Books that changed your life as a girl
June 20, 2007 1:04 PM   Subscribe

MeFi Women: I am working on a book for girls that will feature a chapter on books that every girl should read -- books that changed your life, so to speak, and that you'd want your daughter to read before she's grown up. My list so far is inside. What would you add to it? (or boot from it?)

This list is a list of "classic" books, pre-1980, that would be suitable for a 12-year-old or middleschooler to read. I'd love to have some more sci-fi / fantasy on there. There will also be a short side list of more modern books, so if you have some favorite post-1980 books, those are welcome as well. (Book suggestions do not have to be restricted to female authors or female protagonists -- any book that blew your mind and changed the way you thought about yourself and the world around you would be fantastic.)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Anne of Green Gables, and Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
Arabian Nights
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Black Beauty
The Borrowers
Caddie Woodlawn
Charlotte’s Web
Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm
The Famous Five
Gone With The Wind
The Good Earth
Great Expectations
Harriet the Spy
Island of the Blue Dolphins
To Kill a Mockingbird
King Arthur
Jane Eyre
Little House on the Prairie series
The Little Princess
Little Women / Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
Marjorie Morningstar
Mary Poppins
The Mists of Avalon
Mrs. Dalloway
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Nancy Drew series
National Velvet
The Odyssey
Peter Pan
The Phantom Tollbooth
Pippi Longstocking
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Robin Hood
The Secret Garden
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Treasure Island
Trixie Belden series
The Velveteen Rabbit
A Wrinkle in Time
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Wuthering Heights
posted by mothershock to Writing & Language (140 answers total) 132 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say this may be for girls slightly older than middle school, but The Awakening by Kate Chopin is great.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 1:10 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Judy Blume, Judy Blume, Judy Blume.
posted by Failure31 at 1:12 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Today, related.
posted by greta simone at 1:13 PM on June 20, 2007

Yup, seconding "Are You There, GOd, It's Me Margaret", and pretty much any Judy Blume.
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:14 PM on June 20, 2007

I feel like I recommend these all the time on AskMeFi - Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. They're post-1980, fantasy, with great, strong female protagonists.

More post-1980 fantasy would be Terry Pratchett's books for kids: Wee Free Men and Hat Full of Sky, again with a strong, interesting female protagonist.

I'd also include with the classics The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery).
posted by Melinika at 1:14 PM on June 20, 2007

The Diary of Anne Frank.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:15 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cheaper by the Dozen.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:15 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure how well some of those books travel nowadays - Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Nancy Drew and Anne of Greene Gables seem very dated to me now.

I think Judy Blume is holding up well and would add Are You There, God? Its me Margaret to the list. I'd also add The Diary of Ann Frank.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:15 PM on June 20, 2007

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. A ghosty suspenseful mystery. Underlying themes include selflessness, understanding and forgiveness.
posted by goml at 1:15 PM on June 20, 2007

An unabridged dictionary. It was very empowering to me as a young girl. (Seriously.)
posted by footnote at 1:17 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think that's already a fantastic list. All the ones I was going to suggest are already on it. Maybe the Willie Wonka books? Misty of Chincoteague, or any of the Marguerite Henry books, really. Judy Blume books if she's mature. I would also add A Swiftly Tilting Planet and A Wind in the Door if you're trying to pad out the list, but if she loves A Wrinkle in Time she will find them on her own. Oh, and what about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

These are mostly books I enjoyed; they may have strong female characters or not, but those were the ones I devoured at that age. And I turned out fine!

--signed, just reread Harriet the Spy last week
posted by bink at 1:20 PM on June 20, 2007

Introducing Sally J. Friedman As Herself - Judy Blume.

I must have read that a hundred times in my early teens.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on June 20, 2007

i would imagine the subtleties of "the odyssey," "jane eyre," "wuthering heights," and "mrs. dalloway" would be lost on a 12-year-old, even a very precocious one. they would be able to read it and get the plot, but probably don't have the maturity/literary experience to understand what makes them great. "great expectations" is probably comprehensible, but very long for a modern 12-year-old's attention span.

that said, you have a great list. for sci-fi/fantasy, i heartily recommend philip pullman's "dark materials" trilogy. i believe he won the whitbread prize for it, the first time a children's writer has won.

i also recommend "watership down".
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:25 PM on June 20, 2007

As for sci fi: Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and Robot series are good for a girl that age; that's about when I read them.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2007

I'd question "Mists of Avalon." I read it in sixth grade, and was pretty shocked and weirded out by some of the sex in it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Gone With The Wind and Mrs. Dalloway seem a little heavy for 12-year-olds (the first one literally heavy, the second is a tough read at any age).

I seem to remember reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler ... at that age and loving it (what pre-teen doesn't love a book about running away?) I also read Z is for Zachariah around then-- a slightly creepy, scary story about life after a nuclear war that really spoke to me.

Other important reads for me: Flowers for Algernon, The Cay, and The Dr Doolittle series. I read All Creatures Great and Small recently, but I think preteens would love it also.

Seconding The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
posted by parkerjackson at 1:29 PM on June 20, 2007

I'm not sure how Huckleberry Finn fits in to this list. Many of the subtleties of that were lost on me during high school, let alone middle school. And the antiquated dialogue and southern dialect might be tough to digest. Along with the "N" word.

Caddie Woodlawn was quite good, in a Little House sort of way.

Modern texts:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (which might have some adult themes.)
Angus, Thongs, & Full Frontal Snogging series. (I like this series a lot because it's presented in diary format and could encourage young writers to begin or continue the journaling process.)
Harry Potter changed my life. Seriously. (And I like any book that encourages 12-year-olds to read for hours on end.)
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Steven King
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (I'd like to see more sci-fi reading done by middle school girls.)

In Steven King's "On Writing," there's a list of books that he recommends for writers. There were some excellent books on that list (such as Harry Potter), but I'm not entirely sure how age-appropriate those books might be.
posted by santojulieta at 1:34 PM on June 20, 2007

Charlotte Sometimes - Penelope Farmer

book that the cure song was based on

short and sweet and really good!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 1:40 PM on June 20, 2007

nthing Judy Blume, The Diary of Anne Frank, the Narnia books, the Willie Wonka books (I also loved Dahl's James and the Giant Peach and Danny, the Champion of the World) and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Are plays okay? If so, The Crucible and Romeo and Juliet were big faves of mine around 12 or 13.

I also agree that a few titles like Mrs. Dalloway are a bit much, even for very precocious girls (I was pretty precocious, and I know I wouldn't have gotten anything out of it for at least several more years -- my life was totally changed by Portrait of the Artist as a Young Manaround age 15 or 16, for example, but I don't think I could have gotten much out of it any earlier).
posted by scody at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2007

I loved Lois Lowry as a girl. I was very moved by Number in the Stars and A Summer to Die. They were a great transition to more 'grown-up' books.

Also, I recommend Pinballs, the Westing Game and Sweetgrass. I still think about these books often, even though I read them all almost 20 years ago.
posted by Alison at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2007

Oooh, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorites. I would add books by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, who I don't see on this type of list much. Her books are about imagination and fantasy (from what I remember) and I loved them.

I would also highly recommend Bridge to Terebithia and Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson.
posted by Mavri at 1:46 PM on June 20, 2007

At that age, I was wearing out a copy of My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

It's about a boy who runs away from home to go live in the wilderness. Although I was a young girl, I still deeply identified with the protagonist, and I think this book helped instill in me an independence and a love for camping and nature.
posted by ZeroDivides at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Where is The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit? Everyone should read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit!
posted by Ms. Saint at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

And, yes, seconding Lois Lowry. Man, I loved the books I read at that age.
posted by Mavri at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2007

In the arena of childrens/YA, I add:

* Bridge to Terabithia
* Cynthia Voight's Homecoming and Dicey's Song (both published after 1980)
* Everything written by Madeline L'Engle, who I read and re-read from elementary school through high school.

What I actually did at 12 was plow through the "classic novels" section of the library. Most memorably:

The Awakening. Also in the category of turn-of-the-century early-feminist stories, I loved The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman.

The Invisible Man (The HG Wells story. Didn't read Ellison until high school)


Stranger in a Strange Land
posted by desuetude at 1:48 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming.
posted by handee at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2007

I read, apparently for the first time, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in my late fifties. Bowdlerized versions must have been used in schools. Twain's book is one I'd recommend only for adults who can cope with the dozens and dozens of times he uses the n-word. It's not for kids.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2007

(I also loved reading all the Stephen King I could get my hands on, but you probably want to save that for the high school list, what with the sexual situations.)
posted by desuetude at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Time Machine by HG Wells made a big impression on me.
posted by Mavri at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2007

The Betsy and Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace...they were my favorites growing up.
posted by elquien at 1:52 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Gads, I would have never made it through my 'tweens without Judy Blume.

Oh and ...
The Giving Tree
The Giver (by Lowry)
Lord of the Flies
posted by eatdonuts at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2007

Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! (which for years I misremembered as being by Judy Blume, because it's so good at covering that confusing kid/adult bridge)

The Outsiders, notable also for being written by a woman who was not yet out of her teenage years.

Some of the books listed may be a little antiquated for today's kids. I was unable to get past the victorian, helpless, hand-wringing drama of a few of them, and that was 20 years ago. Definitely try putting in more books that are a little more harsh/cynical/world-wise. If you're including kids who are mature enough the Odyssey, they might be old enough to read the autobiography of Christiane F (I think I read it when I was in the 8th grade, well past the age when I was willing to read Ramona books.)
posted by stefanie at 1:57 PM on June 20, 2007

For really good fantasy I would recomend anything by Patricia McKillip. Especially the Riddlemaster trilogy and Od Magic. It has that subtle touch of certain female fantasy authors without the misandry of (for example) Andre Norton. Excellent stuff.
posted by Riemann at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2007

The Power of One is also a pretty potent young-adult-life-changing book.
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2007

Everything I was going to say has been said aldreay, so they must be good.
Cheaper by the Dozen, Harriet the Spy, Misty of Chincoteague (what 12 year old girl doens't love horses?), DEFINITELY My Side of the Mountain.

One that I don't think has been mentioned is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Probably published in the 1990s, since I read it in sixth grade. Strong lead female character, unique family situation, and a little bit of kissing with a cute boy. Which reminds me, how about the Face on the Milk Carton? I always had a crush on Reeve :)

And I say Anne of Green Gables does stand the test of time! Keep it on your list.
posted by kidsleepy at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2007

Tuck Everlasting
posted by xo at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2007

Seconding Flowers for Algernon.
posted by wafaa at 2:04 PM on June 20, 2007

M. M. Kaye's The Ordinary Princess. Vital for counteracting the demoralizing effects of reading about drop-dead-gorgeous fairy tale princesses in conventional girly literature. Especially for girls entering what I think one of Judy Blume's books? referred to as "the ugly years".
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:06 PM on June 20, 2007

...and yes, definitely the Little House on the Prairie series.
posted by wafaa at 2:06 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

oops. The Ordinary Princess.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:07 PM on June 20, 2007

I'm not a girl, but I will second the following:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The Westing Game
The Giver

Awesome books, all of them, and the first two have strong female protagonists to boot.
posted by Zephyrial at 2:07 PM on June 20, 2007

Daniel Pinkwater's earlier books, e.g. The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. I thought I was alone in the world (or at least my small town) until I read them and realized there were other weird people who liked being weird.
posted by exceptinsects at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2007

Thought of some more once I looked through the shelf with all my old books on it:
Julie of the Wolves (pre-1980) by Jean Craighead George
The Tombs of Atuan (fantasy) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ballet Shoes (classic, 1930s) by Noel Streatfeild
Katherine Paterson's books: The Great Gilly Hopkins, Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved
Cynthia Voigt's books: Homecoming, Dicey's Song
The BFG - Roald Dahl
and perhaps Sophie's World (by Jostein Gaarder) might be worth including.
posted by Melinika at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh! Just remembered.
The turbulent term of Tyke Tiler.
Particularly for girls.
posted by handee at 2:14 PM on June 20, 2007

Great list. A few additions:

The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking. No female protagonists really, but definitely a book that strongly impacted me, made me think about death and evil and love and honor.

Also, and I just found out this was also written by Astrid Lindgren, Ronia the Robber's Daughter. Great book, strong female protagonist. Didn't change my life, but very entertaining.

My sister and I loved the Anne McCaffrey books at that age - Dragonsong would be a good one to start with but the whole Harper Hall Trilogy would be good. Sci/fi. Really wonderful fantasy books about dragons and music. How did it change my life? They were so riveting, they set me on a path of reading voraciously the rest of my life. And again, women are powerfully portrayed, and inspired me to try to be strong and unique.

I swear I read the Clan of the Cave Bear around age 12 and loved it. Also a strong female character. IRRC, later books get racy, but I don't think the first book does. It's a very heavy book though... am rethinking this recommendation... but it did change my life in a small way - it made me more comfortable being strong, inventive, independent.

I think The Mists of Avalon is fine for a precocious girl. I think I read it at about 12 and loved it. And I don't think Anne of Green Gables is too dated. Nancy Drew was one of my absolute favorites, and I do think the character inspired me to try to be brave.

Madeleine L'Engle's book, A House Like A Lotus, is probably too advanced for your book to recommend (heavy sexual content), but people do read it at around 12 and enjoy it. It changed my life because it was the first book I read about sex, WAY before I ever had sex, and it significantly contributed to my views about sex - the sexual initiation in the book is so loving and gentle, and that's what I expected.

Anne Frank is absolutely a MUST for me. My career was inspired by that book.
posted by Amizu at 2:19 PM on June 20, 2007

Definitely The Giver! Got that one as a sixth-grade graduation present, and it was amazing--very much a "change the way you see yourself" book.

Where the Red Fern Grows was a favorite, and I still have a tattered copy 15 years later. The Phantom Tollbooth too (although that one is good for younger girls, too--maybe starting around 8?)

I was a big fan of alone-in-the-wilderness fiction--I think My Side of the Mountain has been mentioned, to which I'd add Julie of the Wolves.

As a note, I see you have a number of heavy/classic books on your list, and I'd just say that as a VERY precocious 12-year-old who selected books from the library based on how long they were and read a lot of the Penguins Classics collection, much of it is just not something you can get at that age even if it's within your reading comprehension level. However, the whole "surviving by yourself in the wilderness" genre was perfect, because 12 is right at that age where you're starting to break away from your parents and yearning to be self-sufficient. I remember Hatchet, Julie of the Wolves, My Side of the Mountain, and Island of the Dolphins much more vividly from that age than most everything else I read, although I was pretty far beyond that reading level by that point, because I identified so closely with those themes.

(Oh, and I *loathed* Catcher in the Rye and still do, despite it being the book that supposedly every teenager would identify with. I'm not sure if that was a me thing or a more general female-gender thing, but even if suggested, steer away! Far away!)
posted by iminurmefi at 2:20 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, I seriously love Robin McKinley. I still read The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. Those affected me tremendously.

The Darkangel trilogy was all published in the 1980s (about 1982-1989?) and was recently reissued. I remember them being strange, dreamy books that impressed me with their weirdness.

And also mid-1980s is Children of Dust. It's about nuclear war and subsequent genetic change. It made me think, but not about nuclear war... about accepting the new and strange.

(As an aside, Amazon sometimes surprises me with on-target recommendations: you might be interested in Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults.)

For pre-1980, there's The Five Children and It, which was a nice, dense, tricky read with more subtle humor than I remember there being in other children's books.

And honestly, I loved the Dune series when I was that young, too. Mostly for the "I want to be a creepy Bene Gesserit genius" reason. I'm sure I didn't understand half of what I read.
posted by lillygog at 2:20 PM on June 20, 2007

As one of those girls who HATED Are you there God? and others of its ilk these are the books that I loved and re-read over and over (along with attempting to digest other books like 1984 that dealt with issues I didn't have a good grasp of yet).

Robin McKinley -- The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

Tamora Pierce -- Alanna: The First Adventure

Dodie Smith -- I Capture the Castle

S. E. Hinton -- The Outsiders

Orson Scott Card -- Ender's Game

Aldus Huxley -- Brave New World

Nevile Shute -- On the Beach

Ray Bradbury --- Fahrenheit 451

I read all the Nancy Drews, Narnia, etc. at a much younger age 2nd and 3rd grade so I don't know if I would recommend them for 12 yr olds. I liked Madeline L'Engle and Anne McCaffrey bit I wouldn't claim they were life changing... Best of luck with your list!
posted by rosebengal at 2:23 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I thought about adding Clan of the Cave Bear too b/c I read and loved it at 12. There is some sex in there, but nothing compared to the later books. However, a 12 year old who likes it will immediately want the later books. If having sex in the book isn't a no-no for you, then add Norma Klein to the list too. Her books are for young adults and address sexual issues in a straightforward manner.

Since I can't stop commenting on this question, I will add that I agree that some of the stuff on your list is too heavy. I might be in a minority, but I think some capital L literature shouldn't even be read in high school. Most kids won't get it, and it turns them off of trying to read them later when they would be better able to get it. Also, I've always hated Catcher in the Rye--thought it was obnoxiously male, and I like lots of traditionally "male" books.
posted by Mavri at 2:29 PM on June 20, 2007

Also, on the more recent side, I think anything by Barbara Kingsolver is great for smart middle-schoolers. The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, The Poisonwood Bible... particularly for girls who start to feel like they're "beyond" YA fiction. Nothing too age-inappropriate, and none of that feeling of being talked down to or being taught a simplistic "lesson" with your book.

Actually, The Poisonwood Bible was something I read as a later teen and was probably the first time I really thought about geopolitics and the perhaps-unsavory history of the U.S.--and it's all wrapped up in a story that (as I recall) is told at least partially from the POV of a teenage girl. So it was a book that definitely expanded my intellectual horizons in that sense.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:33 PM on June 20, 2007

Definitely seconding the Zilpha Keatley Snyder recommendation.

Also, I loved Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series when I was in middle school. Well-written science fiction with strong female characters.
posted by arianell at 2:35 PM on June 20, 2007

iminurmefi's comment was exactly everything I came in here to say, but I just want to repeat Where the Red Fern Grows for emphasis. I read it over and over again and cried every time at the end. It sort of served the same function as Watership Down for me, in that I learned to face horrible truths about life through reading it, only I liked the story more than Watership Down. And at age 12, I also remember finding Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine an exhilarating read.
posted by emyd at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2007

Seconding that Anne of Green Gables is timeless.

I really liked Number the Stars (as someone mentioned above) and also the Giver, also by Lois Lowry.

I'm so glad you have A Wrinkle In Time on there - I love Madeline L'Engle, and her books were some of my favourites as a kid.

I also agree that Mrs. Dalloway and The Odyssey might be over a 12-year-old's head.

One I didn't see above is Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. It's not girl-specific, but I really liked it. (Paradoxically, it made me want to go camping.)
posted by AV at 2:41 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with those who have recommended the following, and added a few of my own (marked with *):

Narnia Chronicles; Lewis
His Dark Materials trilogy; Pullman
Though it's not yet classic, I would also recommend the Harry Potter series as one that has been a huge treat.

All others:
I Capture the Castle; Smith
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; Blume
Homecoming and Dicey's Song; Voigt
Flowers for Algernon; Keyes
Jacob Have I Loved; Paterson
The Witch of Blackbird Pond; Elizabeth George Speare*
Diary of Anne Frank; Frank
The Yellow Wallpaper and other short stories; Perkins Gilman
The Outsiders; Hinton
The Chosen; Chaim Potok*

I'm also wondering whether your list is broken up into age or reading-level groups? Because while I think some of your recommendations are must-reads, I'm wondering when they should be read. For instance, the book that changed my life when I was a teenager was Gloria Steinem's "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions," which is non-fiction and definitely not directed at a teen audience.

Oh. And L.M. Montgomery absolutely stands up to the test of time, but I'd suggest the entire Anne and Emily series. Whatever you do, don't take Lucy Maud or Frances Hodgson Burnett off your list!

I'd boot the following, not because I don't love them but because they don't seem to be books that one must read and love before growing up: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Frankenstein, Gone With The Wind, The Good Earth, Jane Eyre, Mrs. Dalloway, The Odyssey, Wuthering Heights
posted by brina at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2007

Wow, there are some fabulous responses in this thread already. Some of mine are redundant, but I wanted to either strongly second and/or point out:

- Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books - many many wonderful ones from which to choose, plus one or two series

- Tamora Pierce's Alanna books

- Madeleine L'Engle's books (not just the Murray family series, but her others, too)

- A bunch of science fiction; definitely expose young women to it early. Asimov and Bradbury's short story collections are a great start. Also, the yearly Nebula/Hugo Award nominee collections are good.

- Some Stephen King, too: "Carrie", "Firestarter", and maybe "Rose Madder" and "The Stand", plus his short story collections (which include non-horror/non-scifi like the stories that became "Stand By Me" and "Shawshank Redemption" on film)

- for those a little over 12: Neil Gaiman's "Endless" series (i.e. "The Sandman" graphic novels). Don't neglect great graphic novels and comics; a lot of girls take strongly to older X-Men collected editions, for example.
posted by Asparagirl at 2:50 PM on June 20, 2007

My Antonia, Willa Cather

My Friend Flicka; Thunderhead; The Green Grass of Wyoming, Mary O'hara
posted by sulaine at 2:57 PM on June 20, 2007

The Witch of Blackbird Pond! I forgot how much I loved that book. Thanks brina...
posted by AV at 3:00 PM on June 20, 2007

On your list, you have "King Arthur" - which one? I highly highly recommend T.H. White's The Once and Future King as an excellent telling of this legend.

Infinitely nthing His Dark Materials trilogy.

Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior.

Having once been an adolescent lesbian, I wish I'd had books like Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden, and Am I Blue? (an anthology of short stories), edited by Marion Dane Bauer.
posted by rtha at 3:00 PM on June 20, 2007

I'd like to mention that my favorite SE Hinton book was Rumblefish, which often gets overlooked in favor of the Outsiders.

Also, I read The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy when I was about 13. It contains pretty mature themes and language but is not written in a complicated way, and I found it incredibly powerful.

Madeleine L'Engle's first couple of books in the Austin series (Meet the Austins and, I think, Moon by Night) are very good and somewhat easier reading/simpler themes than some of the later Austin books.
posted by frobozz at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2007

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels, all brilliantly clever. They were childhood favorites, and only got better when I grew up and reread them. I can hardly believe I'm the first person to mention them.

Marilyn French's The Women's Room. I had only the most basic idea at that time of what it was like for women in the past who had so many more restrictions than I could realistically imagine. Social Studies glossed over all that in a way that didn't even hint at it being interesting or relevant. This novel fictionalizes the feminist movement through the late 70's, and while it has some potentially bothersome content, I think all girls should know about that.

I also read Remarque's All Quiet On the Western Front at that age, and similarly, it was amazing to read what war was really like beyond the bland descriptions in school history books.
posted by zebra3 at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2007

Everything by Edith Nesbit is fabulous, I especially recommend "The Enchanted Castle" For background: Nesbit was a Victorian era Socialist and children's adventure book author.

The Princess and the Goblin is another great fantasy story.

I read all of the Agatha Christie books at about that age. I'm not sure if murder mysteries could really be considered timeless classics which every person should read, but dear old Agatha contributed immensely to my vocabulary, and probably helped me to confuse a great many adults when I took to speaking like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

And the Penguin Classics series for Young Readers is also a really great resource. I have fond memories of reading nearly all of their selections.
posted by nerdcore at 3:06 PM on June 20, 2007

I'm a male but without a doubt you should include Villette (wiki) by Charlotte Brontë.

Easily one of the earliest novels to explore working women and with a powerful pro-feminist message. And it's easily my favorite Brontë novel.

If you'd like some expert opinions on it, Diane Rehm had a whole show about it today.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2007

oh, and i forgot: zora neale hurston's "their eyes were watching god."

great historical context and a strong female character. it's written in dialect, though, so it can be hard to read, but i was able to read it as a young teen.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:22 PM on June 20, 2007

seconding Bridge to Terabithia and Everything written by Madeline L'Engle
posted by wearyaswater at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2007

Nthing My Side of the Mountain, Tamora Pierce's Alanna books (all her Tortall books, actually), and McCaffrey's Harper Hall books -- particularly Dragonsong and Dragonsinger. Those two had a significant impact on me at about that age. Others that I haven't seen mentioned: The Prince of Central Park by Evan H. Rhodes and, well, any number of books by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, but especially Sawdust in His Shoes and Mara, Daughter of the Nile.
posted by worldswalker at 3:36 PM on June 20, 2007

For a bit of American flavor: Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague is a wonderful beginning to a series of books set in Virginia's Chincoteague Island.
posted by nerdcore at 3:51 PM on June 20, 2007

In addition to The Once and Future King, I strongly recommend (to everyone!) T. H. White's less-well-known Mistress Masham's Repose. It's best if you've been at least exposed to the Lilliput bits of Gulliver's Travels, but really fantastic in any case.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:53 PM on June 20, 2007

Anything by Wells. Also, even though they were published well before my time, the Tom Swift, Jr. books were very influential on me.
posted by brundlefly at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2007

Nthing the Ender series by Orson Scott Card (the entire set, not just the first, as the later books contain some really intense stuff); also Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and April Fools Day by Bryce Courtenay (a biography of his son by the author of The Power of One).
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2007

Paula Danziger's The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
posted by misha at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2007

I would second the hesitations about Mists of Avalon; I too read it when I was about 12, and was distinctly weirded out by the huge amount of unpleasant sex (as in... the sex was described unpleasantly, not that sex is an inappropriate subject). I would definitely nth the recommendation of the Terry Pratchett books, particularly the Wee Free Men and its sequels. I'm actually rereading them now, and am really enjoying them. And how about The Diamond Age?
posted by version control at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2007

My sister and I loved the Anne McCaffrey books at that age - Dragonsong would be a good one to start with but the whole Harper Hall Trilogy would be good. Sci/fi. Really wonderful fantasy books about dragons and music. How did it change my life? They were so riveting, they set me on a path of reading voraciously the rest of my life. And again, women are powerfully portrayed, and inspired me to try to be strong and unique.

Seconding this. Read it as a 12-year-old girl and loved it.

Also loved Ender's Game and From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler (I've never, ever forgotten that one).

Books that I read at that age and absolutely was not ready for:

Brave New World
Stranger in a Strange Land
Lord of the Flies
posted by eleyna at 4:11 PM on June 20, 2007

Stuff I remember enjoying as a preteen girl:

Tolkien:The Hobbit
Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden
Beverly Clearly books
Enid Bagnold: National Velvet
Louise Fitzhugh: Harriet the Spy

Any of the Francesca Lia Block books (Weetzie Bat series & others) are fun for 'tweens and adults.
posted by pluckysparrow at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2007

What about Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. I think it's pre-1980. The sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, is good, too.

Nthing Bridge to Terabithia and Homecoming. Does Dicey's Song meet the cut-off? I liked that, too.

It's too old for most 12-year-olds, but a new YA book that I read recently and liked a lot was How I Live Now by Meg Rostoff. Unfortunately, it's got some mature themes, such as war, parental death, and underaged sex between first cousins, so you might not want it on your list. But it's the best YA book I've read in a very long time, and I would have loved it as an early teenager.

Some of the books on your list seem inappropriate. Mrs. Dalloway is a bizarre suggestion for a 12-year-old, and a lot of parents are not going to want their young daughters to read Gone With the Wind
posted by craichead at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2007

I have to agree with others that I'm a bit confused about your list. It seems all over the place both in age range and applicability to a modern 12-year-old girl's life.

These titles:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Great Expectations
Jane Eyre
The Mists of Avalon
Mrs. Dalloway
Wuthering Heights
would only be readable to very, very advanced 12-year-old readers. They may appear on a list of books one should read between the ages of 12 and 21. If we're focusing on the "should read by early adulthood" and being VERY loose on the "suitable for a 12-year-old," I would definitely keep Jane Eyre and Mrs. Dalloway, scrap the rest, and add The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Handmaid's Tale, and Rebecca.

And which versions of Arabian Nights, King Arthur (I assume you mean Arthurian legend), Grimm tales and The Odyssey are you recommending? Translations of originals? Modern retellings like The Once and Future King? Simplified chapter book retellings?

If you want to focus more on true middle-grade/YA (middle grade's 9-12 and YA is 12+, so 12-year-olds are tough to pick out books for)...yikes, it's tough. It'd be really hard to come up with a list that was
a.) reasonably brief
b.) truly focused on books that could change a young reader's life, and
c.) not a carbon copy of the list of books they're required to read for school between 4th and 7th grade.

I won't comment on your current list of true middle-grade/YA stuff, but you know that some are quite old-fashioned, some less so, some will be on their curriculum already, and some are more pleasure-reading. (And some I haven't read).

As others have mentioned, these are conspicuously missing from your list:
C. S. Lewis
Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising)
Judy Blume
The Giver and its sequels by Lois Lowry, as well some of her others (though I'd be shocked if almost every 12-year-old American kid hasn't already read Number the Stars in school by age 12).
The Hobbit (challenging but OK for age 12, I'd hold off on the other LotR stuff a couple years, except for really advanced readers).

I'll add a few suggestions I haven't seen here yet.
Wise Child and Juniper by Monica Furlong. These are earthy fantasy novels that are truly middle-grade and have such a rich feminist undercurrent. I love them.
Sabriel by Garth Nix is higher fantasy with a strong female protagonist, but otherwise isn't particularly feminist. Just a really compelling fantasy story.
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. Any kid whose imagination was captured by Lowry's Giver series (as I was as a kid) won't be able to resist this one.
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. A pretty recent sci-fi that got scads of awards.
I just read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt, which also got both Newbery and Printz honors, for the first time and I can't say how much I loved it. Lots of girls love historical fiction and any that does would be doing herself a terrible disservice by not reading this one. It evokes a time and place like no other book I've read in the past few years (that time and place being turn-of-the-century coastal Maine).

OK I'm done for now. But I'll just add I think Velveteen Rabbit is too young, and don't you dare take Little Women off, no matter how old-fashioned it is! It's a must.
posted by lampoil at 4:24 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Last Unicorn is an easy enough read for a middle-schooler, but I first read it at the end of high school. It's a hard sell because the plot seems so childish and girly (and the animated movie didn't help), but it's really very good, even for adults.
posted by blackunicorn at 4:27 PM on June 20, 2007

I would add the Neverending Story.
An easy read but lot of fun and also inspiring is Dealing with Dragon and the sequels by Patricia Wrede. When my daughter was feeling shy, I would challenge her to pretend that she was Cimorene.
Also, I recommend The Hobbit but not the Lord of the Rings unless they are really turned on by the Hobbit. Some books (Mists of Avalon is another one) the reader misses to much and thinks it isn't good if they read before they are mature enough.
posted by metahawk at 4:32 PM on June 20, 2007

I fell in deep love with the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was in middle school. I have reread every story a number of times since then, and they still feel as amazing and powerful as they did the first time.

Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat is one of the first books I started rereading. I read it until the spine broke.

Neither of these are specifically aimed at young girls, but as a young girl they spoke to me, resonated in me, changed the way I looked at things.

I would also very much recommend Flush and Hoot (two different books) by Carl Hiaasen. They are post-1980, and I only read them recently, but I wish I had them growing up. They are very well written.
posted by duckierose at 4:33 PM on June 20, 2007

Ursula Le Guin: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind.

Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Alice Walker: The Color Purple

Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo

Toni Cade Bambara: Gorilla, My Love

Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye

Paula Marshall: Brown Girl, Brown Stone

Langston Hughes: any short story collection or his Simple stories

Octavia Butler: The Patternmaker series

Jesse Fausett: There Is Confusion

Zora Neal Huston: Mulebone (it's funny) and Moses, Man of the Mountain (it's good)
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:38 PM on June 20, 2007

Nthing Are You There God, but want to add Blubber, Then Again Maybe I Won't (boy-insight), as far as Judy Blume goes.

Nthing Diary of Anne Frank.

Would like to 2nd Children of the Dust.

Adding - Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

Also adding My Name is Asher Lev, a book that really impacted 12-year-old me. It was a coming of age story by a child so different from me.
posted by k8t at 4:42 PM on June 20, 2007

Another vote yea for The Chronicles of Narnia, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the Voigt and Hinton books... and nay for Mrs. Dalloway, Huck Finn and Odyssey.

I haven't seen Lois Lowry's Anastasia series mentioned but I think those should get a look, as well as Taking Care of Terrific, which might be further under the radar than other Lowry titles but is very good.

Not female protagonists, but I still think A Separate Peace and The Chocolate War transcend.

Are You There God... usually gets most of the attention of the Blume books but I think that Blubber has a more enduring message.

(And, while I don't think it should go on the list in the question, I have to give a shout-out to my fellow pre-teen-readers of Clan of the Cave Bear! I didn't care for any of the others after but Ayla rocked.)
posted by pineapple at 4:46 PM on June 20, 2007

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:50 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

My eldest is ten, and we are very careful that she doesn't read anything that's too scary or sexy... so kudos for trying to make this list.

Her last read was by Darren Shan.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:15 PM on June 20, 2007

Izzy Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voight
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson

I actually loved Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. It's a lovely ghost story.
posted by onepapertiger at 5:21 PM on June 20, 2007

I'm seconding (or thirding, or fourthing...) a few choices:

-I adored The Egypt Game. I read it at a time when I used to roleplay with my friends during recess, so it really struck a nerve.
-The Dark is Rising is still a favorite of mine. The whole series is fantastic.
-Tamora Pierce wrote some good books, though I don't like them as much now.
-Robert Asprin's Myth series led me to humor!fantasy. I love nearly every book in the series, though the first is certainly one of the best.
-Patricia Wrede's Dragons series has a kickbutt heroine.
-Garth Nix's books, Sabriel et al, were (and are!) multifaceted and fascinating.
-For a Star Wars fan (what?), I can't recommend Kevin Anderson's YA Jedi series enough. I gobbled up many of his books during my stints at Girl Scout camp. (I wasn't a geek. Nope.)

Obviously, I have a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy bias, so...

I haven't actually read fiction in a long time. I used to be such a voracious reader; now, I'm content to read oodles of nonfic.
posted by ElectricBlue at 5:21 PM on June 20, 2007

I actually loved Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. It's a lovely ghost story.


I second it. It's not mentioned tons--as evidenced by me forgeting the book until now!--but it's really fantastic. It's "horror," but only in the sense that it involves a ghost.

Wow. I want to read it now!
posted by ElectricBlue at 5:23 PM on June 20, 2007

I hugely recommend the Tomorrow series and the Ellie Chronicles by Australian John Marsden. He has an uncanning ability to create a strong female protagonist, the books are modern and deal with current issues, and he doesn't talk down. As an adult I found the books unputdownable, but they are definitely aimed at young people.

As a parent of a 14 yo girl, I regret very much that my childhood favourites: Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Gone with the wind, Little women just didn't hold her attention. She loved Harry Potter and the Saddleclub series though. She loves Jodi Picoult (my sister's keeper etc), and Anne Frank. She enjoyed the little house on the prairie series too. (the books were always way better than the series).
posted by b33j at 5:27 PM on June 20, 2007

If she's more on the mature side, I'd suggest "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb. It absolutely changed me.
posted by sephira at 5:40 PM on June 20, 2007

I enjoyed Alice in Wonderland tremendously as a pre-teen and then again in my late teens and again as an adult, getting totally different things out of it each time. No one's mentioned Alice yet - doesn't anyone read it anymore?
posted by iconomy at 5:40 PM on June 20, 2007

Seconding the Beverly Cleary (the Ramona books).

Also, I must have read There's a boy in the girls' bathroom by Louis Sachar about 15 times when I was young.

Lurlene Mcdaniel introduced me to terminal illnesses and death. Not for hypochondriacs. Most of the girls in my school class read Don't die my love.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 5:43 PM on June 20, 2007

I heartily second the Anastasia Krupnik series and Taking Care of Terrific by Lois Lowry.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:01 PM on June 20, 2007

Allegra Maud Goldman
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
I love this thread.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2007

Julie of the Wolves
posted by k8t at 6:28 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.
I still love this book. And it led me on to read his animal-collecting books, The Bafut Beagles, etc.
posted by Catch at 6:36 PM on June 20, 2007

The Prince (Machiavelli)

A Message for (to?) Garcia

Piers Anthony's "Bio of a Space Tyrant" series (maybe)

I seem to remember a lot of politically-oriented stuff from then...

I also liked a book called "Thoreau / on Man and Nature" which was a collection of short quotes. Someone gave it to me for my eleventh birthday. The margins are full of little markings and phrases like "true!!".

I wrote an entire essay one night after reading the preface to "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury. Loved it.

I could _not_ get into Jane Eyre.
posted by amtho at 7:22 PM on June 20, 2007

These are some of the ones I loved and reread over and over again when I was a kid:

Harriet the Spy
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler
Charlotte's Web
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Sarah, Plain and Tall
The Borrowers
Little Men (I could not get into Little Women)
Caddie Woodlawn
Phantom Tollbooth

I also loved to read the World Almanac and any type of Encyclopedias. My parents used to get Time-Life books and I used to read them also. (I still have those, I am talking late 60's.)

Man, these bring back memories!
posted by govtdrone at 7:28 PM on June 20, 2007

Paul Zindel - "The Pigman"
Ray Bradbury - "The Martian Chronicles"
Mary Rodgers - "Freaky Friday" and "A Billion for Boris"
posted by candyland at 7:52 PM on June 20, 2007

I heart this thread so much. And yes, I was another girl that hated Judy Blume's books.

Emphatically seconding the Dragonsong trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, the Damar series by Robin McKinley, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and especially The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin.

I'd like to add The Princess Bride by William Goldman (the book is very different from the movie, but equally wonderful).

Some other sci-fi that made a big impression on me at a young age includes the juvenile stuff by Robert Heinlein (especially Have Spacesuit Will Travel) and the Startide Rising series by David Brin.

and THANK YOU! I have been trying to remember The Ordinary Princess for years. I need to go order it from Amazon now...
posted by beandip at 8:01 PM on June 20, 2007

Books mentioned above that I loved:
Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
Hitch hiker's guide to the galaxy series
Diary of Anne Frank
of the Judy Blume: Staring Sally J. Freedman as herself
Tuck Everlasting
Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series
All of the Harry Potters
Island of Blue Dolphins

Did anyone mention the Chrysalids?

I really hated:
The Little Women
Lion Witch Wardrobe
Anne of Green Gables
Nancy Drew
Anything about horses

Books I liked but thought were babyish after age 10:
Little house on Prairie series
Pippi Longstocking
Charlie and the Chocolate factory
Wizard of Oz
Charlotte’s Web
Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm
The Famous Five
Harriet the Spy
Mary Poppins
Peter Pan
The Velveteen Rabbit

As mentioned above, some of the books on the list I can't imaging giving to a young or pre-teen.
posted by kch at 8:04 PM on June 20, 2007

So many good books up-thread!

Bambi and Bambi's Children; the originals by Felix Salten -- not Disney.

The Cat in the Mirror. It sparked my undying love for Ancient Egypt.

Emergence. Post apocalyptic diary written by a 12 year old girl.

Tailchaser's Song. Kind of a Watership Down with cats.
posted by deborah at 8:07 PM on June 20, 2007

The Martian Chronicles. For how strange they are and how beautiful the writing is (or seemed to me at the time).

Farley Mowat's Lost in the Barrens. Wonderful adventure story that taught me a great deal about the Canadian north and the First Nations.

And Harriet the Spy didn't so much as change my life as provide the most thunderous validation for who I was and what I wanted to do that I have ever experienced. Which was more profound, in many ways. God I loved that book, and I'm so grateful I read it when I was 10.

Another book that I also loved, and which made me laugh myself to hysterics, was Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. Wonderful stuff, and I devoured it when I was 11 or so.
posted by jokeefe at 8:19 PM on June 20, 2007

No one's mentioned the Perks of Being a Wallflower; that book really affected me when I was about 13, although it's too recent for your list. Probably everything else I could mention is up there somewhere. btw, I'm really happy to see Emily of New Moon on there as well as Anne of Green Gables; I loved nearly all of LM Montgomery's series.
posted by MadamM at 8:20 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was another girl that hated Judy Blume's books.

Hurrah! I knew there must be others like me!

The last thing I wanted in my reading was stuff about what I thought of as "girl issues": romance, sex, body image, clothes. All of that-- I wanted to get away from it, not read about it. Books were my sanctuary.

Has anyone mentioned Heinlein's juveniles? I loved The Rolling Stones, and Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Glory Road, but Podkayne of Mars deterred me from reading another word of his afterwards (and Stranger In A Strange Land sealed the deal a few years later).
posted by jokeefe at 8:25 PM on June 20, 2007

Great Thread! I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier I read about that age in English class.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 8:27 PM on June 20, 2007

And of course The Earthsea books. Oh, and Marianne Dreams! There was a wretched movie made from it a number of years ago, but the books itself is wonderful. By Catherine Storr.

Another vote for Island of the Blue Dolphins, as well.

Annd Alan Garner! The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath.

The Egypt Game too, of course.

The Princess and the Goblin is a wonderful depiction of female power and male (or rather boy's) bravery.

I could go on and on.
posted by jokeefe at 8:32 PM on June 20, 2007

How could I forget.... The Gammage Cup, by Carol Kendall.
posted by jokeefe at 8:37 PM on June 20, 2007

It's so amazing to see many of my childhood favorites mentioned here, including The Cat in the Mirror, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Marguerite Henry, Susan Cooper, etc.

My eldest is ten, and we are very careful that she doesn't read anything that's too scary or sexy

Seriously? I can't imagine what my childhood would've been like under those circumstances. They wouldn't have been able to keep up with me! The only thing I remember being forbidden was Shardik by Richard Adams, and that was only because they felt it was far too sad for a child who loved animals as much as I did.

Let me add the first nomination for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and subsequent novels by Joan Aiken. Mind-blowing adventure yarns set in an alternate version of the 18th century. Many spunky female characters, including my favorite, the irrepressible Dido.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:53 PM on June 20, 2007

How could I have forgotten the Wolves of Willoughby Chase? (And Nightbirds on Nantucket, and Black Hearts at Battersea.) I loved those books!
posted by craichead at 8:56 PM on June 20, 2007


Published in 1971 by Harper and Row
Illustrated by Judith Gwyn Brown
Written by Julie Andrews
HarperTrophy ISBN: 0064402967

Julie Andrews bet her stepdaughter Jenny that she could stop swearing for a week, and if she lost Jenny got to pick the forfeit. Julie lost the bet and Jenny told Julie that she was to write a story for her. So Julie wrote her first children's book Mandy. The dedication in the book says "For Jenny because I promised".

For an orphan child whose life is filled with comfortable, predictable sameness, with no particular hardships, life is, well, all right. Really, what does Mandy have to worry about? So it comes as a surprise even to Mandy when a small restlessness begins to grow in her. This lonely ache sets her to wandering farther afield, and leads her to a startling and wonderful discovery over the orphanage wall--a very old, very small, seemingly abandoned cottage. Embarking on a clandestine domestic fantasy involving gardening tools and soap flakes, Mandy finds herself being less than honest about where and how she's spending her days. Holding her secret closer and closer to her heart, this imaginative dreamer inadvertently endangers her reputation--and her life.

For every child who has fallen in love with The Secret Garden or A Little Princess, Julie Andrews Edwards's 1971 novel will be a heartwarming discovery. Any sometimes-lonely child with a giant imagination will recognize Mandy's dreams and rejoice in her ultimate fairy-tale happy ending. (description copied from

My absolute favorite book as a child, and since my name was Jenny is thrilled me because I could pretend that the book was dedicated to me. :)
posted by Jenny is Crafty at 9:32 PM on June 20, 2007

I'm loving this thread!

Not a children's book per se, but Siddhartha by Herman Hesse blew my mind at that age. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho would have too, if it were around.
posted by QueSeraSera at 9:43 PM on June 20, 2007

OMG! The Witch of Blackbird Pond! How could I forget that? The wild girl from Barbados, forced to stay with rigidly controlling puritanical relatives upon the death of her father.

There is no cooler love story in all of science fiction than in Anne McCaffrey's Restoree.
An intelligent wallflower, transformed, beautiful but traumatized after a horrendous attack.

Hated Jane Eyre for not nailing Rochester the first time around (sorry, but it's true). Be damned if I'll link to it.

Mika Waltari's The Egyptian, because it is a wonderful book about the rise of Sinuhe, who becomes a physician to Pharoah Akhnaton AND because my sister said my eyes were "the color of slime," and both the cruel heart-breaking villainess and the sweet green-eyed Cretan girl who loved Sinuhe had green eyes like mine!

Loved Little Women but Jo was a moron for not marrying Laurie.
posted by misha at 9:48 PM on June 20, 2007

Nthing His Dark Materials a million times--I can't state just how central the trilogy was to shaping my thoughts and character when I grew up--definitely life-changing

Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Tombs of Atuan (any of the Earthsea books, but this one made a particular impact on me at around age 12 or so), Very Far Away from Anywhere Else by Ursula Le Guin
Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary
The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn

You might also want to check out this book for additional suggestions: 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide. I haven't had a chance to skim through it yet, but I get the sense the authors had put a lot of thought into their selections.

This is an awesome thread.
posted by elisynn at 10:45 PM on June 20, 2007

Having been a 12 year old girl not too long ago - here are my offerings (granted, there are a lot of Australian authors in here):

SkyMaze - Gillian Rubenstein
A group of teenagers discover a video game that you get trapped in and have to fight your way out of. There is a whole series of these novels, and there are stacks of other awesome books by this author.

Looking For Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta (one of my favourite books. ever.)
Feeling Sorry for Celia - Jaclyn Moriarty
More Than a Game
Wildlight - David Metzenthen
Thunderwith - Libby Hathorn
Hazel Green - Odo Hirsh
No Fat Chicks (and sequels) - Margaret Clark
Harry Potter
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (series) - Louise Rennison
Anything by John Marsden

I read so many books when I was that age that there are too many to list - I also read a lot of books with themes that I'm still struggling to comprehend myself having read at that age. Even if she is "mature", it might be worth screening some of the books, especially those that aren't 'teen-fiction'.
posted by cholly at 11:08 PM on June 20, 2007

More Than a Game - By Peter McFarlane **
posted by cholly at 11:09 PM on June 20, 2007

Fascinating thread. I didn't see it mentioned, but the Sue Townsend "Secret Diary of Adrian Mole" series might be fun. And OMG, someone mentioned "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" - bless you! A great book about kids trapped overnight in a museum. Quite a hoot. 12 year old girl protagonist, too.

(used to tell people that was my fav book, and by the title they look like they'd just been introduced to a Martian - "Basil E. Whosiewhatsit?"?!)
posted by rmm at 11:26 PM on June 20, 2007

This is a wonderful thread. I am basically reliving my childhood, reading all these great book titles!

I'd recommend Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy. On the surface it's a supernatural ghost story, but it's really about acknowledging your own self-worth and allowing yourself to be loved and accepted by others. I read it over and over when I was a kid.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:01 AM on June 21, 2007

The last of the Mohicans.
posted by Skyanth at 1:00 AM on June 21, 2007

I was another girl that hated Judy Blume's books.

Hurrah! I knew there must be others like me!

And me!

Ballet Shoes, and the other "Shoes" books were very entertaining. Fine for 12, though maybe a tad bit young. I had a lot of fun with them.

Swallows and Amazons was also good.

And so many others - blanking on their names....
posted by Amizu at 4:21 AM on June 21, 2007

seconding Looking for Alibrandi (Melina Marchetta) and Feeling Sorry for Celia (Jaclyn Moriarty). I also adore Moriarty's Finding Cassie Crazy. And yes, John Marsden, particularly the Tomorrow series.

Someone mentioned Adrian Mole; I have to say that while I read and enjoyed the books at around that age, I did not really understand them at all. I am re-reading them at the moment and it has become clear to me that I really didn't get any of the intended humour the first time around.

I am a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, great social commentary in a very well constructed fantasy setting. Similarly, Douglas Adams, although I don't know how well he'd go down with most 12 year olds (I was weird).

Definitely seconding The Neverending Story. I read that so many times my copy fell to pieces.

I read The Clan of the Cave Bear when I was 13 and while a great book, I'm not sure that I would recommend it for a 12 year old, given that the rape scene shocked even me, and I had been reading lots and lots of books containing sex scenes well before then (that's the problem when books written for your own age don't challenge you at all)

Don't know if it's been suggested, but I liked Nick Hornby's About a Boy.

Roald Dahl's Matilda, though I guess it's written for a younger age group, it's still one of my all-time favourites.

Thanks for the thread! Time to get me to a library, methinks!
posted by Persimmon at 4:50 AM on June 21, 2007

oh, and I must add my support for The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!

Also - Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley And Me. Great stuff.
posted by Persimmon at 4:53 AM on June 21, 2007

I way way into historical-ish fiction around that age, and I'm going to second, third, nth reccomendations for a few, and (i think) add a few to your growing list:

I highly highly support the inclusion of both The Diary of Ann Frank and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, both were riveting to me; and I believe, helped me start my life-long quest to learn about other culture's, empathize with suffering, and facilitate cultural understanding, SERIOUSLY. (I'll be working on my senior thesis on Holocaust literature in the fall!)

On a less serious note, the books I read over and over again included:
Bridge to Teribithia (still the only book to make me cry!)
Where the Red Fern Grows
Walk Two Moons
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
American Girl series (although this was younger than 12)

I didn't like a lot of the typical 'girly'books, though. Wuthering Heights is, I still think, totally awful and overrated. Little Women is alright. Whoever said horse books suck - I agree wholeheartedly (sorry mom).
posted by nuclear_soup at 5:50 AM on June 21, 2007

I, too, loved Mandy by Julie Andrews (Edwards). Also, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the Incarnations of Immortality Series by Piers Anthony (which I'm including because I loved them at the time, but unlike the other books on my list, did not hold up well to adult re-reads).

I'm thrilled Jane Eyre is on the original list - I first read an abridged version when I was eight, and have read it once each summer every year since. Every time I read it I discover some new facet to it.

This is a phenomenal thread - I've rediscovered two books that I loved in elementary school, The Doll in the Garden and Behind the Attic Wall.
posted by annathea at 6:39 AM on June 21, 2007

Mother of an 11-year-old girl here. Without a doubt the Harry Potter series has influenced my daughter the most [so far]. She started reading them at age 7 or 8, and rereads them periodically and finds something new every time.

The fantasy of Harry Potter and her interest in animals - both real (cats) and imaginary (dragons) has led her into other fantasy series where animals figure prominently. I don't know if you can yet consider these classics, but I know they have had a profound influence on at least one girl:

The Warriors series by Erin Hunter
Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2007

I'm not going to bother repeating anything above, but for your fantasy/sf list I wanted to recommend Jane Yolen, particularly the Pit Dragon trilogy and the Great Alta series (Sister Light, Sister Dark; White Jenna; The One-Armed Queen).

The Alta books are about an all-female warrior society, very empowering, and fascinating for the reader (not to mention the storytelling style, which mingles myth, fable, song, and "real story"). Very unusual, and fun.
posted by timepiece at 8:45 AM on June 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone! I am loving hearing about everyone's favorite books (how could I have ever forgotten Witch of Blackbird Pond???), and I really appreciate all of the suggestions. Thanks again.
posted by mothershock at 10:13 AM on June 21, 2007

p.s. I just realized what book this is for. I was just discussing this with someone yesterday, quite literally a matter of hours before you posted this and I spent too much of my work (and then home) time composing my answer. You have a hefty task there, mothershock. Do us proud!

Also, check out this article about Nancy Drew.
posted by lampoil at 10:21 AM on June 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, lampoil -- it's a really fun book to write, and we are doing our best to make it interesting and smart and fun to read as well. (And no worries: there will be no chapters on french braiding or the perfect bubble bath!)
posted by mothershock at 11:21 AM on June 21, 2007

A bit late to the game! (as usual!)

Nthing the Beverly Cleary book, and not just the Ramona ones...I love Ellen Tebbits.

Also did anyone else say Mrs Piggle-Wiggle by Betty McDonald? LOVED those.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner - kids with no parents who solved mysteries! So cool!

Bunnicula? A vampire bunny who sucks all the juice from vegetables.

I also loved Stephen King at a morbidly young age. I remember being 11 and carting the hardcover version of "It" with me everywhere I went one summer. MASSIVE book!

By I think my favorite book from my childhood is The 21 Balloons by William Pene Dubois. A gorgeous book.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:42 PM on June 21, 2007

I see Piers Anthony's come up a few times already. He had a short-lived (I think) "Mode" series that featured a young, troubled teenage girl as a heroine of sorts. She's a pretty dark character and was a cutter before there was a word for that in my environment. And there's definitely some minor sexy parts. But she also learns about fractals and space/time travel and a lot of interesting sci-fi topics that I'd never heard of before.

She was really smart and the stories moved me. I guess on one hand I'd be reticent to suggest it to a young girl because there were some pretty heavy topics that I doubt my mom would have liked to know I was reading about; on the other hand, feeling understood at that age and reading about a girl being able to be dark and moody and defiant was a change of pace for me.

It started with "Virtual Mode" then "Fractal Mode" but I think Anthony stopped after "Chaos Mode," which was admittedly pretty crappy.
posted by juliplease at 1:00 PM on June 21, 2007

At 12, I was totally obsessed with everything written by Diana Wynne Jones, particular favourites being Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant, Witch Week, and as I got older the Dalemark Quartet. They're all brilliant, brilliant fantasy novels though.
posted by featherboa at 2:57 PM on June 21, 2007

I have to chip in and third Dandelion Wine. I read it when I was twelve, loved it, and I still remember it fondly. I also remember really enjoying Maniac Magee.
posted by drycleanonly at 4:52 PM on June 21, 2007

John Marsden's series of which "Tomorrow When the War Began" is very good.

If you can find any of the "Alex" books by Tessa Duder I would recommend them.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 10:05 PM on June 21, 2007

nthing the Tomorrow series and the Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden.

Wonderful books, not too heavy, a female protagonist who's immensely strong.
posted by flutable at 2:53 AM on June 22, 2007

I have trouble thinking of what would be good on a list like this, because I never really liked books that treated girls as something different (babysitter's club, judy blume) or that focused hugely on realistic settings (Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre). The former didn't seem relevant, the latter didn't seem interesting. So I'm not sure what I'd say girls need to read that wouldn't just be identical to a general reading list.

With that caveat, I think Pullman and Anne McCaffrey both do a great job of having female characters who're just as strong as the men. The Giver is another book I think everyone should read.

Island of the Blue Dolphins, mentioned at least once above, is a great book and definitely age-appropriate.
posted by Lady Li at 12:51 PM on June 22, 2007

Apologies if I missed it already mentioned upthread, but I thought yesterday about The Black Stallion, another with a male protagonist but which absolutely changed my life. Excellent messages about resilience, courage and friendship.
posted by pineapple at 11:00 AM on June 24, 2007

Rathas Creature by Claire Bell. (Clair, Clare??).

My Dad gave it to me. At the time I thought it was odd because it was about 3 times smaller than the usual dictionary/bible style rather hefty types we would devour. I was puzzled but just assumed the book exchange in whatever small town he was working had been cleaned out and that must've been the only book he hadn't read. (As usually I'd get a stack of them also).

He asked me if I liked it. In hindsight that was going to be the icebreaker for us to have 'That Talk'. My response indicated to him that it wasn't time yet but my love for that book depended the day it occurred to me what it actually was and what it meant.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 12:17 PM on June 24, 2007

Half Magic
the first of the Boxcar Children series

agree with Number the Stars, Tolkien
posted by AquaAmber at 12:38 PM on June 26, 2007

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Siddhartha
posted by Lady Li at 2:27 PM on June 28, 2007

Most of mine were already mentioned, but you missed A Ring of Endless Light (L'Engle) and They're All Named Wildfire (Springer)
posted by RobotHeart at 9:26 PM on July 2, 2007

"Paperbag Princess" and "Brave Margaret"
posted by ntartifex at 11:23 AM on July 24, 2007

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