The best kidlit books starring spunky (aka determined and courageous) girls

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer addicted to reading and writing about spunky female characters of all ages. Even though I’m an introvert (who’s no stranger to depression and anxiety), when I have a goal that I’m really passionate about, no matter how hard or how long it takes, I’m stubbornly persistent to make it happen. I believe that books, especially those from my childhood like Ramona Quimby, helped foster this trait. Spunky characters taught me that it’s okay to feel, express, and learn from my emotions, that no matter what life throws at us we can survive it, and to follow your own path with courage and determination.   


I wrote...

Book cover of Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old Mira’s summer is not off to a great start. Her best friend, Thomas, just moved a billion and one miles away from Florida, to Washington, DC. Her dad has been laid off and is feeling down. And Tamika, Mira’s know-it-all nemesis who’s kept her in second place at the school science fair four years running, just moved into Thomas’s old house. 

Mira’s cat, Sir Fig Newton, now seems off, too. Her diagnosis that he has “the silent cat killer” diabetes is confirmed by the vet. But when her parents can’t afford his treatment, Mira insists she can earn the money needed within a month. Armed with ingenuity, determination, and one surprising ally, can Mira save her best (four-legged) friend before it’s too late?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Sonja Thomas Why did I love this book?

A fan of reality baking shows, I was first drawn to this book because the protagonist Zoe dreams of becoming a star baker and wants to audition for the Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. Once I learned that the author was inspired by true stories of wrongful convictions, it went to the top of my TBR pile and became my favorite 2020 read. This middle-grade contemporary meets mystery follows Zoe who’s determined to uncover if her father—who she’s never met because he’s been in prison—is innocent of the crime. For those looking for an engaging, heartwarming story tackling the tough topic of social justice from the POV of a twelve-year-old, look no further. 

By Janae Marks,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked From the Desk of Zoe Washington as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

#1 Kids Indie Next List * Parents Magazine Best Book of the Year * Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book of the Year * SLJ Best Book of the Year * Kirkus Best Book of the Year * Junior Library Guild Selection * Edgar Award Nominee * Four Starred Reviews * Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year * An Indie Bestseller *

From debut author Janae Marks comes a captivating story full of heart, as one courageous girl questions assumptions, searches for the truth, and does what she believes is right—even in the face of great…


Book cover of 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women

Sonja Thomas Why did I love this book?

Growing up, I loved fairy tales. So when the first volume in the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series featuring short stories of real-life women and girls told in a fairy tale style was released, I was excited! The gorgeous illustrations, motivating quotes, and blank pages for readers to write their own stories and draw their own portraits are genius. Filled with 100 extraordinary females—past and present—from countries all over the world, including those who are well-known to the unfamiliar, this book will inspire readers to explore their passions, dream big, and pursue their goals without limits. Spoiler alert: all four volumes are fantastic!

Disclosure: As a “writer-for-hire” contributing author to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic (Volume 4), there’s no financial gain for this recommendation.

By Elena Favilli, Francesca Cavallo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

What if the princess didn't marry Prince Charming but instead went on to be an astronaut? What if the jealous step sisters were supportive and kind? And what if the queen was the one really in charge of the kingdom? Illustrated by sixty female artists from every corner of the globe, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls introduces us to one hundred remarkable women and their extraordinary lives, from Ada Lovelace to Malala, Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. Empowering, moving and inspirational, these are true fairy tales for heroines who definitely don't need rescuing.


Book cover of Mochi Queen

Sonja Thomas Why did I love this book?

The moment I fall in love with a character, I will follow them anywhere. Toss in an intriguing plot, a huge extended family, and heart-warming humor, you get a recipe for a fun, fast read. This first in a chapter book series stars eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi who’s jealous that her older sister gets to participate in the New Year festivities of making mochi, a Japanese rice cake (and one of my favorite desserts). Jasmine decides she’ll be the first girl to pound the rice—something her sister has definitely never done. Readers will cheer for this flamingo-loving tree climber as she hammers out her own path.  

By Debbi Michiko Florence, Elizabet Vukovic (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mochi Queen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

*A fun activity included in every book!*

A Junior Library Guild Fall 2017 Selection
An Amazon's Best Children's Books of 2017
A Beverly Clearly Children's Choice Award Nominee
An Evanston Public Library's 101 Great Books for Kids List 2017
A Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Books 2017
A 2017 Nerdy Book Club Award Winner
A We Are Kid Lit Collective 2019 Summer Reading List Pick

The first book in a new chapter book series featuring a spunky Japanese-American heroine!

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She's also tired of her big sister,…


Book cover of The Most Magnificent Thing

Sonja Thomas Why did I love this book?

If you’ve read my book, you know that I’m all about characters navigating their emotions. This picture book focuses on something every kid—and adult—can relate to: you have a magnificent idea, but when you try to make it happen, it comes out all wrong. Despite her frustration turning into anger, this regular girl, with the help of her canine assistant, keeps on trying again and again and again to make her magnificent thing. Readers will hold their breath, wondering what comes next after she exclaims, “I QUIT.” 

By Ashley Spires,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Most Magnificent Thing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires has created a charming picture book about an unnamed girl and her very best friend, who happens to be a dog.

The girl has a wonderful idea. “She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” But making her magnificent thing is anything but easy, and the girl tries and fails, repeatedly. Eventually, the girl gets really, really mad. She is so mad, in…


Book cover of Revenge of the Red Club

Sonja Thomas Why did I love this book?

The title alone intrigued me. Once I learned the premise of this middle-grade novel, I was hooked: a group of students supporting one another through the ups and downs of navigating their periods is shut down by the school administration after receiving complaints. 

As the investigative reporter of her middle school’s newspaper, Riley’s no stranger at going the distance to uncover a story. Using her fact-finding skills, Riley hunts for the truth on who put an end to their club and why. Filled with humor and heart, this book had me up all night to finish in one sitting, cheering Riley and her friends on as they fight to save their club and stand up for their rights. 

By Kim Harrington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Revenge of the Red Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

A tween reporter discovers an important and beloved club at school is being shut down-and uses the power of the pen to try and activate some much-needed social change in this period-positive and empowering middle grade novel about the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Riley Dunne loves being a member of the Red Club. It's more than a group of girls supporting each other through Aunt Flo's ups and downs; it's a Hawking Middle School tradition. The club's secret locker has an emergency stash of supplies, and the girls are always willing to lend an ear,…


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The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

Book cover of The Woman at the Wheel

Penny Haw Author Of The Invincible Miss Cust

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Dog walker Dreamer Runner Reader

Penny's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cäcilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love—with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his plans, a dicey move since they alone believe in the machine. When Carl's partners threaten to withdraw their support, he's ready to cut ties. Bertha knows the decision would ruin everything. Ignoring the cynics, she takes matters into her own hands, secretly planning a scheme that will either hasten the family's passage to absolute derision or prove their genius. What Bertha doesn't know is that Carl is on the cusp of making a deal with their nemesis. She's not only risking her marriage and their life's work, but is also up against the patriarchy, Carl's own self-doubt, and the clock.

Like so many other women, Bertha lived largely in her husband's shadow, but her contributions are now celebrated in this inspiring story of perseverance, resilience, and love.

The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

What is this book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cacilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love-with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his…


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