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Awesome Girls in Middle-Grade Fiction

tagged: awesome girls, 49th kids, middle grade, female characters

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane is Julia Nobel's debut novel, and the first in a series about a mysterious English boarding school. In this recommended reading list, Nobel nominates other great middle-grade titles that feature awesome girls. 

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Whenever we talk about strong female characters in children’s fiction, the discussion is almost always limited to books aimed at young adults. Moreover, the definition of "strong" is usually quite narrow, focused on characters who use physical or magical strength to fight for their people. Such a restricted definition of strength is troubling because it doesn’t allow young readers to see that being strong doesn’t have to look a certain way, nor is it something that evolves when a person is older. The following books offer us many different visions of what a strong female character can look like, even when that character is still in their tweens.

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier

Nan lives a life of indentured servitude as a chimney sweep in Victorian London. After being trapped in a chimney fire, she is saved by a strange creature made of coal and ash. Nan fights for her freedom from the man who essentially owns her, and in the process, creates change for other children caught in the same terrible circumstances.

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Awake and Dreaming, by Kit Pearson

Trapped in a seemingly-endless cycle of poverty and instability, Theo somehow manages to dream herself into a new family. When the dream of her new life starts to fade into reality, Theo struggles to figure out what she needs and whether she can ever find it. We often find strong female characters who fight for the rights of others, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but this book provides us with a heroine who fights for herself.

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The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis

Facing starvation after her father is taken away by the Taliban, Parvana disguises herself as a boy so she can go out into the streets of Kabul and find a way to support her family. She is constantly dealing with agonizing choices, knowing that every day she must risk her life if her family is going to survive. It is a beautiful depiction of how fear and bravery coexist, and how being afraid doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.

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Dodger Boy, by Sarah Ellis

In 1970’s Vancouver, Charlotte and Dawn have a pact: avoid becoming teenagers at all cost. Their friendship is tested when a draft dodger moves into Charlotte’s family home and, causing Charlotte to question her own views on war, love, feminism, and censorship. Charlotte grapples with what it means to grow out of childhood and whether she really wants to stay a kid forever.

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The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath

In the middle of World War II, Franny lives on a farm where her father tends a mysterious garden that is rumoured to grant wishes. When they start receiving a steady stream of unusual visitors, Franny uses her wits to navigate their strange new household. Franny is a whip-smart, wise-cracking heroine in this unexpected tale of hidden magic.

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Book Cover Lumberjanes

Lumberjanes, by Mariko Tamaki

First released as a graphic novel series, the full-length Lumberjanes novels are filled with girls who find strength in themselves, in the women who’ve come before them, and in each other. They all attend a camp for "Hardcore Lady Types," which provides endless them with endless opportunities to challenge themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. These books are proudly aimed at the younger side of middle grade, filling an often-neglected gap in reading level.

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Book Cover the Case of the Missing Moonstones

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, by Jordan Stratford

Stratford has imagined an alternate timeline where Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley become childhood friends and form a detective agency. The interplay between these two brilliant characters reads like Holmes and Watson as they use science, math, and their own cleverness to solve crimes. Witty and smart, these books offer heroines who fight for knowledge, truth, and justice.

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These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens, by Ruby Slipperjack

Partially based on Slipperjack’s own residential school experience, this book is part of the Dear Canada series, which are fictionalized diaries rooted on Canadian history. Violet struggles to retain her identity when the residential school system is determined to erase it. Even her name is stripped away and she is reduced to a mere number. Her fight to remain who she is reflects the all-too real fight that residential school survivors and their families continue to battle today.

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About The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who's a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she's sure she won't fit in.

But then she finds a box of mysterious medallions in the attic of her home—medallions that belonged to her father. Her father who may have gone to Wellsworth.

When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends, Jack and Lola, to Wellsworth's secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can't help but think that the society had something to do with her dad's disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth...

The first in an exciting new series, this suspenseful debut brings readers on a journey filled with secrets, mystery, and unforgettable characters.

March 14, 2019

Books mentioned in this post

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

by Jonathan Auxier
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 8 to 12
  • Grade: 3 to 7
tagged: fantasy & magic, friendship, orphans & foster homes

A brand-new novel by one of today's most powerful storytellers, Sweep is a heart-rending adventure about the everlasting gifts of friendship and hope.

For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on "climbing boys"--orphans owned by chimney sweeps--to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless and brutally dangerous. Ele …

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Awake and Dreaming

Puffin Classics Edition

by Kit Pearson
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
  • age: 8 to 12
  • Grade: 3 to 7
tagged: classics

Theo and her young, irresponsible mother seem trapped forever in their miserable, poverty-stricken life … but Theo can’t stop dreaming of belonging to a “real” family. When she is mysteriously adopted by the large, warm Kaldor family, her dream seems to be coming true. But as time passes, the magic of Theo’s new life begins to fade, and s …

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The Breadwinner

by Deborah Ellis
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook
  • age: 10 to 14
  • Grade: 5 to 9
tagged: middle east, girls & women, self-esteem & self-reliance

"All girls [should read] The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis." — Malala Yousafzai, New York Times

The first book in Deborah Ellis’s riveting Breadwinner series is an award-winning novel about loyalty, survival, families and friendship under extraordinary circumstances during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.

Eleven-year-old Parvana lives with her …

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Dodger Boy

by Sarah Ellis
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook
  • age: 10 to 14
  • Grade: 5 to 9
tagged: adolescence, friendship, lgbt

In 1970 Vancouver, thirteen-year-old Charlotte and her best friend, Dawn, are keen to avoid the pitfalls of adolescence. Couldn’t they just skip teenhood altogether, along with its annoying behaviors – showing off just because you have a boyfriend, obsessing about marriage and a ring and matching dining-room furniture? Couldn’t one just learn …

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The Night Garden

by Polly Horvath
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
tagged: fantasy & magic, humorous stories, friendship

From Newbery Honor-- and National Book Award--winning author Polly Horvath, a magical middle grade novel that features a garden that grants wishes.

     It is World War II and Franny Whitekraft lives with her parents, Sina and Old Tom, on a farm on Vancouver Island. Their peaceful life is interrupted when their neighbor, Crying Alice, begs Sina to w …

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Dear Canada: These Are My Words

The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens

by Ruby Slipperjack
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
tagged: prejudice & racism, native canadian, self-esteem & self-reliance

Acclaimed author Ruby Slipperjack delivers a haunting novel about a 12-year-old girl's experience at a residential school in 1966.

Violet Pesheens is struggling to adjust to her new life at residential school. She misses her Grandma; she has run-ins with Cree girls; at her "white" school, everyone just stares; and everything she brought has been tak …

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The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

by Julia Nobel
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 8 to 14
  • Grade: 3 to 9
tagged: mysteries & detective stories

The first in an exciting new series, this suspenseful debut brings readers on a journey filled with secrets, mystery, and unforgettable characters.

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who's a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she's sure she won't fit in.

But then s …

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