This is a guest post by Katie Zenke. Katie has been writing about children’s books for almost ten years and occasionally writes about them in various places online. She even has a blog that she sometimes updates at Pixiepalace.com. For several years she also worked in (and was the lead of for part of that time) the childrens and teen departments of one of the largest bookstores in the midwest. One of these days she plans to officially work in the book world again.
Katie is lending her expertise to answer this Ask a Geek Feminist question:
Is there a good series of books for tech-loving less than 10yo kids that isn’t sexist?
The Zac Power series seems OK for what it is, apart from the fact that they have an unreasonable division of good characters being male and bad characters being female.
The main good characters are Zac and his brother Leon, while Caz and her sister Leoni are two of the main bad characters.
Another problem is that those books have a lot of anti-nerd propaganda, which has got to be bad for kids who are destined to be called nerds in high school.
Is there a geeky modern Enid Blyton out there?
It is sadly true that finding good books for kids that are feminist is far more difficult than it should be, however they absolutely do exist. I wanted to highlight some of the great books that we can share with kids that do have feminist themes and content.
The list is roughly organized by age, but keep in mind that kids are all different and one ten-year-old might be reading early chapter books while another is totally ready for the more dense novels to be found in the middle-school and high school lists. Kids also have their own individual interests and preferences (even little kids), so just as you might buy a mystery for your mom but never for your girlfriend, make sure the kid you’re getting the book for likes the topic or genre first!
- Captain Abdul’s Pirate School by Colin McNaughton
This is the story of a little girl sent to Pirate School on a real pirate ship, where math is angles for shooting cannons and art is forging fake money. The problem is that the teachers are pirates, so of course they plan to kidnap and ransom the kids. The kids put a stop to that, however, and commandeer the ship for themselves!
- How to Make Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman
This book tells the reader everything you need for an apple pie – and where to get it! Sugar cane comes from Jamaica, butter comes from an English cow, wheat comes from Italy, etc. As the story progresses, the reader is directed around the world via various modes of travel to gather all the necessary ingredients until she is all ready to make her pie.
- The Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems
This is a beginning reader series (although it also works well as a read-aloud picture book series for younger children) and tells the various everyday adventures of two friends – Gerald and Piggie. Although Gerald is a boy and Piggie is a girl, this is not made a big deal of and they play all kinds of games together from baseball to dress-up.
- Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner
– The Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss
– Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
– The Magic School Bus Series by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degan
– Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick
Early Elementary School Fiction (Easier Novels)
- The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer
This series follows the investigations of Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister, Enola. She’s every bit as smart as her brother, but she has the disadvantages of being a kid, a girl, and having a busybody older brother. She solves great mysteries that largely revolve around women that her brother has, for the most part, either overlooked or deemed beneath him.
- The 39 Clues Series by various authors
This series is a giant historical treasure hunt. A sister and brother are sent on a world-wide adventure collecting and deciphering clues trying to find the ultimate treasure. Unfortunately, the rest of their extended (and I do mean extended) family is also on this quest and the competition is quite literally deadly!
- The Amelia Rules! Series by Jimmy Gownley
Amelia McBride and her mom move in with her former 80s rock star aunt after a divorce and Amelia quickly finds herself having to make new friends and adapt to a new school. As Amelia incorporates herself to her new neighborhood, making some eccentric (read: geek) friends. The series deals with some impressively heavy issues with grace and humor.
- The Lady Grace Mysteries by Patricia Finney
– The Clemency Pogue Series by JT Petty, illustrated by Will Davis
– The Babymouse Series by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm
– Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
– The PS238 Series by Aaron Williams
Upper Elementary School and Middle School Fiction
- The Kiki Strike Series by Kirsten Miller
This series is Shadowrun with 12 to 14 year-old girls (Leverage would be another good analogy). A group of girls are pulled together by one very singular little girl in New York City to run specific missions. They each have valuable talents and so are able to run covert missions (with and without mishaps) that go more or less unnoticed by the rest of the world. Each chapter ends with a brilliant “how to” section (i.e. how to tell if someone is lying, how to tail someone).
- The Theodosia Throckmorton Series by R. L. LaFevers
Theodosia more or less lives in an antiquities museum in pre-World War I London (her parents forget to go home more often than not, so she ends up sleeping there). She can detect cursed objects in a way that no one else seems able to do, so when her archaeologist mother brings back extremely cursed objects from Egypt, it’s up to her to neutralize the curses before they fall into the hands of the Germans and/or plunge England into chaos.
- The Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi
When Emily and her family move into an old ancestral home, she goes exploring and finds a strange book and an even stranger amulet. Before long, a mysterious door appears and Emily and her brother find themselves on the other side in a world of bizarre magic and strange tech (including a talking bunny and cute but snide little robot who help them) trying to save their mother.
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman
– The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
– Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale
– The Gunnerkrigg Court Series by Thomas Siddell
– The Daisy Kutter Series by Kazu Kibushi
- The Gallagher Girls Series by Ally Carter
This series follows Cammie Morgan through the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a super-secret school for girls that trains them in all the skills needed to be a good spy. And Cammie is a very good spy. As they work through Covert Operations training and other high-level spy studies, she and her classmates also have to deal with the normal issues of being teenagers and the complications of not being able to tell anyone outside of Gallagher who they really are (or why they know what you ate for breakfast).
- Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
This is, and I’m not kidding here, a book about LARPing. And not just normal, Murder Mystery kind of LARPing that regular people may have heard of – weekends in the woods where everyone is dressed in medieval garb the whole time. The story revolves around a girl who has never done this sort of thing before and is slowing drawn into to, only to discover that it’s a lot more fun to run around the woods in a corset all weekend than you’d think!
- Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story by Lisa Fiedler
Do you remember the girl that Romeo is pining for before he meets Juliet? Well, this book is the story of the play from her point of view. It turns out that she’s smart and sensible (no wonder she turned down Romeo), and a doctor-in-training as well. She spends much of the book using her medical training to patch up the other characters and trying to balance Juliet’s bubbly enthusiasm with down-to-earth logic.
- For the Win by Cory Doctorow
– Ash by Malinda Lo
– A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce
– The Runaways Series from Marvel Comics
– The Plane Janes Series by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jim Rugg
This list only scratches the surface and, with the exception of a few of the picture books, is entirely fiction. There are lots more great titles out there to be found, especially if you look at the nonfiction that’s available as well! Most of the authors here have other books, but in an effort to keep variety I tried not to repeat too much. If you find something good, though, I highly recommend looking to see what else that author has written! Some even have books in a variety of age ranges.
The best resource for finding feminist books for kids and teenagers is the Amelia Bloomer Project, which publishes a list of fiction and nonfiction books in a variety of age and reading levels that “has significant feminist content”. Their blog posts the books that are nominated throughout the year, many of which don’t make the final list but are still well worth reading and usually which have strong female characters and feminist themes, just not enough or as much as those that were chosen.