Choosing a list of book recommendations is a difficult thing. There are too many good books to choose from! Even after narrowing the criteria for what goes on the list, it can still be too long and overwhelming for some (this one has 20 items but I sneak more than one title in whenever I can–I personally prefer much shorter lists). So, for this post, I chose only picture books, and only books currently in my personal library or those I hope to add someday. That means I really like them. I also (mostly) limited myself to choosing books with girls as the main characters, which is of course not to say that I think girls should only read books about girls–it was just helpful in narrowing the list down. Since this post started as an email discussion where multiple women were suggesting children’s books, I discovered (or re-discovered) some great books. I love love the fact that this kind of discovery always always happens, no matter what, even though I’m completely surrounded by books at work.
One other thing about book recommendations is that every book doesn’t necessarily appeal to every person. So if you take this list as a “if you are looking for picture books that have girls as main characters and that are overall just good children’s books, check these out” kind of list, you might find something you love. I hope!
1. The Sign on Rosie’s Door by Maurice Sendak
Rosie is one of my favorite girl characters of all time and I only just discovered her recently, when the lesser-known Maurice Sendak titles started showing up on bookstore shelves soon after he died. Rosie is creative, bossy, hilarious, and loves to be in the limelight–all of which are qualities that make her the local expert in imaginary play. The story shows how kids in the neighborhood gravitate to her charisma and fanciful ideas. Another picture book by Sendak that is at once frightening and beautiful is Outside Over There, where a girl takes on the responsibility of looking after her baby sister.
2. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
So, so, so great. About a girl who has big dreams and follows them, but also carries with her a determination to make the world more beautiful wherever she goes. I love this story so much.
3. Virginia Wolf by Kyo Mclear
Virginia wakes up one morning feeling grumpy and “wolfish.” Her sister, Vanessa, works tirelessly to cheer her up. She offers treats, plays her violin, and still Virginia growls and hides under the covers. In her final attempt to lift Virginia out of her bad mood, Vanessa paints a fantastic world imagined by Virginia, and that does the trick. This is a great book for talking about moods and feelings, as well as sisterly love–complete with beautiful and intriguing illustrations that reflect both the darkness and the vibrancy that are a part of life. Loosely inspired/based on Virgina Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell.
4. Come Away from the Water, Shirley by John Burningham
Shirley has plenty of raucous adventures at the beach while her parents sit on the sand, obliviously calling out over-protective advice, but mostly minding their own business. Hilarious and thought-provoking (from “adults can be so clueless” to “how many of Shirley’s adventures are real,” respectively). I love all of John Burningham’s books.
5. Helen’s Big World by Doreen Rappaport
Just read this. Beautiful biography picture book about Helen Keller, with great quotes from the woman herself. Just so good.
7. Big Mama Makes the World by Phillis Root
So lovely and beautiful and extraordinary. It’s a goddess creation story. Enough said.
8. A Chair for Mother by Vera Williams
Three generations of women living together and taking care of and sacrificing for one another. Also, a beautiful portrayal of how others in their community help them out.
9. Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully
A young girl sees a wire-walker and is driven to learn his craft. The man teaches her the skills and she teaches him to be brave again. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations.
10. Tillie and the Wall by Leo Lionni
A little mouse is determined to find out what’s on the other side of a giant stone wall near her home. Why do I like it? She boldly follows her own sense of curiosity and desire to know something and doesn’t give up until she’s satisfied.
11. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Mostly a cute story about being honest with yourself and not trying to change or hide the way you are for the sake of being likable. Kinda along the lines of Mumble Bear. And the protagonist is a girl. I also love David Shannon’s rich paintings–so imaginative and colorful.
12. Imogene’s Antlers by David Small
Another book with a girl who wakes up with some strange physical trait. I love it because it’s purely absurd and I love David Small’s work. The Gardener, written by Sarah Stewart, is another book Small illustrated and I highly recommend it. It’s a longer read. It has a young protagonist away from home out of necessity, who grows strong and confident as she makes her own and others’ lives more beautiful.
13. Chrysanthemum (also Lilly and Sheila Rae books)
Kevin Henkes does a great job of portraying little kids as sweet-looking rodents. Chrysanthemum is the main character’s name and the story is all about how her feelings change regarding her name. I love names and the significance and meaning behind them. In another by the same author, Lilly is a fun, cute little character to follow. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Sheila Rae the Brave, a story of finding courage through family.
14. I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss
Simple and adorable. A little girl imitates animals and other creatures using some imagination. On the list by virtue of great illustrations and having a little girl as the main character.
15. Mumble Bear by Gina Ruck-Pauquet
A kind, gentle bear is is so busy doing things for everyone else that he never has time for himself–until the day he finally gets fed up and decides to do his own thing and accept whatever social consequences follow. I love this book because I see so much of myself in Mumble Bear. Probably a lot of moms do. I think it’s a good book about identifying personal needs and setting boundaries.
16. Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
Mostly about global awareness and the beauty of diversity. Makes me cry.
17. The Eloise Books by Kay Thompson
Super hilarious, silly, and most fun to read aloud in a British accent.
18. The Frances Books by Russell and Lillian Hoban
Love these humorous from childhood. Has anyone ever listened to the audio from back in the day? They are delightful. The woman who reads them does a fantastic job.
19. The Charlie and Lola Books by Lauren Child
Hilarious sisters. Lots of relevant topics for kids (like trying new foods and losing teeth). Love Lauren Child’s illustration style. Very “true” voices.
20. Books by Patricia Polacco
These books contain very meaningful stories, many with a female protagonist. A couple that come to mind are Thunder Cake (about overcoming fears) and The Keeping Quilt (an incredible immigration story, also autobiographical). She illustrates her books beautifully, and lots of them are heavy with text, so will likely strike a chord with children who keep the necessary attention span.
I would love for you to share your favorite picture books in the comments. Please?