Heroines, real and fictional, abound in children’s and teen books these days. The girls and women in these books are bold, adventurous and daring. They stand out, and their stories offer much-needed inspiration to young people navigating difficult and confusing times. Plus, these books are simply great reading — for boys and girls alike.
Here’s a look at some new books starring intrepid women:
(Ages 5 to 8):
Anna Hibiscus series (Kane Miller), by Atinuke, with illustrations by Lauren Tobia. These eight books by Nigerian storyteller Atinuke center on a curious, energetic young girl who lives with her large extended family. Her challenges and joys are universal as she grumbles about her twin baby brothers, makes new friends and sees snow for the first time when she visits her grandmother in Canada.
Dangerous Jane (Peachtree) by Suzanne Slade, with illustrations by Alice Ratterree. Jane Addams is best known for her work in establishing the Chicago-based Hull House, where immigrants were offered English lessons, child care and other services. But Addams also helped form the Women’s Peace Party at the outbreak of World War I. Her work for peace, including travels after the war in countries that had been U.S. enemies, led the FBI to name Addams “the most dangerous woman in America.”
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos (North South), by Monica Brown with illustrations by John Parra. Young readers will enjoy how Brown shares details about Kahlo’s tumultuous life through her many pets: Kahlo was independent like her cat, mischievous like her two spider monkeys and had a soaring imagination like her pet eagle.
Lola Levine series (Little, Brown), by Monica Brown with illustrations by Angela Dominguez. Beginning with “Lola Levine Is Not Mean!,” the six books in this series feature a soccer-loving girl of Peruvian-Jewish heritage whose father is an artist and whose mother is a newspaper reporter. Lola’s ups and downs — from accidentally kicking a soccer ball at a classmate to dealing with the consequences of a joke gone awry — will resonate with many young readers.
Malala’s Magic Pencil (Little, Brown), by Malala Yousafzai, with illustrations by Kerascoet. Malala brings her story of courage and hope to young readers in this engaging and beautifully illustrated picture book autobiography. Malala tells readers how, as a child, she loved a TV show featuring a boy with a magic pencil that allowed him to draw whatever he needed or wanted. Later, Malala thought of that magic pencil as she wrote speeches to highlight injustice, especially the lack of education for girls, in her native Pakistan. As Malala says: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines (Henry Holt), written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk, and The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid (Beach Lane), written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. These two picture book biographies highlight how two noted female architects were motivated by a love of nature and had to overcome prejudice to make their mark on the world. Lin was just 21 and still in college when her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial won an international competition. Hadid has designed some of the world’s most unusual buildings.
Princess Cora and the Crocodile (Candlewick), by Laura Amy Schlitz, with illustrations by Brian Floca. This sparkling collaboration between Newbery Medalist Schlitz and Caldecott Medalist Floca tells the story of a princess bored with her parents’ strictures, which include taking three baths a day and reading nothing but weighty tomes. So when a crocodile offers to exchange places with Princess Cora, she jumps at the chance. Of course, chaos ensues, but things get sorted out in the end, leaving the princess with a life more fit for a child.
Princess in Black series (Candlewick), by Shannon and Dean Hale, with illustrations by LeUyen Pham. Even young readers who don’t like princesses will find much to admire in the Princess in Black. While she appears to be the model froufrou princess, Princess Magnolia has a secret life as the superhero Princess in Black, stealthily saving her kingdom from monsters and other villains.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist (Atheneum), by Cynthia Levinson, with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Many young readers may know the story of how 6-year-old Ruby Bridges helped integrate New Orleans schools, but fewer may have heard of Hendricks’s role in the Birmingham Children’s March. Levinson doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships the 9-year-old Hendricks endured during her week in the city jail, but the book is overall a celebration of her bravery and refusal to back down.
Middle Grade (Ages 8 to 12)
Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Sy Montgomery, with photographs by Keith Ellenbogen. Montgomery, an inveterate explorer, is the creator of the pioneering Scientists in the Field series, which wonderfully combines up-to-date science with portraits of groundbreaking scientists. Montgomery writes many of the books in the series, and, in this latest volume, she documents the work of scientists scrutinizing how a fish called piaba could present new economic hope for the Amazon region and the people who live there.
Amina’s Voice (Simon & Schuster), by Hena Khan. In this debut novel, Khan gives readers a Muslim American heroine whose daily challenges as a middle schooler will ring true. Amina’s worries about singing in a talent show and grappling with friendship issues, however, suddenly seem small when her beloved local mosque is vandalized.
The First Rule of Punk (Viking), by Celia C. Perez. Maria Luisa prefers to be called Malu and definitely prefers her father’s punk style to her mother’s insistence on being a “SuperMexican.” But her parents are divorced, and when Malu ends up moving from Florida to Chicago for her mother’s new job, she has to figure out how to fit in at a new middle school.
Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time (Wendy Lamb), by Tanya Lee Stone. Transforming a film into a book is challenging, but Stone does it with aplomb in this volume filled with color photos illustrating the heart-rending stories of girls in developing countries who face barriers to getting an education. Stone, an award-winning nonfiction writer, clearly delineates the key obstacles, such as poverty and discrimination, but it’s the girls she spotlights who truly will help young readers understand what’s at stake as they battle for a better life.
Lucky Broken Girl (Nancy Paulsen), by Ruth Behar. Ruthie’s finally gotten the hang of English, some months after her family moves to New York from Cuba in the 1960s, and she’s excited to finally be put in a regular class. Then, her family is in a car accident, and Ruthie must wear a body cast and stay in bed for months, forcing her to learn new skills, as well as face sometimes difficult truths about herself.
Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! (Harry N. Abrams) by Mariko Tamaki, with illustrations by Brooke Allen. In this first book in a new series, Tamaki, author of the Caldecott Honor-winning graphic novel “This One Summer,” successfully translates the crazy energy and humor of the popular Lumberjanes comics into a prose novel. The Lumberjanes are five resourceful girl scouts at a camp for “Hardcore Lady Types” and are always trying to earn new badges together, even if often means heading into the unknown where they must rely on their wits and courage to survive.
Patina (Atheneum), by Jason Reynolds. Life has been different for Patina (Patty) since her father died suddenly, her mother lost her legs because of diabetes, and Patty and her younger sister Maddy went to live with an aunt and uncle. Now Patty has must start over at a new school, where there are few African American students, but she finds salvation in running track.
Real Friends (First Second), by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. The Newbery Honor-winning Hale offers a sometimes humorous, sometimes searing look at her childhood through elementary school. Hale gives a candid glimpse at her family’s painful emotional dynamics, but it’s the roller-coaster times she experiences with friends that will resonate with many young readers (and their parents, too).
The War I Finally Won (Dial), by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Ada, the steely 11-year-old heroine of this sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning “The War That Saved My Life,” is one of the most unforgettable characters in modern children’s literature. In this new book, Ada’s clubfoot is finally fixed, but she is slower to heal from her emotional wounds, especially as World War II continues to claim the lives of those for whom she cares.
Young Adult (Ages 12 to 18):
American Street (Balzer and Bray), by Ibi Zoboi. This debut novel tells the gut-wrenching story of Fabiola Toussaint, a Haitian teen who travels with her mother to the United States for what she imagines will be “La Belle Vie,” the good life. Nothing goes as planned, however; Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration authorities, and although Fabiola is taken in by aunt and cousins, Fabiola must make her own way in the rough-and-tumble new world of West Side Detroit.
Because I Was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages (Henry Holt), edited by Melissa de la Cruz. Organized chronologically, from the 1920s to current day, this collection edited by best-selling teen novelist de la Cruz features nearly 40 first-person essays by women who have helped drive gender change in many different areas, from the Episcopal priesthood to the world of publishing.
The Hate U Give (Balzer and Bray), by Angie Thomas. This debut novel takes on the timely topic of police brutality through the eyes of a gutsy young woman named Starr Carter. Already straddling two worlds as a black student at a mainly white prep school, Starr witnesses the killing of a childhood friend, a killing that sparks major unrest in her neighborhood and eventually galvanizes her to speak out in a way she never thought she could.
How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child (Katherine Tegen), by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta. This remarkable memoir tells the story of a young woman who saw her mother and younger sister gunned down in front of her at an African refugee camp when she was just 10 years old. Uwiringiyimana somehow survived, and she and other family members were eventually resettled in the United States, where she has had to fight her way through what she calls “a different kind of war zone” — American racism.
The Librarian of Auschwitz (Henry Holt), by Antonio Iturbe and translated into English by Lilit Thwaites. First published in Spain, this page-turner is a fictionalized account of the experiences of Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, who was a teen when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. While there, Kraus became the secret camp “librarian,” guarding eight books that were smuggled in by Jewish prisoners and whose existence became a hidden source of solace for inmates.
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women (Annick), edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. This stunning book features stories, poems, essays and artwork depicting what it is like to be an American Indian woman today. Provocative, thoughtful and sometimes humorous, this book showcases tenacious and talented indigenous women ready to take on the world.
Spinning (First Second), by Tillie Walden. In this stark, gripping graphic novel memoir, Walden details her years as a competitive figure skater from elementary school through much of high school. But the real subject is Walden’s early realization that she was gay and how that set her apart from her friends and even family, an isolation that comes through loud and clear in the spare, two-toned illustrations.
Victoria: Portrait of a Queen (Clarion), by Catherine Reef. Crowned queen of England when she was just 18 years old, Victoria led a long and eventful life, outlasting several prime ministers and leaving an indelible mark on her nation. Reef, an award-winning nonfiction writer, provides plenty of historical context, but she’s most interested in offering a nuanced portrait of Victoria as a person who lost her beloved husband at a young age, endured the deaths of several of her children, and yet ruled her kingdom with an iron grip.
You Bring the Distant Near (Farrar, Straus, Giroux), by Mitali Perkins. An irresistible saga of three generations of an Indian American family, this novel begins in 1973, when sisters Starry and Sunny start a new life in the United States with their parents.
Karen MacPherson is the children’s and teen services coordinator for the Takoma Park, Md., library.