Inspiring Books about Girls’ Lives

Check these books out at your school or local library, or ask for your parents’ help in ordering them (just click on the pictures to go to their ordering pages on

Selections and narrative descriptions from
100 Books for Girls to Grow On by Shireen Dodson

Alanna, the First Adventure 
Tamora Pierce
The first in a series of four books set in Medieval times, this novel tells the story of Alanna, an 11-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a knight. To do so means rejecting the female roles of her time and disguising herself as a boy. Alanna’s cleverness, self-discipline, healing gifts, and determination set her on the path to fulfilling her dream.

Catherine, Called Birdy 
Karen Cushman
Through her diary, a fictional 14-year-old girl from the year 1290 speaks to contemporary girls about her place in medieval society. Catherine, nicknamed Birdy after the birds she tends, uses this journal to express the thoughts, emotions, and opinions she is forbidden to voice publicly or within her own family. Catherine’s inner turmoil over her prescribed role in medieval society is expressed with wit, spirit, and her indomitable belief in her own inner worth.

Child of the Owl 
Laurence Yep
A 12-year-old, Chinese-American girl’s extended visit with her maternal grandmother forces her to confront fundamental truths about herself and her family. In the process, she arrives at a richer understanding of her identity.

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm 
Nancy Farmer
In this fast-paced, inventive novel set in 2194, the African country of Zimbabwe is overpopulated with displaced tribes who are ruled by military despots. The three children of a military chief long to escape their regulated lives and find out what Zimbabwe is really like. Within minutes of leaving home, they are kidnapped from the teeming urban streets that surround their fortress home. With warmth and humor, Nancy Farmer describes the children’s contact with a messy, scary, fascinating population of poor, disenfranchised Africans, so different from their own family. In the end, three unusual detectives, the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, help the children find their way back home. Along the way, the youngsters also discover their lost heritage and their most human qualities: bravery and compassion.

A Girl Named Disaster 
Nancy Farmer
This coming-of-age novel takes place in Mozambique where an unwanted girl, named Disaster by relatives who have reluctantly adopted her, sets out to find her long-lost father. Her dangerous journey takes her through jungles and infested waters. Disaster’s intense love for her dead ancestors, along with her resourcefulness and a belief in herself that belies her unfortunate name, saves her from a disastrous arranged marriage and the limitations of her old village life.

Naomi Shihab Nye
Political conflicts affect the personal life of 14-year-old Liyana Abboud, a half-American, half-Arab girl who moves from Missouri to Jerusalem at a pivotal point in her life. The discoveries she makes about herself, her family, and her new homeland help her attain a surer sense of who she is, and who she wants to become.

Homesick: My Own Story 
Jean Fritz
Jean Fritz, born and raised in China until the age of 12, portrays those exciting growing-up years in this fictionalized account of her experiences. A coming-of-age story, this novel details the day-to-day life of an expatriate family living in the midst of a bustling China in 1959, at the time of the Communist revolution.

The Hundred Dresses 
Eleanor Estes
The painful effect of children’s casual cruelty is the subject of this powerful book about peer rejection. A school clique is insensitive to a bashful, shabbily dressed newcomer. When the girl’s family is forced to move again, her imaginative legacy, exquisite drawings of 100 dresses she imagined but never owned, reminds her classmates of their own role in her disappearance.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 
Maya Angelou
In this poignant autobiography, the author’s evocative account of her experiences as a young black girl growing up in the racist, rural South during the Depression of the ’30s and early ’40s, as well as in wartime San Francisco, offers insight into the condition of the black female during the pre-Civil Rights era. She forges her own identity, despite encountering a multitude of obstacles, and gains control of her destiny.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson 
Bette Bao Lord
In 1947, Shirley Temple Wong sails from China to her new home in Brooklyn, NY. Shirley finds America to be a land of wonders, but she doesn’t know any English, nor does she understand many American customs, so it’s hard to make friends. Finally, Shirley’s indomitable spirit wins her friends, and listening to radio broadcasts of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ fight for the pennant helps her become fluent in English.

Jacob Have I Loved 
Katherine Paterson
In this coming-of-age story, an outspoken, spirited, and sometimes prickly island girl longs for an identity apart from her pampered and pleasing twin sister. The wild environment of the Chesapeake Bay offers the heroine the challenge she seeks to become her own particular person and find a purpose in life beyond the expectations of her family. This beautifully written book raises important issues about sibling relationships.

Julie of the Wolves 
Jean Craighead George
This novel of courage and survival tells the story of 13-year-old Julie, an Eskimo girl, lost in the Alaskan wilderness. Out on the pitiless tundra, Julie draws on everything she has ever learned from her Eskimo culture in order to communicate with a pack of wolves who, she knows, will protect her from starvation and cold. While her knowledge of Eskimo ways eventually saves her in the wild, Julie must decide whether to rejoin the more “civilized” world of modern assimilated Eskimos or return to nature and follow the ways of her ancestors.

Lucy Forever and Miss Rosetree, Shrinks 
Susan Shreve
Lucy and Rosie, two sixth graders with a pretend psychiatry practice, love to invent ridiculous psychiatric case histories. But things get more serious when they come upon a small, mute girl from and orphanage and determine they are going to use all their knowledge to help her to talk. In doing so, they discover that little Cinder is an abused child, and rescue her from her abusive caretakers.

Maizon at Blue Hill 
Jacqueline Woodson
Maizon Singh, a gifted student from Brooklyn, NY, has accepted a scholarship to Blue Hill, a boarding school in Connecticut, where she is one of only five black students. At Blue Hill, Maizon can’t figure out where she fits in. She doesn’t want to be an “oreo”, but sticking with only the other black girls seems wrong, too. At Thanksgiving, Maizon comes home to stay until it’s time for college, when she’ll be more ready to cope with being on her own.

Make Lemonade 
Virginia Euwer Wolff
Told in blank verse, this powerful, realistic story depicts the intertwining lives of two poor teenage girls. Determined to save money for college someday, 14-year-old LaVaughn reluctantly takes on a job baby-sitting for the two babies of 17-year-old Jolly, an unwed mother. Through younger by three years, LaVaughn offers patience, understanding, and common sense to help Jolly stay afloat and discover the self-esteem she needs to lift her small family from poverty and a dead-end future.

The Moon Over Crete 
Jyotsna Sreenivasan
For Lily, a suburban, 11-year-old girl, the trials and tribulations of growing up are often overwhelming, despite sympathetic and enlightened parents. Her time-travel adventures to ancient Crete (where men and women enjoyed true equality) under the guidance of her music teacher, offer Lily new possibilities and hope for her future.

Number the Stars 
Lois Lowry
Annemarie Johansen, a young Danish girl growing up during the Nazi occupation, is forced to summon up all her courage to help her best friend, a young Jewish girl. In the process, she discovers strengths that she didn’t know she possessed which forever alter her self-image. Even younger readers will enjoy this accessible novel about World War II and the Danish Resistance’s efforts to smuggle the Jewish population to safety.

The Outsiders 
S.E. Hinton
In this enduring novel, written by S.E. Hinton when she was 16, two rival high school gangs fight for power. Bored and aimless, the wealthy and advantaged Socs constantly provoke the local “greaser” kids, one of whom, Ponyboy, narrates the story. The greasers have little left to lose but their last scraps of pride. This action-packed novel portrays young lives circumscribed by poverty, death, abuse, and alcoholism.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution 
Ji-Li Jiang
Ji-Li Jiang tells of her own growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution. As descendants of a landlord, Ji-Li and her family are under constant threat from the government, and live in fear of arrest. Finally, with the arrest of her father, Ji-Li is faced with making a decision to betray her family or sacrifice her own future in the Communist Party. The book ends with her courageous decision. In an epilogue, the author tells how she and her family left China to make a new life in the United States.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry 
Mildred D. Taylor
Growing up in rural, segregated Mississippi, confronting both poverty and prejudice, a young girl learns how to fight for herself. Despite her struggles, and the daily difficulties her family faces simply to survive, Cassie Logan manages to maintain her dignity and determination in this gripping story.

The Secret of Gumbo Grove 
Eleanora E. Tate
Raisin, an inquisitive African-American girl, befriends an older woman despite objections from her family and friends. This older woman helps her discover important aspects of her own heritage, and in the process, provides her with the knowledge and skills she needs to move ahead towards her own destiny.

The Shimmershine Queens 
Camille Yarbrough
Angie’s father has just moved out and her mom is depressed. In addition, there’s a gang at school that taunts her about her dark skin and kinky hair. Daydreams seem the only escape for Angie, until 90-year-old Cousin Seatta comes to visit. Cousin Seatta helps Angie achieve her dreams by showing her how to speak up for herself and discover her own inner strength. Angie and her best friend, Michelle, use what Cousin Seatta calls their “shimmershine feeling” to become leaders and really shine in the class dance production.

Something Terrible Happened 
Barbara Ann Porte
Gillian lives in New York City with her West Indian mother and grandmother. Her father, who was white, died when she was a baby, and now Gillian’s mother has been diagnosed with AIDS. Gillian is sent to live with her white aunt and uncle in Tennessee. This is the tale of how Gillian wins her fight for emotional survival in the face of tragedy and upheaval.

Joan Bauer
Sixteen-year-old Ellie Morgan hides behind her extra weight. She finds satisfaction in her devotion to growing a giant pumpkin, much to the dismay of her father. Ellie’s efforts to grow a prize-winning pumpkin give her much-needed focus and are a big boost to her self-esteem.

The Star Fisher 
Laurence Yep
As a Chinese-American girl living in Clarksburg, WV, during the 1920s, Joan Lee has to learn how to handle prejudice and ignorance, and find acceptance for herself and her family. As she negotiates the often treacherous obstacles placed in her way, Joan develops self-confidence and an appreciation for friendship.

To Kill a Mockingbird 
Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel describes a young girl’s youth in pre-Civil Rights era Alabama. Both a story of her coming-of-age experience and of the scandalous, small-town trial in which her father defends a black man accused of raping a white woman, this book is an exploration of family, community, individuality, and human behavior in general.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 
Betty Smith
A sensitive young girl, growing up in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, surmounts obstacles of poverty and frustrating family relationships. Ultimately, she is able to find her own voice, and make her own way in the world through her creativity, intelligence, and ambition.

The View from Saturday 
E.L. Konigsburg
This winner of the 1997 Newbery Medal is about four sixth-graders who form a record-breaking Academic Bowl team. Each of the members is struggling to grow through a challenge: Nadia’s parents are recently divorced, Ethan is forever in his older brother’s shadow, Julian has just moved to a small New York town from India and faces hostility, and Noah has a hard time looking beyond his own nose. Their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, has returned to the classroom after a ten-year hiatus recuperating from an automobile accident that left her a paraplegic. Each of the characters brings delightful humor and insight to this quick-paced page turner about the highs and lows of a sixth-grade class and the friendships formed therein.

White Lilacs 
Carolyn Meyer
A 12-year-old, African-American girl grows up quickly when her white neighbors decide that “people like her” no longer belong, and attempt to move the black people in the community out of their homes. How she fights back on her terms and retains her dignity and integrity is the heart of this engrossing story.

The Woman in the Wall 
Patrice Kindl
This almost-fantasy novel is about the withdrawal of an extremely shy girl from family life. Anna’s father has abandoned her, her two sisters, and her mother. Anna’s mother, now a single parent, is busy keeping the household together and doesn’t notice Anna’s increasingly bizarre shyness. Anna becomes so reclusive, she creates a parallel, solitary life for herself in secret chambers she has built within the family’s rambling house. Her emergence, years later, back into family life, is a triumph.

Yolanda’s Genius 
Carol Fenner
A transplanted city girl learns to translate her Chicago street savvy into friendlier terms when she and her family move to a quiet, suburban community. She champions her misunderstood younger brother so that he may gain wider recognition for his talents in this compelling story.

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