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Feminist Books for Your Rebel Girls {And Rebel Boys Too}

Author: Lisa Soeno

I’ve talked on these pages previously about Lyra’s love for books. Well that love went into overdrive last week, what with World Book Day and Secret Reader Week. The latter involved us parents being invited to sign up for Secret Reader sessions at Lyra’s pre-school. My slot was last Thursday, I had to pick a children’s story suitable for 3-4 year olds and turn up on the day to surprise Lyra, and read her the story to her and her school friends. Her face was a picture!

And seeing as tomorrow is International Women’s Day I thought it was only right to round up some of the best feminist books for kids we’ve come across. I’ve given a rough age rating for each book, but take these with a pinch of salt, as Lyra is loving her Rebel Girls book yet I’ve noticed an age range of 8+ on some websites.

Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch (Ages 3-5)

Boy meets girl, scary fire-breathing dragon appears and burns girl’s clothes, boy saves girl. Right? WRONG. Not in this story. In Paperbag Princess, the girl is the hero and outsmarts the dragon and saves the boy. Published in 1980, this is surely one of the first feminist books for kids. It was one of my favourite books when I was little and it’s on Lyra’s birthday list.

Coco Chanel by Isabel Sanchez Vegara (Ages 4-8)

Part of the Little People, Big Dreams series, this gem of a book tells the story of the style icon that is Coco Chanel. Coco grew up in an orphanage and was ‘different’: she liked to sew clothes rather than play with the other girls. I love the whole ethos of the Little People, Big Dreams series, and the messages to little girls (and boys) that they convey: that it’s fine to be different, and that you can accomplish your dreams if you work hard enough. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series, all of which are just as beautifully illustrated.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World by Kate Pankhurst (Ages 4-8)

These girl power picture-book biographies are all the rage at the moment. Written by a descendant of Emmeline Pankhurst, Fantastically Great Women pays tribute to Emmeline and 13 other inspirational ladies. The colourful, cartoon-y style and layout reminds me of the super-popular Horrible Histories series. Pankhurst’s book has been such a hit that a follow up, Fantastically Great Women Who Made History, was published last month.

Women In Science by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ages 4-10)

I actually bought this one for my friend Lou who’s a science teacher. It’s another influential-women picture book biography, but this time focussing on inspirational females who have made a contribution to the world of science. The illustrations are stunning – a kind of intricate papercut effect – and unusual and eye-catching because the pages are black.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Ages 8+)

This is the book that Lyra’s holding in the header image. She’s way too young for it now but I can’t wait for the day that we can snuggle up together at bedtime and read all about the March sisters and the trials and tribulations of growing up. Did anyone catch the TV adaptation of it over Christmas? It was, quite simply, perfection. Possibly the best thing the BBC have ever produced (sorry, I know this is meant to be a post about books…)

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Ages 4+)

I’ve saved the best ’til last.

Rebel Girls is 100 page-long stories of real-life, strong, independent women. I love everything about this book. The stories have been written with kids in mind: many start with ‘Once upon a time there was a little girl called…” and the language and structure of each story is kid-friendly. The illustrations are all by women. And even the story behind the story is a good one: the female authors were told that “two girls alone” would never raise serious capital. But when they started a crowdfunding campaign to publish Rebel Girls, they pretty much broke Kickstarter, raising over $1 million, making it the most successful book in crowdfunding history.

Lyra, too, is obsessed with Rebel Girls: we read three stories every bedtime and god forbid if I forget to read out the date that the Rebel Girl was born, or their quote.

Reading Rebel Girls is also turning out to be a learning experience for me. Maybe I should have known, but I did NOT know that Michelle Obama was Barack Obama’s mentor at the law firm where they met. Nor did I know that the first female Pharaoh was not Cleopatra but a lady called Hatshepsut, who had to present herself as a man to convince Egyptians that she was their legitimate leader, and went on to become one of the most successful leaders in Egyptian history.

Following the popularity of Rebel Girls, the writers were approached by so many people telling tales of other inspirational women that they soon amassed enough stories for a Volume 2. It was released last week and you can get your copy here.

Are your little ones as obsessed with Rebel Girls as Lyra and I? Are there any other feminist books for kids that you’d recommend?

P.S. A massive congratulations to the original Rock My Rebel Girl, Charlotte O’Shea, who gave birth to her little lady Iris on Saturday.

  • Women In Science
  • Little Dreams, Big People: Coco Chanel
  • Little Women
  • Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Image by Little Beanies

Author: Lisa Soeno
Lisa is obsessed with all things interior design. And Cadbury buttons.
Follow Lisa on instagram @lisa.soeno
This post may include affiliate links.

27 thoughts on “Feminist Books for Your Rebel Girls {And Rebel Boys Too}

  1. Love this post!! Think I will have to look up the Paperbag Princess, it sounds right up my street!!

    Little Women is my total favourite – I agree, it is for much older children, however … you can get a baby board version of it Little Miss Alcott: Little Women (A Babylit Playtime Primer) – for my goddaughter’s christening I bought her a lovely hardback version for when she’s older, and this one for now!!! (Also off topic, but absolutely loved the TV adaptation!!!!!)

    Other ones that we love in our house:

    Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (she’s also written one called Ada Twist, Scientist, but we haven’t read that one yet!)

    Our current favourite is Zog and the Flying Doctors by Julia Donaldson – in fact my Orla chose to be Princess Pearl for World Book Day at Nursery!

    And on my list to by is Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole.

    Also The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale for older ones – I bought it for my eight year old goddaughter’s birthday and she loved it – then for Christmas she got Rebel Girls!!

        1. Amy this Little Miss Alcott book has got me so excited! What a great shout. (The TV adaptation…I had forgotten that Jo doesn’t end up marrying Laurie! Devastated!)

          I haven’t come across many of the books you’ve mentioned so will be checking them out, thank you! x

  2. I’ve not heard of any of these so thank you! I have two daughters, the eldest at 3 is a total book worm and a girly princess loving girl so I’ll do anything to teach her beyond the stereotypes! My friend bought her “Rosie Recere, engineer” which is about a girl who invents things. It’s inspired by women’s role in the Second World War. Looking on amazon it looks like there are others in the series too
    I’ll be adding your recommendations to my future wish list!

    1. Lyra’s the same! Crazy about pink, purple and glitter at the moment. Which is why I’m glad she’s also enjoying Rebel Girls.

      Love the sound of Rosie Revere – I think we need to give it a try x

  3. We’re struggling at the moment with bedtime books. She’s almost 3.5 and is wanting to sound out words herself. She doesn’t want us to read to her, she wants to read herself. So if anyone has any good suggestions of basic entry level reading books about science or engineers or astronauts please comment!

    On the feminist book thing, we have Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere (and there’s an Architect one too). Also this one is similar to Rebel Girls but space based for all aspiring astronauts and physicists.

    Ever since I saw that BBC gender documentary I’ve been ramming STEM subjects and activities big time. Am terrified of the impact school will have and that her brain might already have developed into such a way that she isn’t able to do STEM subjects as easily. Did you all see it?

    1. Yes I saw it and it was terrifying wasn’t it? My husband is a maths teacher so I, hoping his influence will help, although I did a science degree too so we’ll both do our best to give a rounded view point. But once they’re at school (and I’ve even seen the influence of nursery) it’s so difficult to fight the tide of gender stereotyping.

      1. I have a son and spotted this book that I plan to buy him for his birthday – stories for boys who dared to be different (the tag line is “true tales of amazing boys who changed the world without killing dragons”)!

    2. Sounds like there’s a gap in the market Rebecca – you should get writing your own 🙂

      Haven’t heard about this BBC documentary – if you’ve got a link please send it over x

      1. I assume it’s this one but it’s not available to watch at the moment.
        I watched it and was both heartbroken and filled with rage all at the same time!!! My daughter’s keyworker at nursery actually told me about it – she said that it made her think of Orla, as she often describes herself as a strong brave girl knight, and she thought that was brilliant after watching the documentary!! So Orla gets the same messages at home and at nursery which is great!!
        I too am concerned about the impact of school/other children on the messages that I give her. I can’t help but jump in when I hear any ‘but that’s for girls/boys’ talk!!!

  4. I love Rebel Girls. My 4yr old daughter was given it as a gift for her birthday last year and she loves to hear the stories. We’ve definitely read it cover to cover by now! She often asks for her namesake, Emily (of the Bronte sisters) and tells people she was named after a famous “girl writer” (she wasn’t- I just liked the name!). I also caught her explaining to her cousin, Nina, that there is a famous Nina who’s good at singing! So much better as a role model than Shimmer and Bloody Shine!

    1. This is brilliant Sara – shows what an impact the book has made.

      With you on Shimmer and Shine – and any other Channel 5 kids programmes for that matter!

  5. Lisa this post is just everything. I love it!

    A couple more for the list-

    Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is an absolute banger. Funny, clever and irreverent.

    Izzy Gizmo is great- so good to see WOC represented too, intersectional feminist books for children are super important to me. Candice Braithwaite is my must follow person on IG and she spoke so movingly about this last week and had some great recommendations.

    The Tara Binns books mean well but are a bit icky. The rhyme feels forced and although the idea (a girl does Mr Benn style magical dress up) is fun it’s all a bit worthy.

    We have the Frida Kahlo book from the Coco series and S loves it.

    1. Oh and for older girls and boys and teens TAMORA PIERCE is amazing. My brother credits the Song of the Lioness quartet (which he stole from me) with giving him a totally normal matter of fact attitude to periods, hormones, the embodied nature of women’s experiences etc. I just loved the stories.

      1. Thanks Lucy! 😘

        So many more books to investigate, thank you! Re WOC, I spotted this in a bookshop window yesterday – it looks to be a similar format and style to Rebel Girls and Coco Chanel:

  6. I’m taking so much inspiration from this post. I bought the Rebel book for my pal’s wee girl, but for some reason hadn’t considered it for Ethan!! Definitely going to add some of these to his evening story list.

  7. Love this Lisa. I have two girls so am trying to build up a strong girls library lol! We have Rebel Girls, Princess Smartypants and a few of the Little People Big Dreams series (I want to collect them all – though my 3 year old’s favourite is Emmeline Pankhurst and I’ve read her so many times I’m sick of her!). Next on the list is Rosie Revere, Engineer, etc.

    Little Women is one of my favourite books of all time and I had no idea there was a board book version – I’ll be ordering that straight away!

    Looking back, I always loved books with female protagonists when I was younger. I’m always on the lookout for books like that for my girls. Maybe we should have an RMF branch of the book club!

    1. You’ve just made me realise that I too have always gone for the books with the female protagonists!

      Strong Girls library and RMF book club, yes 🙂

  8. This is a brilliant post. Amelie’s got and loves most of these books. Good to learn of some new ones though. Another one to add to the mix: Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights x

    1. Thanks Sarah 🙂 The fact that there’s a book which has the word Nincompoop in its title is reason enough to make me want to read it with Lyra! Ha ha. I think I’m going to have to head to the library with her tomorrow and try and hunt down some of these suggestions x

  9. I love this! Role models are so crucial. I can only imagine the joy of surprising Lyra at school as well! What a cutie x great piece Lisa, I’m now seconds away from reading little women again (knowing that I will inevitably snivel my way through it 😢) x

    1. Mia, Maggie bought me Little Men, I can’t believe I didn’t read it when I was young?! Would love to chat role models next time I see you x

  10. Alice and I were obsessed with Rebel Girls since my friend bought it for her when she was first born. My husband and I found it fascinating to read as Alice’s bedtime stories and she loved the illustrations (we had been reading it since she was 4 months maybe if not earlier). We have already got Rebel Girls 2 ready in our basket for her first birthday in May although we may need to crack it out sooner!

    I am a huge, huge, huge fan of Little Women (my love for the 1994 adaptation with Winona Ryder is one of the pillars that my friendship with my best two gals stands on) and cannot wait to have this as a bedtime read with Alice when she’s a bit bigger. I’ve just been bought the Folio Society edition and quite simply, it may be one of the most beautiful pieces in my home.

    Happy IWD! X

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