Last week I overheard a woman rejecting a book for her son by saying “The main character is a girl, he won’t want to read that.”
The comment stung me. Hadn’t we outgrown this? Why wouldn’t we encourage the boys in our life to read books with female protagonists? Growing up I read everything from the Harry Potter series, to A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Captain Underpants books, to dozens of Jacqueline Wilson novels, and not once did I feel like any of them were geared more towards boys or girls.
Caroline Paul, the author of The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, recently wrote a piece for ideas.ted.com about this. She says:
We read to experience a panoply of perspectives. We read to learn of people and situations outside and beyond ourselves, so we can deepen our connection and understanding. We read to prepare for life. It follows, then, that we are raising our boys to dismiss other people’s experiences, and to see their needs and concerns as the center of things.
She goes on to say that boys who don’t read books with characters who are different from them grow up to lack empathy. A Google search pulls up several blog posts and articles corroborating this, and/or giving more reasons about why it is important for boys to read books by women and starring women.
It’s up to all of us to assert the universality of books regardless of the gender and sex of the protagonist…or the author. So how can we do that?
For starters, we can recommend great books with female characters to all kinds of readers. We can encourage boys to read books that aren’t specifically targeted to them by being creative – for example, flipping the covers! (See Maureen Johnson’s cover flip challenge for more info.)
A quick Google search of ‘middle grade books with female protagonists’ pulls up pages with titles like ‘books for strong girls in middle school’—but my advice is to ignore the title of those articles, and pick up these books for the young boys in your life, too.
But just in case you want something more hand-picked for this particular cause, here’s a book list selected by people on the OOM team featuring children’s books and series with female protagonists that are perfect for your sons, brothers, nephews, grandsons, and all the young boys in your life:
- Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
- The Story of Tracy Beaker - Jacqueline Wilson
- Matilda - Roald Dahl
- Coraline - Neil Gaiman
- A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
- The Girls to the Rescue series – Bruce Lansky
- Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures - Kate DiCamillo
- The Nancy Drew books – Carolyn Keene
- Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
- Dear Dumb Diary series – Jim Benton
- The Ramona Quimby series - Beverly Cleary
- The Baby-sitters Club series – Ann M. Martin
- Sisters and Smile – Raina Telgemeier
- The Westing Game – Ellen Raskin
- The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins
- The Colors of Madeleine trilogy – Jaclyn Moriarty
- Esperanza Rising - Pam Muñoz Ryan
What female-driven books would you add to the list?
Book Covers courtesy of Doubleday and HarperCollins