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The holiday season is right around the corner, and if you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for the young girls in your life, struggle no more. This year, consider skipping the pink aisle in the toy store and give the gift of girl power.
I’m thankful that I live in a time and place where raising smart, independent girls is not only normal, but encouraged. And I’m thankful that there are so many books that exist to reinforce that reality. If you know of a girl (or boy!) who would be interested in learning more about young women who made history, courageous girls who aren't afraid to speak out, or simply want a good story about how there are no limits to how big a girl can dream, check out my top-18 book list of 2018:
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1.“Dear Girl,” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal, $13.49 on Amazon
Read this if … you or someone you know has a new baby girl.
In a nutshell: Published posthumously, this book is a letter to young girls. It reminds readers to be proud of who they are, that it's OK to cry, to not forget to dance, to embrace your fears and so much more.
Why I love it: This isn’t just a bedtime book, it’s a keepsake book. It’s perfect for new little ones, but also one to keep on the shelves for years after.
Favorite Quote: “Dear Girl, coloring outside the lines is cool, too.”
2. "ABC for Me: ABC What Can She Be?: Girls can be anything they want to be, from A to Z," by Sugar Snap Studio, $15.26 on Amazon
Read this if … you want to teach your daughter from the get-go that there are no limits. This one’s a board book, too, so chewing is acceptable!
In a nutshell: A clever spin on your traditional ABC book, this one teaches the most basic, yet most crucial, message that girls can do anything and be anything.
Why I love it: The range of careers that are featured in this book is impressive. I especially love all the STEM-themed ones, like astronauts and neuroscientists. But there’s a potential job for every little girl, including U.N. ambassador, botanist, chef, hairstylist and referee.
Favorite Quote: “From doctor or lawyer to artist or photographer, the only limit is your imagination.”
3. “Little Dreamers: Visionary women around the world,” by Vashti Harrison, $12.59 on Amazon
Read this if … you love reading about amazing women and want your little ones to do the same.
In a nutshell: A collection of stories about female trailblazers from across the globe, this book includes well-known figures like Marie Curie, but also lesser-known — but equally visionary — women, including virologist and molecular biologist Flossie Wong-Stahl, painter Esther Mahlangu and ethnomusicologist Violeta Parra.
Why I love it: The women in this book are diverse in every sense of the word, and the illustrations are adorable.
Favorite Quote: “The women in this book looked at things differently. They saw things that no one else did. They asked questions no one else was asking. And they chose to do something about it.”
4. “Mae among the stars” by Roda Ahmed, $14.57 on Amazon
Read this if … you want to teach your girls to reach for the stars.
In a nutshell: From a young age, Mae Jemison wanted to become an astronaut. But people told her that her dream was silly and she was better suited to something else. Fortunately, Mae’s parents encouraged her unconditionally, and with hard work and belief in herself, she proved her naysayers wrong.
Why I love it: Because now my daughters know who Mae Jemison is — and the idea of a female astronaut is normal to them. Plus, the illustrations are perfection.
Favorite Quote: "If you dream it, if you believe it and work hard for it, anything is possible."
5. “Shark Lady: The true story of how Eugenie Clark became the ocean’s most fearless scientist,” by Jess Keating, $12.59 on Amazon
Read this if … you want your girls to see beauty in the world around them.
In a nutshell: Eugenie Clark was a young girl when she decided sharks were her favorite animal. She went on to study the animals at a time when it was not the norm: Sharks were considered “mindless monsters” and critics believed girls lacked the intelligence to become scientists. But Clark’s love for sharks never faded, and she eventually became the first scientist in the world to train sharks.
Why I love it: By the time we finished reading this book, my girls were already asking questions about sharks. Books that get kids thinking are winners; books that get kids asking questions are even better.
Favorite Quote: “To others, sharks were scary. But Eugenie knew they were beautiful…. [s]he wished everyone could see sharks through her eyes.”
6. “Malala’s magic pencil” by Malala Yousafzai, $16.19 on Amazon
Read this if … you want to introduce your girls to this incredible role model and Nobel Prize winner.
In a nutshell: When Malala was a child, she dreamed of having a magic pencil that would make anything she drew come to life. As she got older and learned about injustice around her, she decided that if she had that magic pencil, she’d use it to make a better world. But the magic pencil never appeared, so Malala used her own words to speak out against the terrible things that were happening in her country.
Why I love it: Malala’s story isn’t an easy one to convey to little ones, but this book hits on all the tough issues in a subtle way that’s appropriate for even the youngest readers.
Favorite Quote: “Once I started writing, I didn’t stop ... I spoke for all the girls in my valley who couldn’t speak for themselves.”
7. “Rapunzel” by Bethan Woolvin, $13.57 on Amazon
Read this if… you love fairy tale retellings.
In a nutshell: We all know Rapunzel as the girl with the crazy long hair who is trapped in a high tower by an evil witch. Well, in this girl power retelling, Rapunzel decides she’s had enough. She gives the witch what she deserves and gets the heck out of town on her own — with no prince in sight!
Why I love it: We’re so used to the concept of a damsel in distress, but this Rapunzel smashes that notion into pieces.
Favorite Quote: “But was Rapunzel frightened? Oh no, not she! If the witch could use her hair to get in, Rapunzel could use it to get out.”
8. “Lucía the Luchadora,” by Cynthia Leonor Garza, $11.89 on Amazon
Read this if … you love superheroines with a twist!
In a nutshell: Lucía loves to zoom around the playground with her cape, but she’s bummed when she faces some boys at her school who try to tell her girls can't be superheroes. When her abuela tells her about luchadoras, however, Lucía knows she's meant to be one.
Why I love it: I loved this new look at the cultural tradition of lucha libre and this new kind of superheroine.
Favorite Quote: “A luchadora has moxie. She is brave and full of heart and isn’t afraid to fight for what is right.”
9. “Cece loves science,” by Kimberly Derting, $12.75 on Amazon
Read this if … you want to raise a girl who’s not afraid to ask questions.
In a nutshell: Cece is a smart, thoughtful and curious young girl who is working on a project for her science class. Her project? To determine if dogs like vegetables! Cece and her best friend Issac observe, experiment and think critically about their question as they try to find the answer. The process definitely has some bumps, but Cece keeps asking questions and thinking outside of the box.
Why I love it: Cece is the protagonist in a science-themed story - what’s NOT to love?
Favorite Quote: “And that’s when Cece made the most extraordinary observation of all. Science isn’t just about asking questions… real scientists have fun finding answers, too.”
10. “The dinosaur expert,” by Margaret McNamara, $12.32 on Amazon
Read this if … you want to show young girls their voices should always be heard. And if you love dinosaurs, of course!
In a nutshell: Kimmy is a dinosaur expert and she is thrilled when her class visits a natural history museum. But when a boy in her class tells her that girls can't be scientists, Kimmy is bummed and holds back her enthusiasm for the rest of the trip. But when the class stumbles on an exhibit about the amazing Dr. Brandoni de Gasparnini (a woman), Kimmy finds inspiration — and her voice.
Why I love it: Girl power and dinosaurs are always an excellent combination, but I especially love the stories about incredible female paleontologists.
Favorite Quote: “When I grow up, I want to be just like [Dr. Brandoni de Gasparini], Kimmy said. “I think,” said Mr. Tiffin,” you already are.”
11. “Isabella: Girl in charge,” by Jennifer Fosberry, $11.45 on Amazon
Read this if … you’re still coming off the high of the midterm elections, in which a record number of women were voted into office.
In a nutshell: As Isabella eats breakfast and gets dressed before a mysterious event, she informs her parents that she's NOT Isabella anymore; she’s actually Susanna Madora Salter, the first woman mayor. Then, she pretends she is some of the most historic women in U.S. politics, Later, we learn that Isabella is actually getting ready for the inauguration of the ultimate girl in charge: the first female POTUS.
Why I love it: I’m all for any book that will show girls that they can break the ultimate glass ceiling.
Favorite Quote: “Just how big can a little girl dream?”
12. “My first coding book,” by Kiki Prottsman, $13.63 on Amazon
Read this if … you’re eager to introduce STEM concepts.
In a nutshell: It’s a coding book for kids! It introduces basic coding concepts like sequences, algorithms and debugging through lift-the-flap and pull-tab activities like mazes and patterns. There’s also plenty of extra information for parents and older kids to read and explore, too.
Why I love it: The interactive aspect of this book is fantastic - it isn’t just reading about coding, it’s doing it.
Favorite Quote: “Coding is an art, like painting or making music. As with anything creative, you’ll get better with practice.”
13. “The princess in black," book series by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, $49.99 on Amazon
Read this if … you’re looking for a book series to satisfy your princess - AND superhero-loving girls.
In a nutshell: Princess Magnolia is a frilly, pink princess who loves her unicorn and having tea. But unbeknownst to all, she's also the Princess in Black, a secret superhero who fights off monsters.
Why I love it: The books get better and better, with great new characters and storylines. But the last book is the best so far - introducing STEM concepts along with the girl power.
Favorite Quote: “Princesses do not run … Princesses do not wear black. And princesses most definitely do not slide down secret chutes and slide down castle walls.”
14. “Sarai and the meaning of awesome,” by Monica Brown and Sarai Gonzalez, $5.99 on Amazon
Read this if … you want your girls to always believe they are awesome, no matter what.
In a nutshell: Sarai wakes up every morning to a poster reminding her that she is awesome. When she hears that her grandparents are being forced to move, she rounds up her sisters and uses all her awesomeness to try to buy back the house. But even when things don’t go exactly as planned - she realizes that not only is she awesome anyway, but her family is too.
Why I love it: Sarai’s family is fun, loving and supportive and the book incorporates her Latin heritage so seamlessly into the story.
Favorite Quote: “My mom says we can be anything we want when we grow up, and I believe her.”
15. “Front desk,” by Kelly Yang, $11.89 on Amazon
Read this if … you want a book that talks about race and class in an approachable way.
In a nutshell: Based on the author's childhood, Front Desk is the story of Mia Tang, a 10-year-old girl who moved to the U.S. from China. It turns out, the American Dream isn't so dreamy. But Mia is tough, and she isn't about to let language, socioeconomic status or gender get in her way or keep her family down. Middle grade readers will love this one.
Why I love it: Mia is a hilarious, entertaining and utterly relatable girl — who also happens to be facing important issues that affect so many young people today.
Favorite Quote: “My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers until we were red in the face. So far, the only part we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I was still holding out hope.”
16. “Ahimsa,” by Supriya Kelkar, $14.85 on Amazon
Read this if … you're looking for a book that is, as the author says, “bursting with girl-power and womanpower and resistance and persistence.”
In a nutshell: It's 1942, and it's a tumultuous time - Indians have become exhausted by British rule, Mahatma Gandhi is in prison and Hindu-Muslim riots are breaking out across the country. But 10-year-old Anjali lives a comfortable life and doesn’t much care about any of that. That is, until her mother decides to follow Gandhi's call and become a fighter in India's freedom movement.
Why I love it: This book is riveting, eye-opening and chock full of girl power. And the story is based on the author’s great-grandmother!
Favorite Quote: “[T]each these children that things should change. That this time they actually can change.”
17. “Power to the princess: 15 favorite fairy tales retold with girl power,” by Vita Murrow and Julia Bereciartu, $13.51 on Amazon
Read this if … you’re looking for an update to traditional princess tales.
In a nutshell: This book includes stories of well-known princesses, like Belle, Snow White and Rapunzel, but they have girl power twists. For example, Belle becomes an officer with the Fairyland Protection Office of Restorative Justice. And Cinderella opens her own business, is advocate for kingdom workers and eventually becomes prime minister.
Why I love it: Some of the princesses in this book still fall in love with a prince (one even falls in love with a fellow princess) but these princesses aren't being rescued by anyone.
Favorite Quote: “...a princess is a person who seeks to help others, is open to learning new things, and who looks for ways to add purpose to their own lives and to the lives of those around them.”
18. “Good night stories for rebel girls," vol. 1 and 2 by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, $14.99 on Amazon
Read this if … you want your girls to fall asleep to the message of girl power.
In a nutshell: In this book, there are 100 stories of 100 women and girls throughout history, of all ages and from around the globe. Each one is told in a bedtime story style, starting with “once upon a time.”
Why I love it: This book was created by an all-female team to celebrate and empower women and girls.
Favorite Quote: “To the rebel girls of the world/ Dream bigger/ Aim higher/ Fight harder/ And when in doubt, remember/ You are right.”
Ciarra Chavarria runs the Instagram feed @girlsreadtheworld, where she regularly posts her latest finds. She’s also a lawyer and the mom of two super cool girls who live in New Jersey.
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