A Strong Female Lead: Picture Books

A Strong Female Lead: Picture Books Banner Photo

While many books do have a main girl character or a main boy character, I firmly believe that there is no such thing as 'girl books' and 'boy books.' These labels just end up selling books and their readers short. By labeling books like this we end up limiting young readers by not encouraging them to read widely, to engage with characters unlike themselves, and to learn from their stories. That being said, sometimes it seems very difficult to find books with what Netflix likes to categorize as a "strong female lead." 

Here are some of my very favorite picture books with a 'strong female lead.' 


Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

This Caldecott Honor Book might just be picture book magic. Mac Barnett has written a lovely (I'd say 'yarn' but I can already hear the anti-pun contingent groaning, so I won't) story about a young girl named Annabelle who finds a magical box of yarn. Annabelle is not only a very talented and soon a very accomplished knitter, she is also kind (even to her fiercest critics -- I'm looking at you, Nate!), honest, and brave in the face of the nefarious archduke who just wants her magical yarn for his personal gain. Not one to beleaguer a moral, Barnett writes in a way that shows he clearly respects a child's intelligence and their sense of humor. I had the great pleasure of getting to read this to my 2-year old niece recently (we won't mention I let her climb up on her bed to pull it down from the shelf herself) and though we had both read it many times before, it was the first time we got read it together and we still both thoroughly enjoyed Annabelle's quiet pluck and pointing out just who (and what!) ends up getting a lovely sweater. 


Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

I can still remember my mother reading me Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold on hot, stuffy summer nights as a child. On nights when its so hot you can't bear thinking about sheets and even your pillow feels like it's clinging to you, there is nothing more magical than thinking about Cassie Louise Lightfoot sleeping up in the relative coolness of her building's roof in Harlem. While all families' hopes, dreams, and struggles may not be the same at Cassie's, all children can relate to wanting to grow up and make all their wishes come true simply by flying over their heart's desire. The combination of Ringgold's evocative text along with her bright, bold illustrations will really spark you child's imagination (and your's!) and you will find yourselves soaring over Harlem along with Cassie. This picture book is based off of the author's childhood experiences and serves as a great way for parents to begin to discuss how race relations affect our nation's families, all through the eyes of young Cassie. 


Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty

I can't tell you how much I love Rosie -- and Andrea Beaty for giving us this gem of a book. Rosie is a young girl who was born to be an engineer. She loves tinkering and building contraptions but as she has gotten a little older she has become shy about her passion and her talent. This is the story of how Rosie regains her confidence with help from her Great-Great Aunt Rose (with an awesome nod in one of the illustrations to Great Aunt Rose being Rosie the Riveter) who tells her to follow her dreams, but more importantly to understand that failure and 'first tries' are important parts in the process of succeeding as an engineer. In a world where children come to expect instant perfection and success, and where the societal pressure for this perfection can make failures and 'first tries' positively crushing for kids, Rosie is a girl for us all to pay attention to. 


Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey has a special place in my heart. This is has a lot to do with the fact that part of me is surprised the bear/human mother mix-up never happened to me as a child, but also because she is just the most lovely embodiment of very young children learning to trust in themselves when out in the world. She's a bit of a mess; her overalls are always falling off but what's most important about this is Sal allowed to be. Her mother might chide her a little for sneaking blueberries from the bucket, but she encourages Sal to go off and find her own berries. Because little Sal can! She doesn't need to be handed berries, she's more than capable of picking her own to snack on. The lovely bear cub/Sal mixup is just the perfect storybook adventure for young Sal to have. And I love that Sal's mother doesn't yell at Sal for striking out on her own. I like to imagine that this is just the first of Sal's many great adventures -- because now she knows she's capable of wonderful things, all on her own. 


I encourage you to stop the library and pick up one of these amazing stories to share with your daughter or son; niece or nephew; granddaughter or grandson, or your whole class!