storybook Bibles and for Chloe, some simpler selections. We have "reading time" every day and Clara Anne loves it all and asks for more; Chloe sits through about 5-10 minutes and then toddles off to do her own thing again. She usually doesn't last too long!

Thanks again for all your thoughts; what a great compilation. Blessings to you,


Sara Mincy said...

Gretchen...you are such a fount of info!!!! THANK you for that list. I need to save the link to this post for further reference...or maybe just print it out!

You have several of my faves on there...Betsy/Tacey being the series I will always remember from childhood. Also I just found the Saturdays, Four Stories...etc- so great!

Thanks Friend!

Anonymous said...

What a great list of books! I've recently read a number of these books, including the Gone-Away Lake books (delightful writing, great for summertime reading), 100 Dresses (every girl should read), The Hiding Place (an exceptional book in both writing and content), and To Kill a Mockingbird (almost finished with this one, a classic). Though I didn't read these books as a child, it's fun to read them as an adult.

Anonymous said...


I finally read TKAM! So so so so so so so good.! Baby scout. I think my favorite part was when she thought Dill was a snake under her bed. :) :) . I MEAN! Also GREAT Atticus! I am so glad that you put Gone Away Lake in there too! What a great story! Like a dream come true. !


Anonymous said...

funny that I didn't see Morning Rose's comment until I finished mine, but we commented on the same books.


James and Christen said...

I wish I had more time to read!
Thanks for all the great info. I am sure that post took a lot of time!

The Seeker's Great Adventure, is that the one Stacy W. kids just loved?

I have started reading chapter books to Daniel at night and he is loving it. I keep thinking of that series and wanting to ask you what it was called. If this is not the same thing would you let me know what it was called?

Thanks - Christen

David & Sharon just sent Daniel a one year Bible for kids for his birthday. We just started it tonight. I will let you know what we think as we use it more.

Gretchen said...

Donette -- I have to confess, I put this together as a little project for a friend, and then Mrs. Mohler asked if I'd share it with our whole class, so it sort of grew to be this big. Then I just copied it onto my blog. :) Hey, you are doing well to read to her, and establish that as a pattern and a fun thing you do together. Then when she gets older you can invest in her with the good meaningful books.

Rachel -- Those simple books are great! Yes, I had lots of joy and pleasure putting this together. And then as soon as I published it, I thought of more!

Sar -- didn't you love it how Betsy and Tacy always put on plays and stuff? I loved it that they did Uncle Tom's Cabin with their friend Tib. And Betsy was always writing -- she was the most like me, probably. I loved Tacy's hair -- the long red curls! YAY that you found the Melendy quartet! I adore those books SO MUCH. I absolutely LOOOOOoooooooove Rush. If there weren't a talk show host with that name, I'd name a son that. :)

MR -- that's what I did! A good portion of these books are recent finds from my adult years! I totally recommend these books for grown-ups to read, too.

Anna -- I KNOW!! Dill is sooooper funny. I laugh my head off at him. And I utterly love Atticus! All time favorite hero in a book!

Christen, yes, that is the same series that Stacy's kids loved. I think Daniel would totally dig them. SO his level and his kind of humor. I can just HEAR his laugh at the stupid dragons! What chapter books have you been reading to him? He is such a great kid with reading. He always LOVED being read to!

GloryandGrace said...

Hey friend! Do you work on Saturday?

Jana said...

Gretchen! Hey, thanks so much for a great list of books. Ella already has a huge library of books, but you can never have too many. . . So, I was thinking of asking her grandparents (Alex's parents) to buy books for her for Christmas and her birthday coming up. My Mom always presents each family with a box of books for Christmas. We love that tradition!I am definately going to print out your list! Thanks for sharing.

Emily said...

I'm glad you put the American girls books up therem they seemed to be overlooked a lot of times, and they really are so good. It will be fun when Cede is old enough to enjoy stuff like that.
well, I'll see you soon!

Sarah: said...

Gret, I adored All-of-a-Kind Family and thought no one else had ever heard of it. What a great series! And also the boxcar children. Thank you for compiling this list of excellent literature. I will definitely look to it for suggestions when the girls begin reading--or at least have longer attention spans for chapter books. Right now we are wading through Charlotte's Web! :-)

Alex S. Leung said...

Hey Gretchen,
Saw your link @ Said At Southern... nice blog you have here;-)

Just thought I'd drop in and say hello!