My favorite part of the day is story time with my little loves. They can’t get enough of a good book. Their minds are like sponges—you can see them absorbing every detail. It fills my heart with infinite joy as each book feeds their endless imaginations.
But they’re typical boys. They’re drawn to books with vehicles, super heroes, and mischievous characters. This was not my intention; they’re just hardwired that way.
Over the years, books by Dr. Suess, Richard Scarry, and anything Curious George have been repeat favorites for my two sons. I’m sure you know the repeat I’m talking about. Over and over and over again. I know it’s good for their brains to have that repetition. But at this moment in my life, I feel that reading about how lumber is made every other night for the last year is too frequent. Thank you, What Do People Do All Day? But I digress…
When we got to the library, I let them bring home any book of their choice. For the last year or so, they’ve taken advantage of my open mind to borrow every iteration of Chima and Ninjago. While I don’t particularly enjoy Lego-themed books, they’re books and I never question their choices. Lucky for me, they’re also big fans of amazing new books (for us) like the Elephant and Piggie and the Magic Tree House series.
Enter our latest library visit. For the first time, I chose every single book we borrowed! As research for a client’s new children’s book a few months ago, I had looked through their playroom bookcase and found very few books with strong female characters. I’m a mom doing my best to rear boys that are sensitive and respectful to girls, so I was appalled at our selection!
I decided to reach out to my best source of intel: my fellow Facebook mommas! They came through in a huge way and provided me with the most amazing book recommendations about little girls with big brains and big hearts.
I immediately bought some of them for baby-girl showers. But I still hadn’t read any of them to my boys! So I put my list together, went to our local library’s website, and put them all on hold. Voila! They were ready and waiting for me the next time we went in.
Once I got them home, I was thrilled to see my little loves go to that huge pile of books for their bedtime stories—night after nigh! They’re excited for each new story and they’ve truly enjoyed every single one. They have all been requested as a repeat! At our house, that’s a huge win for a book.
In full disclosure, the fact that the main characters in these books are girls seems to be irrelevant to my little guys. They are attracted to strong characters with heart. And the messages in these stories certainly transcend gender and age. But as their mom, I know it’s important for them to be exposed to inspiring women in their life in whatever way possible. So I know these books are good for their soul.
So what does a book-loving mom and her two boys (ages 4 and 6) have to say when reading books about little girls with big brains and big hearts? We love them! Each one of these gems are worthy of a young boy’s heart.
1. Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen
During this holiday season of giving, this book earns its right as the top of this list. In post-WWII Holland, Katje receives a package of modest gifts from Rosie in the U.S. Through a series of genuine and humble thank you letters from Katje, Rosie begins to understand the needs of Katje’s family and friends. Over time, Rosie and her U.S. community fulfills the simple but real needs of warm clothing and food for Katje’s Dutch community. The extraordinary gifts from one girl to another show the capacity of human kindness and generosity in a very real way for any small child. My voice chokes up every time I read it!
2. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
The story of little Rosie with the big-engineer mind immediately captured the attention of my invention-inclined boys. A delightful rhyming story and very appealing illustrations tells the story of Rosie bringing her imagination to life as she builds big machines. Rosie’s airplane-building aunt inspires her to learn from her failures and always keep reaching for the stars. This might be my boys favorite. IMHO, a girl who builds gadgets and gismos is a good role model for any child!
3.The Gardener (Caldecott Honor Award) by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small
Three nights in a row, as selected by my four-year-old son! He has told me multiple times that he loves this very simple but very charming story. A bright, determined young girl makes the most of her otherwise bleak situation and brings joy to the lives of those around her with her green thumb. Lydia Grace’s spirit is captured through a series of letters. The beautiful illustrations bring this sweet story to life in a perfect way.
4. The Library by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small
Elizabeth Brown’s love of books is exquisitely portrayed in this touching story. After a lifetime of passionate book love, Elizabeth Brown makes a very simple decision to pass along her prized possessions to her community. During this holiday season, this tale of selfless generosity is a blessing to any reader. Sweet illustrations in this story with quirky details made my boys laugh at times. The gentle nature of the story and a very happy ending made them smile.
5. Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Phamz
Appropriately appalled that there have been no female U.S. presidents, Grace declares that she’ll be the first. She starts small and forges a successful presidential campaign at her own school. She consistently demonstrates hard work, perseverance, and a commitment to doing the right thing in the face of a healthy challenge. This book will teach any child a bit about the electoral college and political campaigning. Most importantly, it will teach impressionable children how gender assumptions can be shattered. Boys don’t always deserve to be leaders! The best girl or boy should win J
6. The Paper Bag Princess (Classic Munsch) by Robert N. Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
The tables are turned in this modern fairy tale after a fire-breathing dragon destroys all of Princess Elizabeth’s earthly possessions and kidnaps her prince. She outwits the dragon to save her betrothed, only to find that he’s a shallow and ungrateful bum. There’s no happy ending for the princess and prince together, but Elizabeth dances off into the sunset. Elizabeth displays immense bravery and independence in this charming fairy tale that sends the right message for any boy or girl—believe in yourself.
7. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
I’ll admit that I wasn’t totally on board with the idea of this book. Friends gave it mixed reviews. Interestingly, the moms with older children gave it a thumbs up. I get it. It uses big words. But what we liked most about this book (and I can’t speak for the series) is the love and support shown by Nancy’s family. We all appreciated her family rallying behind her. My boys especially liked Nancy’s little brother dressing up in girl clothes. When I finally pointed out that it was her little sister, they seemed a bit disappointed but still love the story about a very imaginative little girl. And the big words seem to be working—my littlest used the word “accessories” appropriately today!
8. Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke and illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
I’ll admit that my six-year-old son chose a Chima book one night, but it was the same night that my four-year-old chose Princess Pigsty for the second night in a row! Rejecting all things princess, Princess Isabella wants to be her own person and won’t let anything stop her. She ultimately finds acceptance and love for staying true to what makes her happy. A pigsty scene is sure to appeal to any child who loves dirt! My six-year-old says he doesn’t love it, but was happy to sit and listen to the story.
9. Madam President by Lane Smith
It’s a short book and easy to read with cool illustrations. But the pages on their own didn’t make sense to my kids at all. I couldn’t just read it to them without explanation, nor would they let me. So I explained each page in context of the real U.S. president. And you know what? They loved it! The book prompted conversation (and some laughs—read it to find out about “secretaries” under the president) about the role of our U.S. president in a very simple way. As tiring as it is to require parents to explain a book’s content the entire way through, it encouraged me to connect with my boys in a way that most books don’t require. It was a huge hit with my oldest! And even though my youngest says he’s not thrilled with the book, he is absorbed every time we read it. J
10. A Bad Case Of Stripes by David Shannon
In this sweet story, Camilla learns a valuable lesson about the importance of being true to herself. Filled with beautiful illustrations and rich, vibrant colors, Camilla demonstrates the importance of self-confidence and self-love for any young girl or boy.
11. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
An absolutely perfect little girl struggles with her identify in this delightful tale. Crystanthemum’s love for her very unique name wavers when she begins school. Teacher Mrs. Twinkle restores her confidence. Very pretty but very girly illustrations didn’t alter the high opinion of this story by the boys—they loved it.
12. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
Vashti’s teacher quietly encourages her to express herself artistically in a way she never thought she could. A simple dot and her signature make all the difference for Vashti’s confidence. She passes along the wisdom she learns to a young boy who lacks confidence just as she did. Very simple and sweet illustrations with an inspiring storyline kept my little loves engaged through the end.