The Prydain Chronicles with a female lead
February 16, 2019 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Where's that epic multi-book coming of age story for 8-9 year old girls?

The Prydain Chronicles is one of my foundation books. I first read it as child, and I've reread it every few years my whole life. I was excited to pass it on to my son when he was old enough. But now that my daughter is 8, I have mixed feelings. It's still a great book and I'll give it a shot, but it doesn't exactly present strong female role models.

Is there anything of a similar scope and ambition that features a strong girl growing up, and that's suitable for a young middle-years reader?
posted by Winnie the Proust to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Tamora Pierce? I read the Lioness Quartet at about that age and I've heard good things about her later books as well.
posted by darchildre at 12:40 PM on February 16, 2019 [22 favorites]

His Dark Materials was this for me; at least the first book should be ok for an 8 year old, the later books are more high school level.
posted by bleep at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Tamora Pierce for sure.

Maybe the Nnedi Okarofor books Akata Witch and its sequels?

Howl’s Moving Castle is only one book, so lacking sprawl, but Diana Wynne Jones was prolific and doesn’t always center male characters.

Joan Aiken’s books starting with Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:56 PM on February 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not quite the same, but the Golden Compass and its sequels ("His Dark Materials") are a wonderful coming-of-age for the girl protagonist. (The movie was awful, but the books are excellent.)
posted by anadem at 1:10 PM on February 16, 2019

Alanna, definitely, also Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. Edward Eager's books also do a good job of not completely centering boys.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:16 PM on February 16, 2019 [9 favorites]

Oh, and if you want high fantasy, consider Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons and the sequels.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:17 PM on February 16, 2019 [21 favorites]

I loved the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix, which covers three different characters' (two female) coming of age. I would say its more for 11-12+ though.
posted by lookoutbelow at 1:33 PM on February 16, 2019 [10 favorites]

Perhaps Catherynne Valente's Fairyland series? That's five books staring with the "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making". The feature a 12-year old girl from WW-2 era Kansas who ends up on multiple quest adventures in fairyland. I'm not entirely sure if they qualify as coming of age in the classic start as a pig-keeper, end up a king, model, but I think you can fairly say that September gains a lot of experience and maturity over the course of the series.

If a single volume coming of age book would be of interest, T. Kingfisher's (Ursula Vernon's) Summer in Orcus.

I think a number of the books recommended so far in this thread may be a shade old- nearly all are rated 10+ or sometimes YA. It's sometimes hard to tell what the ratings are based on, but I figure this is where you will know what your daughter will enjoy/understand.
posted by Dorothea Ladislaw at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Absolutely the Alanna books.

Also! Lloyd Alexander wrote The Vesper Holly series, so you get his wonderful writing with a female protagonist. It's been literally decades since I've read them, but I remember loving them, and loving Vesper.

Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence is adjacent to this; Jane is really only the star in Greenwitch, but she appears in all of the books and is fully part of the adventures. Several of the books are set at least partly in Wales, so you get a similar mythic feel to Prydain. (The sequence as a whole feels a lot like the Prydain chronicles, with the books building up to a final battle between good and evil. I found the last book rather badly plotted, though it might be better for a wee one who isn't used to a lot of tropes yet.)
posted by kalimac at 2:00 PM on February 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books. Start her with The Wee Free Men.

"Nine-year-old Tiffany Aching thinks her Granny Aching – a wise shepherd – might have been a witch, but now Granny Aching is dead and it’s up to Tiffany to work it all out when strange things begin happening: a fairy-tale monster in the stream, a headless horseman and, strangest of all, the tiny blue men in kilts, the Wee Free Men, who have come looking for the new ‘hag’. These are the Nac Mac Feegles, the pictsies, who like nothing better than thievin’, fightin’ and drinkin’. Then Tiffany’s young brother goes missing and Tiffany and the Wee Free Men must join forces to save him from the Queen of the Fairies."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:11 PM on February 16, 2019 [13 favorites]

Nthing Tamora Pierce.
posted by TwoStride at 2:14 PM on February 16, 2019

None of these are exact equivalents, but: Most of Robin McKinley's fantasy novels have female protagonists; The Hero and the Crown on. Peter Dickinson (her husband, now I come to think of it) also wrote quite a few YA fantasy novels with female leads. Diane Duane's "Young Wizards" series is fantasy set in our world, but has a wonderful female protagonist. Also seconding Joan Aiken and Diana Wynne Jones.
posted by huimangm at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yes, huimangm -- I LOVED McKinley's The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. OMG the hours I spent re-reading those. Not sure how well they hold up these days, but worth a shot?

I was given McKinley's Deerskin when I was a very young teenager and it was...something. I guess I learned a lot about dog breeding and menstrual cycles (I think!?).
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 3:40 PM on February 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy is probably more appropriate for an 8-9 year old girl than a lot of the other books being suggested here. (Though I think the ideal age to read it would be somewhat older than 9.) The main character in the first book is a girl and she continues to be one of the main characters. It is to some extent a coming-of-age story about her. But her parents and a variety of other people, both male and female, become equally important to the story. The books are really good. I recommend them.
posted by Redstart at 4:04 PM on February 16, 2019

I'm voting against Deerskin for that age group - the protagonist is raped by her father and has a magical miscarriage - I think it's a little much. But definitely recommending The Hero and the Crown and the related book The Blue Sword, and also Beauty which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a sensible female protagonist.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:08 PM on February 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

Came in to recommend the Tiffany Aching books. I am a grown-ass man (who used to be a precocious young boy) and I cannot tell you how much I love them. They start at Age 9 and go from there. I am re-reading them as we speak for probably the forty-eleventh time.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:19 PM on February 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah Deerskin is horrifying. I own it but reread it only when I am up for it.

I think Ursula Le Guin’s Gifts/Voices/Powers are amazing too.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:32 PM on February 16, 2019

Tamora Pierce’s books are going to be the best bet, along with Tiffany Aching, most but not all Robin McKinley books (avoid Deerskin and Sunshine until older), and the Young Wizard books. (I reread the first two in the series a lot as a wizened adult, so they hold up.)

The Abhorsen books are great but there is a lot of death and other grim stuff so you may want to wait a couple of years?
posted by PussKillian at 7:13 PM on February 16, 2019

Sarah Prineas’s trilogy Winterling, Summerkin, and Moonkind would be perfect for a girl this age, and are great books full of adventure and magic.
posted by epj at 8:20 PM on February 16, 2019

I would also recommend Ursula Vernon's Summer in Orcus, which is a charming portal fantasy full of Vernon's trademark wit and some solid psychological insight.
posted by suelac at 9:59 PM on February 16, 2019

OH....just to be clear. I was in no way advocating for Deerskin for a child or...frankly, anyone! My lukewarm feelings were lost in translation!
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:36 AM on February 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yes to Tamora Pierce's Alana series and yes to 'Dealing with Dragons' (both were recommended to me by extraordinary young women!).

Also: Jasper Fforde's 'The Last Dragon Slayer' series.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2019

If you are going to go Tamora Pierce I would actually say the Circle of Magic books maybe more age appropriate (I read the Lioness Quartet around 10 and certainly didn't understand the non-graphic but still existent sex references, not that it messed me up or anything, but they are there), although each of that series focuses on one of four protagonists, and one of which is a boy.

Valente's Fairyland books are amazing. I remember loving Tanith Lee's Claidi Chronicles (starting with Wolf Tower).
posted by wellifyouinsist at 1:26 PM on February 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I DEVOURED Tamora Pierce (Lioness Quartet, Wild Magic), the His Dark Materials trilogy, and the Abhorsen books as a middle schooler. I still love all of them to this day. Nthing all of these. YMMV but I was an extremely sensitive and nightmare-prone kid and none of the more adult content in these series (Abhorsen books definitely are more grim and spooky) bugged me very much.
posted by caitcadieux at 5:31 PM on February 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

seconding Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles series (starts with the Wolves of Willoughby Chase). The lead female character (Dido Twite) is 9 when first introduced, and is in her 20s at the end of the series. To me she has always been the first character that comes to mind when I think of a strong female lead in fiction. She grows a lot throughout the series (starts off as an abused/neglected, sort of bratty and petulant child - becomes wiser, more capable, empathetic etc as the series goes on) while her core traits (strong will, quick-thinking, straightforwardness) remain. She also does all of this without overwritten sentiment (on Aiken's part) - she is really pragmatic without coming across as un-empathetic.

In this sense, she doesn't have "feminine" emotional traits that a lot of female fictional heroines are typically written as having, and this also makes her unique and more relatable in a way. (imo - it's really as if a "boy" character were written as a female character with a name change, without a lot of the subtle gender assumptions/stereotypes that tend to get mixed in when portraying young female leads.)
posted by aielen at 9:38 PM on February 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for these great suggestions. There is much to look through here. Some will be too much for her; we'll focus on the others for now. We're heading to the library in a couple of hours, and we'll have a list to bring along.

If anyone coming to this conversation late has more suggestions, please add them. We go through books pretty quickly in our house.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:11 AM on February 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank The Moon is a single volume, rather than a series, but it still has a sweeping, epic feel to it.

Just to nth some of the other suggestions — I loved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as a kid and re-read it recently. It holds up, and is entirely appropriate for an 8-year-old. The series jumps among different protagonists, so it doesn’t quite have the same pig-keeper-to-king biographical focus of the Prydain Chronicles, but it ends up having a big, world-exploring sweep of a different sort.

I have read most of Patricia Wrede’s Dealing With Dragon series as a grownup and I can report that they are delightful, as well as age appropriate.

I love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials but I think of them as being on the older end of Middle Grade, especially the latter books in the series. They have a level of intensity (and literary complexity) that would be totally fine for some 8-year-olds but not all. I think this summary at Common Sense media is pretty fair.

Finally... and I hope this is OK because it is definitely self-promotion... I’m a children’s author who wrote a Middle Grade fantasy series with a young girl as the main character. I’m not going to claim it has the same scope as the Prydain chronicles but I loved Lloyd Alexander as a kid and his books were a big influence on me as a writer. You can find the link in my profile if you so choose.
posted by yankeefog at 12:30 PM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, if you're open to graphic novels:

The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi may be exactly what you're looking for. There are 8 book so far -- apparently 9 will be the last. It's a combination of fantasy and sci-fi with a young female protagonist and an epic, world-hopping story.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is a mere three volumes but it's also delightful.

Space Dumplings by Craig Thompson is just a single volume, but it's got a genuinely epic feel.
posted by yankeefog at 4:00 AM on February 25, 2019

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