The best “girl books” to read to your sons to make them better men

The Books I Picked & Why

Anne of Green Gables

By L.M. Montgomery

Book cover of Anne of Green Gables

Why this book?

What I have always loved about Anne Shirley is that she shows that femininity does not necessarily equal meekness, that a girl can love pretty things and pretty occasions and even wish she were prettier herself, and yet have spunk, grit, and ambition. I’ve connected with Anne on a personal level in the way she didn’t just want to do well in school, she wanted to be the best—and to show that she was just as smart (and smarter) than the boys in her class. The way she matures through the series is marvelous, but for the boy in your life looking for a funny protagonist who gets into trouble but has a good heart, it’s hard to beat Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins

By Scott O’Dell

Book cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Why this book?

This is the classic adventure/survival story—like Robinson Crusoe or The Swiss Family Robinson—but with a girl doing the adventuring. Karana, a native girl left behind when her tribe leaves their island, must take on traditionally male roles and skills in order to survive, showing that many of “gender specific” activities are merely cultural constructs and that girls are just as smart and resourceful and capable as men. The tendency of male ambition to lead to greed, subjugation, and destruction is unflinchingly shown, serving as a warning to young readers to keep such inclinations in check. It is also a powerful statement on conserving natural resources and using them in a humane and sustainable manner.

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A Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L'Engle

Book cover of A Wrinkle in Time

Why this book?

Why do we love awkward, brainy, nonconformist characters so much today? Because people like Madeline L’Engle blazed the trail by creating protagonists like Meg Murry. Smart, empathetic, and just a bit more daring than she believes herself to be, Meg is the daughter of a brilliant scientist father and a brilliant scientist mother. In L’Engle’s world, the gender of the characters doesn’t seem to matter much. All of them must face their fears, resist the pull to conform, and work together to save the universe. But it is Meg who asks the right questions and ultimately comes to the right conclusions.

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Harriet the Spy

By Louise Fitzhugh

Book cover of Harriet the Spy

Why this book?

It may seem a strange lesson to want to teach, but I think it’s important for boys (and men) to know that girls (and women) are not somehow inherently more moral than they are. Girls can be just as “bad” as boys. Harriet is self-centered. She is mean and vengeful toward her friends. She lies, swears, and talks back to her parents, which earned the book the rather marvelous status of having been banned from some school libraries. Books like this help dismantle the old double standard for behavior, where girls are expected to be model citizens while “boys will be boys.” Nonsense. We all err, we all sin, we all fall short—and we can all be forgiven and strive to live decently toward one another.

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

By C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

Book cover of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Why this book?

Yes, C. S. Lewis’s tale about a magical world accessed by a wardrobe follows an ensemble cast, but little Lucy Pevensie is the main protagonist. She is the one who finds Narnia and brings her siblings along into it. She follows Aslan when he sacrifices himself to save her wayward brother. She is there mourning for Aslan in death, and she is there rejoicing when he returns to life. It’s this little girl who invites us to come on an incredible adventure, to not abandon our loved ones to destruction, to trust that there is good in the world, and to work with the forces of light to overcome to forces of darkness. When faced with danger and opportunity, let us say along with Lucy, “I think I can be brave enough.”

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