There are so many influences, inspirations, and role models available to little girls these days, including those in storybooks and literature, and it can be difficult to know how to stack your shelves with the best children’s books for young girls. Since reading has been a part of my life from before I was even born (seriously, you can ask my mom) I can personally attest to the fact that the young heroes and heroines I met in books had a major impact on me growing up. Usually for the better — although to be honest we could all probably use a few less princess narratives, and a few more stories about girls who rescue themselves. But at the same time, there are still tons of books I wish I’d read growing up as well.
The good news for young girls today is that the children’s section of the bookstore (or Amazon, for that matter) doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller. And the even better news is that there are definitely more diverse children’s books, feminist children’s books, and socially responsible children’s books being published than there were when I was a kid. These titles will make stocking your kid’s at-home library (or your niece’s/goddaughter’s/the neighborhood kiddo you babysit for) easy and fun — and if you experience a little book envy, that’s totally normal.
Here are 16 children’s books I hope every little girl reads in 2016 — and also for years to come.
1. Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen and Kristina Swarner
Quite frankly, sometimes it can be easy to forget that there are more (a lot more) good people in the world than there are people out to harm us. Growing up my own mom taught me to exercise caution, but never instilled a fear of the world in me — and that’s one huge reason for why I am who I am today. Good People Everywhere is filled with examples of small acts of kindness, compassion, and gratitude, and is a great book for making kids feel secure and empowered to be good people in the world themselves.
2. Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers
We’ve all seen the Under Armour commercial — and can’t get enough. Now it’s time to check out Misty Copeland’s children’s book. Telling the story of a young dancer who learns to rise above insecurity and uncertainty in order to find her own space of confidence and strength, this children’s book instills values like dedication, hard work, and believing in yourself. Plus, Misty Copeland herself is in it, and we love her.
3. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
Inspired by the true story of the female, Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, Drum Dream Girl is another story about rising beyond what’s expected of you as a girl in society, and instead following your passions. Growing up, the Drum Dream Girl was taught that girls could not become drummers — but night after night she dreamed of practicing and playing, until one night her dreams were so strong they became reality, and her entire community fell in love with her music.
4. Someday by Eileen Spinelli and Rosie Winstead
I am all about encouraging children to fall in love with poetry at a young age, so I’m completely obsessed with Someday, a children’s book written in poetry. Someday is about a young girl who simply can’t wait to grow up (we all remember that feeling, amirite?) She dreams of becoming an artist — but sometimes at the expense of enjoying the present moment. This book teaches the importance of mindfulness and being present — great qualities to learn at any age.
5. A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
I honestly believe that you are never too young to become an activist, or to learn the importance of your own unique voice in making the world a better place. This ABC book for growing activists explores everything from political activism and LGBTQ equality to environmental justice and civil rights — and it’s a great way to help explain anything your little ones might be seeing on the news this year.
6. Imogene's Last Stand by Candace Fleming and Nancy Carpenter
If you don’t fall in love with the entirely quirky Imogene Tripp within two seconds of reading this book, then you’re not reading it right. Imogene is a young history buff with a knack for coming up with theatrical solutions to her problems — in this case, the tearing down of her community’s historical society. Imogene’s solution is to ride through the streets dressed like Paul Revere, shouting “the bulldozers are coming!” over and over again. The fact that her community takes so long to listen to her is actually quite astonishing.
7. My Name Is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry and Mike Litwin
Growing up, I remember those days when I wanted to be anyone but myself — inventing new names and backstories for my life, even going as far as to spell my name differently on every single sheet of my homework (much to the chagrin of my third grade teacher.) In this story Isabella does much of the same, imagining herself as different world-changing women throughout history, before learning that she too can grow into a powerful woman, just by being herself.
8. Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith
I’m definitely a fan of the wordless picture book — and I think all children’s personal libraries should have at least a few. In addition to encouraging young readers to think creatively about what the images portray, this particular picture book introduces readers to a young girl and her disengaged father, and demonstrates how just one small act of kindness can change a person’s entire day.
9. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole
We might never stop talking about And Tango Makes Three — and the story is only made better by the fact that it’s true! And Tango Makes Three is about two male penguins who fall in love and decide to co-parent their adopted baby penguin together. This children’s book is a beautifully illustrated reminder that love always wins.
10. Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight
Eloise is a total throwback from my childhood, and my mother’s childhood, for that matter. This little lady has been hanging around our bookshelves for a while now, and I seriously hope she never goes out of style. Living at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, Eloise gets into all kinds of entertaining mischief — but what’s really lovable about her is that she never underestimates her self-worth, refuses to let anything discourage her, and believes there is literally no problem she won’t be able to solve if she thinks creatively enough.
11. Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
Although I’d be fine if we’d just remove the word “princess” from little girls’ lexicon altogether, I do think every at-home library could use some non-traditional princess narratives, and this one encourages young girls to pursue their passions wherever they might find them — even if it’s at the bottom of a mud puddle.
12. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko
In another children’s book that turns the traditional princess narrative on its head, Princess Elizabeth is preparing to marry Prince Ronald, when he’s suddenly captured by a dragon (who simultaneously managed to burn all of Elizabeth’s clothes.) Donning a paper bag (because of the clothes-burning issue) she heads off to save him. Not only is Ronald ungrateful for the rescue, he’s not impressed by Elizabeth’s fashion choices. So she dumps him. This is a good message to send, I feel.
13. The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, and Kathryn Brown
As the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Jane Addams is definitely storybook-worthy. By transforming her home in to a community center for Chicago’s struggling residents, she helped one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods lift itself back up. Addams is a great role model, not only for encouraging creative solutions and giving back to your community, but also as a woman who defied society’s expectations and did whatever she needed to make the world a better place.
14. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham
No matter how you feel about the 2016 presidential election, it’s impossible to deny the fact that Hillary Clinton has been trying to make the world a better place since around the time she was still young enough to be reading children’s books. Plus, this is a great book for explaining the current election to any kiddos who might be curious.
15. Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird
Another absolute throwback from my childhood — I loved the ballerina books — Angelina Ballerina is honestly just such a beautiful book, both the story and the illustrations. All Angelina wants to do is dance, and nothing will stop her from following that dream. Plus, thanks to Misty Copeland, girls today know what strong, powerhouse, badasses ballet dancers are.
16. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Everything can’t be all about the ballet narratives though (as the older sister to a young female engineer, I know this well.) And as such: enter Rosie Revere, girl engineer! Determined to build her own airplane, Rosie toils and tinkers, and finally builds one that hovers above the ground for a moment before crashing. Rosie feels like a failure, until her great-great-aunt (none other than Rosie the Riveter) reframes the experience as a wild success. Love this one.