Inspiring books for powerful girls

Book club: there's a new wave of books with strong female characters and empowering storylines. Image: Getty

Have you heard the story about Cinderellathe Hedge Fund Manager? Or how about the new and improved version of Sleeping Beauty where Aurora wakes up and becomes a celebrated women’s rights activist?

You mightn’t have, but my eldest daughter has, because these are the modern-day versions of the classic tales I’ve been telling her ever since she was a toddler.

Mortified by the standard ‘damsel in distress/a woman is useless until she is saved by a man’ themes which run through these books, I made up stories where Cinderella did indeed marry her man (or woman) – but only after she sent her step-family to prison for cruel and unusual punishment, went to uni and got herself a high-flying career so that she’d never have to rely on another person to meet her needs again.

A little over-the-top possibly, but I’m far from being the only one concerned with the kind of messages our girls are picking up in popular books aimed at young readers.

So concerned was Dartmouth College associate professor of sociology, Janice McCabe, that in 2011, she published the outcome of her study which looked at over 5,000 popular children’s books parents commonly read their children.

Not only did she find male characters were central in 57 percent of the titles (females only made up 31 percent of central titles), she discovered only 17.5 percent of books referenced female characters in the title, leading McCabe to conclude that these figures “contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls and a sense of privilege among boys.”

Depressing? Absolutely. Yet happily, the tide appears to be finally turning.

With the emergence of sites such as Common Sense Media, which has whole sections devoted to children’s books with strong female characters, and A Mighty Girl, which features thousands of empowering titles to inspire girls of all ages, the world is certainly opening up to our younger readers.

Books on inspirational women who’ve helped shape our planet are hitting shelves at unprecedented rates and the good news is, they’re selling like hot cakes.

To help inspire the next generation of female astronauts, scientists and human rights activists, make a place for the following titles:


Why wait around playing the damsel in distress? That’s the key message behind this global hit featuring 100 stories of heroic women from Malala Yousafzai and Rosa Parks to Joan Jett and Serena Williams.


Send home the message that every one of us is capable of changing the world to make it a more positive place by gifting your daughter this gorgeous book. Featuring 50 profiles of notable female scientists who’ve made big contributions to the lives we live today, enjoy the personal stories of physicist and chemist Marie Curie to Hypatia, the ancient Greek mathematician, philosopher and astronomer.


Originally published 15 years ago, this hardcover still continues to delight women of all ages the world over with its tales of ingenious inventions. What inspired these women and just how did they turn their ideas into realities?


One for the littlest dreamers among us, this bestselling picture book is bursting with interesting facts about inspirational women who helped shape the world we live in. Profiled women include Amelia Earhart and Jane Austen to Anne Frank and Frida Kahlo.


The follow-up to The New York Times bestseller Rad American Women A-Z, this collection of 40 biographical profiles will inspire girls of every age to dream big. Expect engaging tales of female kings, polar explorers, Nobel Peace Prize winners, punk rockers and more.


Put down Peppa and pick up a copy of this delightful picture book. Originally written as a gift from a mother to her son, the book introduces little readers (and picture gazers) to influential women throughout history – think Gloria Steinem, Miles Franklin and Aung San Suu Kyi.