The best kids’ books about girls with the skills to survive

Who am I?

I’ve been in the children’s book publishing industry for more than twenty-five years, as an editor, bookseller, author, library volunteer, school visit coordinator for authors, and more! I love connecting readers with great books, especially if the readers are middle schoolers, which is my favorite reading level. I see book searches as scavenger hunts—give me a small clue and I’ll find you the book!—and I find it especially gratifying to pair a reader with a book they’ve never heard of before. I’m also good at pairing books with ice cream flavors (Anne of Green Gables + Cinnamon Apple, Little House In the Big Woods with Maple Sugar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Darkest Fudge, and so on!), but that’s a story for another time.


I wrote...

Summer Lifeguards

By Elizabeth Doyle Carey,

Book cover of Summer Lifeguards

What is my book about?

The Babysitter's Club meets Sunny Side Up—in the first of the Summer Lifeguards series, four best friends make a splash in a summer full of wholesome beach adventures! It's been a busy summer on Cape Cod for four best friends, Jenna, Selena, Piper, and Ziggy. They can't wait to become summer lifeguards like the teens they see patrolling the beaches. But will the girls be able to provide the lifeguards the help they need when a hurricane threatens to strike? 

Summer Lifeguards is about tween girls learning life skills and facing their fears, but it’s also about cute boys, ice cream, long beach days, and hilarious rounds of mini golf. Join the squad!

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Secret Island (Secret Series)

Elizabeth Doyle Carey Why did I love this book?

A larder full of dry goods, a dense thicket of gorse protecting a carefully hidden homestead, heather and pine needles for bedding, dry caves for winter shelter, natural tinctures and salves for injuries and illnesses, small brooks for bathing and cold creeks that preserved fresh milk and sweet butter…Four brave, skilled and industrious children run away from abusive situations in this vintage British book, and manage to care for and support themselves with farming and homesteading skills that were exotic to me as an over-supervised hothouse flower growing up in New York City in the 1970s. Outdoor living and childhood independence were completely foreign to me, and the resourcefulness and nerve of the protagonists created my lasting love for Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island that remains to this day. 

By Enid Blyton, Dudley Wynne (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Island (Secret Series) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Mike, Peggy and Nora are sent to live with a cruel uncle and aunt, they long to run away. Then they meet Jack, who tells them of a mysterious Secret Island, and they soon begin to make plans to escape to it - but do they realise the challenges and dangers of the great adventure that lies ahead?


Book cover of The Boxcar Children

Elizabeth Doyle Carey Why did I love this book?

In The Boxcar Children, four siblings run away from an abusive home and live by their wits and skills in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. As a young reader, I loved this book because the kids seemed magic to me. How did they know how to sew and cook and get jobs and build things? As a parent, I loved this book because it modeled great values (honesty, hard work, loyalty) for my kids. I say to my sons now as we teach them to make bread or sew on a button or catch a fish: you never know when these skills will come in handy. Some skills just add dimension to your life, but others may turn out to be skills you need in a pinch. 

By Gertrude Chandler Warner, L. Kate Deal (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Boxcar Children as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny are brothers and sisters. They're orphans too, and the only way they can stay together is to make it on their own. When the children find an abandoned boxcar in the woods, they decide to call it home―and become the Boxcar Children!


Book cover of Bayou Magic

Elizabeth Doyle Carey Why did I love this book?

Maddy is a city kid spending her first summer alone at her Grandmère’s house on the bayou in Louisiana. Her grandmother is a little bit strange, but she and Maddy get along perfectly and can even read each other’s minds. At Grandmère’s side, Maddy learns to cook, to care for her chickens, to make healing potions, study the weather and tides, but she also learns not to stare, not to mumble, not to be quick to judge. And when an environmental and emotional disaster occurs, Maddy is called on to lead and to heal all on her own. Her triumph is thanks to what she learned from Grandmère. This multigenerational story, gorgeously written by Coretta Scott King award-winner Rhodes, is heartwarming and exciting and Maddy’s survival skills are impressive.

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bayou Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If only Maddy can see the mermaid, can it be real?

It's Maddy's turn to have a bayou summer. At first she misses life back home in the city, but soon she grows to love everything about her new surroundings -- the glimmering fireflies, the glorious landscape, and something else, deep within the water, that only Maddy sees. Could it be a mermaid? As her grandmother shares wisdom about sayings and signs, Maddy realizes she may be the only sibling to carry on her family's magical legacy. And when a disastrous oil leak threatens the bayou, she knows she may…


Book cover of Prairie Lotus

Elizabeth Doyle Carey Why did I love this book?

I was a nut for the Little House on the Prairie books growing up (I even convinced my mom to name my littlest sister Laura, after author Laura Ingalls Wilder), so I love vintage farm stories. Prairie Lotus covers the same ground—rural life on the plains in the 1880s-- but with an Asian-American lead character, during a very anti-Asian chapter in our nation’s history. Main character Hanna has moved with her white father (her mother, who was Asian, has died) to a small town where prejudice is rampant. To make a living and build a life, Hanna must draw on the dressmaking skills her mother left her. Hanna’s resilience and resourcefulness, the way she saves her family and their dignity, is inspiring and gripping reading from this Newbery-winning author. 

By Linda Sue Park,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Prairie Lotus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Prairie Lotus is a powerful, touching, multilayered novel about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend.

Acclaimed, award-winning author Linda Sue Park has placed a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in America’s heartland, in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople’s almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story.

Narrated by Hanna, the novel has poignant moments yet sparkles with humor, introducing a captivating heroine whose wry, observant…


Book cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Elizabeth Doyle Carey Why did I love this book?

Karana is a twelve-year-old girl when she leaps from a ship that has kidnapped her from the only home she has ever known, the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Back on the island, she is alone, and must fend for herself to survive. This is the classic, Newbery-winning girls’ survival tale, and it packs a punch. Karana’s skills in fishing, hunting, and shelter-building are incredible, but her mental fortitude and bravery are her superpowers, and they inspire all who read about them. Author Scot O’Dell’s factual and plain prose are poetically understated and this—along with the fact that it’s based on a true story-- makes the high stakes even more gripping. A must-read!

By Scott O’Dell,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Island of the Blue Dolphins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 7, 8, 9, and 10.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Karana escapes death at the hands of treacherous hunters, only to find herself totally alone on a harsh desolate island. How she survives in the face of all sorts of dangers makes gripping and inspiring reading.

Based on a true story.


You might also like...

At What Cost, Silence?

By Karen Lynne Klink,

Book cover of At What Cost, Silence?

Karen Lynne Klink Author Of At What Cost, Silence?

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Child abuse survivor Reader Adventure traveler Animal lover

Karen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Secrets, misunderstandings, and a plethora of family conflicts abound in this historical novel set along the Brazos River in antebellum Washington County, East Texas.

It is a compelling story of two neighboring plantation families and a few of the enslaved people who serve them. These two plantations are a microcosm of a country on the brink of war, encompassing a variety of issues: love and friendship between men, relationships between fathers and sons, sibling rivalry, slavery, and the position of women in society.

At What Cost, Silence?

By Karen Lynne Klink,

What is this book about?

Adrien Villere suspects he is not like other boys. For years, he desperately locks away his feelings and fears-but eventually, tragedy and loss drive him to seeking solace from his mentor, a young neighbor Jacob Hart. Jacob's betrayal of Adrien's trust, however, results in secret abuse, setting off a chain of actions from which neither Adrien's wise sister, Bernadette, nor his closest friend, Isaac, can turn him.

At What Cost, Silence presents two contrasting plantation families in a society where strict rules of belief and behavior are clear, and public opinion can shape an entire life. Centerstage are the Villeres,…


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