In my home and classroom, we read books about all kinds of characters. We even collect books as souvenirs from our travels around the world. When it comes to our personal bookshelves, my husband and I strongly believe that representation in literature is crucial for our biracial daughters. One day, we hope “diverse books” will not be a niche, but will be found in the mainstream book market as must reads for ALL children. Until then, we will keep sending amazing book lists your way and hope that we can pay it forward.
The main characters in many classic and popular picture books- whether they are human, animal, truck, or a crayon- are almost always male. As Jennie Yabroff put it, we should want to show our kids that girls can be anything — and anything can be a girl.
50 Diverse Children’s Books for Strong Girls
As parents of girls, we advocate for books that show girls accomplishing goals, exploring, educating others, etc. It is a top priority to us to read books that showcase other girls with curly hair like our kids, however this list showcases strong female role models from all over the world. No more than 33 percent of children’s books in any given year featured an adult woman or female animal.
Alternatively, adult men and male animals appeared in 100 percent of the books. However, having female role models on the shelves of every child’s home and classroom is only one piece of the puzzle. Here are a few incredibly practical resources to add diverse and multicultural books to your home or classroom library.
Smashing the Gender Stereotypes
It is imperative that parents expose their children to books that are filled with strong and powerful females that are not displaying gender stereotypes. This includes female characters that are not shown doing housework or cooking for children. There are MANY books that show fathers playing and having fun, and mothers washing their dirty clothes after the fun. We need to keep smashing the stereotypes that say “mothers are the glue and fathers are the glitter”.
Here is our list of 50 children’s books for mighty girls that we have collected (for ages 0-13). Since there are so many to choose from, I had my own daughter pick 5 to showcase with descriptions. For the full list, you can scroll to the end. We have read each one of these and handpicked them for you to add to children’s collection.
Don’t worry, we did not leave adults out of the girl power fun. Check out 5 must-have books for raising strong girls (or raising sons who prioritize showing respect for strong girls). I also wrote a series about everyday female role models highlighting wonderful superhero women who are serving around the world to give the future generation of girls a world of possibility and the right to an education.
These books show girls being fearless, silly, wild, stubborn, and proud. Girls whose faces are smeared with dirt and lit up with joy.
-Kate T. Parker
Little Melba and her Big Trombone
Little Melba and her Big Trombone is the picture-book biography of Melba Liston (1926-99). She was a child prodigy and virtuoso trombonist who collaborated with several 20th century jazz greats. She broke gender as well as racial stereotypes as she taught herself to play the trombone from the age of 7. This little-known African American musician is a must-have addition to enrich any library collection. We have attended Jazz Festivals all over the world, including Dizzy Gillespie who Melba worked closely with in her career. I highly encourage cultivating a love for the legacy of jazz with the whole family!
In our home we LOVE to sing, dance, and play all sorts of music! I have found even reluctant readers are willing to read lyrics if you play their favorite song and hand them a microphone. Research has proven music can drastically improve reading and literacy skills. We bought the most AMAZING karaoke machine so that even people like myself that have an embarrassing singing voice sound great with the auto-tune feature. Living in a place with extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, this was SUCH a fun way to spend quality family time and sneak in a lot of literacy instruction!
Kids On Strike!
Child labor is still a big issue around the world today. Kids on Strike! is a heartbreaking and inspiring story of child activists fighting for their rights in the the early 1900s. Nearly two million children organized a movement that changed the face of working America.
Through many successes and failures, the testimonies of these children will inspire all children today to fight and stand for human rights for all children. Reading this book may inspire someone join UNICEF in the Convention of the Rights of a Child movement today.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx
The story of Sonia Sotomayor is one that will give you goosebumps as you read. A rags to riches story of a Puerto Rican little girl with a big dream. Sotomayer grew up in the projects of the Bronx with a single mother and brother after her father died. Her mother is a true role model herself studying at night to get a better paying job to provide Sonia and her brother with every possible opportunity. Even when Sonia diagnosed with diabetes, she changed her goal focus from Nancy Drew (mystery detective shero) to Perry Mason (courtroom extraordinaire).
She did not let her socioeconomic or physical limitations stop her from graduating at the top of her class at Princeton University. She went on to become the first Latina Supreme Court Justice (appointed by Barack Obama). This little bookworm did not fit in with the privileged classmates, but she did not allow her loneliness or lack of resources to sway her from achieving her childhood dream.
The bilingual book is in Spanish and English and if you are like my daughter, you will break out in the hit song Despacito when you hear Sonia’s mama say with pride, “Ay Bendito!”
Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics
Rejected Princesses is one of our favorites as we have a deep fondness for rejecting the princess culture and replacing it with the philosophy that girls can not only save themselves, but save others and become sheroes for both boys and other girls. This phenomenal collection of fabulous women in history should absolutely be in your Amazon shopping cart today! This is not a cuddly and warm book; there are very raw stories that are not white washed or rewritten to sound “nice”.
Each one of the stories of radical women are complex and awe inspiring. There is some mature content so use your discretion for the emotional maturity of the kids you are reading with the author’s color code. However, these are role models that are not always shown in history books for smashing the stereotypes, patriarchy, racial lines, and more. They are rule breakers of rules that should have never existed in the first place and are the reason we as women enjoy our freedoms today. Additionally, it just may inspire children to take action and advocate for the girls and women around the world who are still fighting for their freedom and whose voices are silenced.
A Dance Like Starlight is special to us because last year, my daughter fell in love with Misty Copeland and Janet Collins. She even dressed up as Misty for Halloween. This story tells of a young girl watching the performance of Janet Collins, the first professional African-American ballerina to perform in the United States. This book will inspire girls to pursue their dreams in the ballerina culture, and create hope that working hard does result in conquering your goals and living your dreams. Every little girl (and boy!) should own a copy of this incredible book.
The Full List of Diverse Children’s Books for Strong Girls
The following reading list is for our 6 year old (rising 1st grader) daughter. She reads some of the books independently, some we read together, and some my husband and I read aloud. Please let us know in the comments of other books we can add to our always expanding collection!
Read your World
We invite you to join our Facebook group: Read Your World: Resources for Multiracial and Multicultural Families!
This is a supportive group to encourage literacy first and foremost. We want to engage children with reading strategies that foster a love of books. However, choosing quality books that are also diverse is instrumental in raising readers as well as raising activists. Teaching kids how to read and what to read is vital to help children reach their ultimate goals.
We want you to ask questions, share advice, and challenge our thinking to give our unique families the safe space to connect and grow. This group is multiracial, multilingual, multicultural, and multi-talented. Through the people in this group, you will hopefully feel a little more interconnected to the world than you were before.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out these phenomenal resources from We Need Diverse Books, Lee and Low Books, and Book Trust to create the most amazing and culturally responsive home and classroom libraries.
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