5 Middle-Grade Heroines You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Everyone knows Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games and Tris Prior of the Divergent series. YA fiction (especially dystopian fiction) abounds with strong female protagonists. But beyond Nancy Drew, such fictional role models are harder to find for the younger set. We scoured libraries and book stores trying to satiate my daughter’s appetite for good books with great girls in the lead. Her standards were high (still are), but we unearthed some awesome series!

Here are five amazing, fictional girls whose names are now embedded in our family conversations. We enthusiastically recommend these heroines to anyone who will listen.

  1. Ruby Redfort
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Ruby Redfort – yes, I took these at my local library (c) Carole Sparks

The Ruby Redfort series, by Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame), packs the punch of James Bond with the quick wit of Lisa Simpson. Unbeknownst to her parents, Ruby becomes a spy, implementing all the best spy gadgets (even the ones she wasn’t supposed to take from headquarters) and repeatedly saving the world while just managing to get her homework done on time. Outlandish enough to make you wonder if it could be true, Ruby’s adventures leave her readers feeling confident and wide-eyed.

If your middle-grade reader loves adventure, intrigue, outlandish contraptions, and problem-solving, introduce her to Ruby Redfort!

  1. Kiki Strike

Kirsten Miller has assembled a group of bad-girl geniuses to protect New York City from below. They’re called the Irregulars. No challenge is too big, no mystery too enigmatic, and no risk too dangerous for these amazing girls! Teamwork doesn’t come easy to this bunch, but they learn to combine their skills to solve mysteries they couldn’t conquer independently. (Why no photo? These books were checked out when we went to the library.)

If your child is ready for more sophisticated stories but not quite up to YA yet, introduce her to Kiki’s band of brilliant misfits who will inspire her own curiosity and courage.

  1. Sophie St. Pierre in Red Blazer Girls
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The Red Blazer Girls (c) Carole Sparks

Michael Beil draws on his experience as a math teacher in a private school to create three friends who attend a private school where, not surprisingly, the uniform includes a red blazer. They’re just trying to help a neighbor when they find themselves following lots of brainy clues and working out geometry puzzles to solve an old mystery. All the while, they’re also dealing with homework, crushes, and typical middle-school drama.

If you just know your young reader would like Nancy Drew (if only she could get past the now-archaic pacing and silly situations), pick up The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour and challenge her to solve the mystery before Sophie.

  1. Princess Annie in Wide Awake Princess

20180305_173811 (2)E.D. Baker has created an anti-princess—a heroine who counters every stereotype of a “good” princess. The younger sister of Sleeping Beauty, Annie is immune to magic and can’t imagine waiting on any prince to come and rescue her. Instead, she repeatedly rescues her big sister and the prince! These books offer a fun, modern twist on well-known fairy tales—one where quick thinking and courage count for more than physical appearance and charm (the feminine kind or the magic kind).

If your early middle-grade reader enjoys the fantastical elements of fairy tales but finds herself frustrated by the classic princess’ inability to help herself, hand her The Wide-Awake Princess.

  1. Emma Hawthorne in The Mother-Daughter Book Club
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(c) Carole Sparks

In this cute series, Heather Vogel Frederick throws four dissimilar sixth-grade girls together against their wills when their mothers decide to form a book club for them. They can’t imagine talking to each other at school, but when they share Little Women, they discover they may have more in common than they expected.

Each book in the series follows the girls through another year of school and another classic work of fiction (including Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë). Frederick integrates her love of classic literature with the standard problems of middle and high schoolers to create sweet friendships and many laughs.

If you would love for your child to read the classics but she’s not interested, let Emma and her friends whet your daughter’s appetite while they also show her that people who are different can learn to care about each other.

From international super-spy to fairy tale anti-princess, these #middlegrade heroines will knock your socks off and provide hours of reading pleasure for your own young hero or heroine. (click to tweet) #IntentionalParenting via @Carole_Sparks

Have a favorite middle-grade book series you would like to recommend? Love or hate one of the series listed above? “Do tell” in the comments below!

For the Love of Libraries

It was my five-year-old’s first week of Kindergarten. We still went inside to pick him up at the end of the school day. Amidst all the chaos and scramble for unfamiliar backpacks, I absentmindedly asked, “So what did you do today?”

He stopped in his tracks and looked up at me, his normally huge eyes now enlarged to saucer-size. With both arms stiff at his sides for emphasis, he exclaimed, “They have this place. It’s called a lie-bu-rary and you can get books and you DON’T even HAVE to PAY!” He left his mouth hanging open at the end to express the level of his shock.

I laughed and squatted down beside him, backpack forgotten. My mouth said, “Isn’t it fantastic? What did you get?” but my heart said, “Yes, this is undoubtedly my child.”

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We saw these wild turkeys just behind our library one day. The reflection of the books makes it look like they’re browsing. (c) Carole Sparks

Fast forward five years or so. My seventh-grader had a tough day at school, exacerbated by a post-pick-up trip to the grocery store. On the drive home, I didn’t say anything. I just pulled into the parking lot of our beautiful, stone-faced, fireplace-centered library that sets back in the woods. (Really, it’s more like going into a mountain lodge than a library!) Some girls prefer “retail therapy” but I knew my favorite bibliophile would get more satisfaction from this one stop than from a four-hour trip to the mall. We stayed as long as she wanted, “shopping” the aisles of the ever-growing YA section, whispering our thoughts on this title and that back-cover blurb. I put no limit on the number of books she could check out. And when we left, her shoulders were visibly more relaxed even though her arms were full.

I have my own fond childhood memories of a particular branch library (and the cones of custard that followed summer visits there), so I feel like a successful parent when I see I’ve instilled a love of libraries in my children as well. But even without these happy recollections, I sincerely love libraries!

In honor of National Library Week, I offer you…

Five Things I Love About Libraries

Free – There’s no cover at the door, no minimum purchase. You can enter as often as you like and stay as long as you want (or until they close, whichever comes first). The membership cards are free and never expire. Then, like my 5-year-old said, you don’t even have to pay for taking away the books. So no worries about staying under budget or “breaking the bank.” No expense means no excuse for not reading! (click to tweet)

Egalitarian – Anyone can get a library card, even Imogene Herdman, so anyone can check out books. Libraries don’t care if you are rich or poor, influential or inconsequential, charming or cautious. If you put a book on hold, you get it next, regardless of who else is in line. Your library card has the same limit as the rich kid’s down the block.

Forgiving – Even if you return a book late, the fees are miniscule. And if you talk too loudly? You might get a stern look or a “sshhhh,” but as long as you make an effort, the nice librarians will forgive you. One time, one of my children (I won’t say which one.) dropped a library book in the toilet—the TOILET!! (It was clean water.) We dried it out as best we could and confessed when we returned it. There was very little damage, and it was still readable, so they didn’t charge us for it.

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our local library (c) Carole Sparks

Quiet – Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I like a place with no muzak, where people are at least making an effort to be quiet. I like that self-conscious feeling when my shoes tap the hardwood section in the middle. I like the fact that everyone’s thoughts are respected.

Discovery-Inducing – This is the absolute best thing! You go in search of one book only to find two or three other interesting books on the way. The fact that you search the shelves creates delightful opportunities for discovery.

Consider checking out (literally) these great books about libraries from your local library.

(Yes, I recognize the irony of using Amazon links when I’m talking about the library.)

For the younger set: The Library by Sarah Steward, illus. by David Small
For Middle Grade readers: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

When’s the last time you went to the library? What do you love about libraries in general or your branch in particular? Let’s celebrate National Library Week together!