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!

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6 Reasons I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids

The sky darkens and we begin to see ourselves reflected in the window. Three plates are empty but one—the youngest—is still at work, with his tiny bites and propensity to tell an entire story between each mouthful. I take a long drink of water then reach for the heavy book on a nearby shelf. The others around the table grow quiet. This is a sacred time, of sorts. This is reading time.

I have a fifteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old, both of whom read far above grade level. My husband, of course, can read anything he wants. Yet they all stay around the table while I voice the characters, pause for dramatic effect, and stop to ask questions. Continue reading “6 Reasons I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids”

what to read, what to read

My children love to read.  They devour books, and both of them read well above their grade level, with large vocabularies and excellent comprehension skills.  I’m not bragging; I’ve met many children in this same situation.  The temptation with children like this is to let them read any book they are willing to crack open.  After all, reading is good for them, right?  Not always.

In watching my children grow, I have discovered that there are three aspects to reading ability.  The first is functional:  vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and things like that.  Can they convert letters into words and words into sentences?  The second is mental:  following a plot, keeping up with multiple characters, understanding imagery or foreshadowing and other subtleties.  The first time my daughter read The Secret Garden, she could read all the words, but she couldn’t really follow the story.  Same thing happened with a Nancy Drew book.  Now, of course, she loves both of those because her mental reading skills have increased.

The third aspect of reading is more social or emotional.  And more difficult to gauge.  It involves understanding the situation, social context, or implications of the story.  Early-reading books revolve around loosing a toy or getting your feelings hurt by a friend.  More advanced reading exposes the reader to some of the uglier things in the world:  injustice, abuse, prejudice, witchcraft, death.  Or sometimes just more mature topics:  relationships, sex, struggles with money, eating disorders, mental illness.  Even books like The Diary of Anne Frank require a certain level of social and/or historical understanding.

We do a fairly good job of measuring the first aspect of reading.  It’s easy to see if our children have the functional ability to read a book.  And in a brief conversation, we can know if they have achieved the mental ability to understand that book.  The challenge arises in measuring their social/emotional level for reading the same book.  Just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD.  Like Paul said,  “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive (1 Cor 10:23 totally out of context, but it’s the same idea).  If we won’t let them watch ‘R’-rated movies, if we protect them from explicit song lyrics, if we instruct them to think on whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, etc. (Phil 4:8), why do we put overly-mature books in their hands without a second thought?

As parents, it’s our job to guard our children’s hearts.  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov 4:23).  There’s an incredible scene in The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her father are on a train, and she asks her father about sex.  Instead of answering, he asks Corrie to pick up the heavy suitcase sitting between them.  She can’t.  He tells her that some subjects are like that suitcase:  too heavy for her right now, but she will grow.  She must trust him that, when she is able to “carry” the information about sex, he will give it to her.

It’s not about sheltering our children from the world.  It’s about protecting them against things their hearts aren’t ready to manage just yet.  For a long time, we didn’t let our first-born read the Harry Potter series.  (Not judging here.  I read and loved every one of them; we just didn’t think she was ready.)  When all her friends read them, we talked about guarding her heart and thinking about things that honor God.  I asked her to trust me to know when she was ready.  I told her the story about Corrie Ten Boom and her father.

For now, there are SO many excellent, challenging books for my tween-ager.  Sure, she reads some “fluff” (she especially likes girl secret agents like Ruby Redfort), but we’re also working on the Newberry Award Winner list.  Have you read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch or The Witch of Blackbird Pond?  Do you remember Caddie Woodlawn or A Wrinkle in Time?  I’d forgotten; these are fantastic books!  In general, the Newberry winners are not at all childish (a complaint we sometimes hear from our double-digit-aged kids), but they handle mature topics in a way that’s appropriate for younger readers (think The Scarlet Letter without adultery for The Witch of Blackbird Pond).  They generate fantastic discussion topics; they help us engage with the world, and they supply a big dose of American history without any grimaces or complaints.

Also, it’s important to read questionable books before or at least alongside our kids.  This includes “Christian” books (e.g. Ted Dekker).  If I’ve already read the book, my child knows she can talk with me about anything she doesn’t understand.  I can even broach topics or scenes that I think need more light shed on them.  Let’s not allow literature to parent our children.  That’s our job.

If you were to finish all of the Newberry winners and honor books (which date back to the 1920s, so it should take awhile!), you can start on the AP English reading list.  This list, of course, is far more mature, but by the time they get to it, they should be ready.  I plan to read these books alongside my child too, so we can filter everything through our faith as she learns to knowledgeably engage the world around her.

By the way, my daughter is going to read Harry Potter this summer.  She can handle it now.  We’ll talk about it as she goes, and I know she’ll enjoy every minute!