Girl Power: Books with Gifted Heroines
by Niña Abonal, Program Coordinator
Debbie Abilock (1999), the Co-founder of Educational Vision & Content, identified five facts about gifted readers:
- Gifted readers are skilled, flexible readers who read often;
- Gifted readers monitor their reading;
- Linguistically rich texts are especially suited to gifted readers;
- Gifted readers use other strengths in response to the particular demands of the text; and
- Gifted readers are passionate readers who find books to love.
For gifted readers, finding a book that sparks their interests and contains a character they can relate to is part of the delightful experience of starting a new adventure. However, it’s often difficult to find books that portray strong, female leads who display gifted traits. So, I’ve compiled a list of books that may be of interest to young, gifted female learners. These stories include rich language, complex plots, and female protagonists who are inquisitive problem-solvers. Due to the variability in gifted children’s reading skills and interests, the books are not categorized by age or grade level.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne is a poor orphan who lacks social graces and education; despite this, she has a rich and sophisticated fantasy life and an optimistic and generous spirit. Because Anne acts according to her instincts and not according to a code of manners, she unintentionally defies expectations of proper ladylike behavior.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Meg Murry is a high-school-aged girl who is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother and her friend to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from evil forces.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
This is a story of a strong friendship between a farmyard pig named Wilbur and a grey spider named Charlotte. Wilbur is a spring pig, and he is distressed to learn that he is being fattened for slaughter in the fall. Charlotte resolves to save Wilbur.
Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
Menolly loves music and hopes to live out her musical dreams as an apprentice Harper, but quickly encounters hostility from a number of her male peers and masters. With the help of new friends, teachers, and her nine tiny, colorful dragons, Menolly finds that her musical talents may be stronger than anyone could imagine.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Twelve-year-old Claudia decides to run away from home with the help of her little brother, Jamie. With Jamie’s money and Claudia’s smarts, they bust out of the suburbs end up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Kira is an extraordinarily talented young girl who finds herself suddenly orphaned and taken to live in a mysterious government compound near the center of her village. There she meets other equally talented and creative children, and together they discover the truth about themselves, their parents, and their society.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Eleven year old Harriet is an aspiring writer who hopes to become a novelist. She keeps a journal filled with her observations about her classmates, friends and the people she sees in her neighborhood every day.
Hild by Nicola Griffith
Hild, the king’s youngest niece, has a glimmering mind, powerful curiosity and a natural, noble authority. She’s born during a time when Britain is experiencing great change as small kingdoms are merging, frequently and violently. She becomes a captivating woman and a pivotal figure of the Middle Ages: Saint Hilda of Whitby.
A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
Mia has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, or taste shapes. Forced to reveal her condition, she must look to herself to develop an understanding and appreciation of her gift.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda is a precocious girl who lives with her mean parents and bratty brother. Ignored at home by her family, she escapes into the wondrous world of reading, exercising her mind so much she develops telekinetic powers.
Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Millicent is a certified genius. By age 11, she’s been on TV shows, won the state math bowl, and has been on the Dean’s List every semester in high school. However, she can’t seem to figure out how to make and keep friends and knows she doesn’t have much in common with average kids. All of that changes when her mom enrolls her in a girls’ volleyball program for the summer.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Rebecca is one of seven fatherless children, but is full of fun and strange ideas. She leaves her family at Sunnybrook Farm and goes to live with her two aunts in Riverboro. There she goes to school for the first time, embarks on a madcap scheme to sell soap, nearly runs away, and befriends a kindly stagecoach driver who helps her repair her family’s fortunes.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl, who up until now has been homeschooled, starts school at Mica High as a tenth grader, where Leo is starting his eleventh grade year. Stargirl’s entrance to school is a big deal for all the students and she immediately causes a commotion with her wacky outfits and even wackier behavior
Saving Lilly by Peg Kehret
Erin and her friend refuse to go on a field trip to the Glitter Tent Circus because of the sad lives of circus animals. Erin is determined to force Mrs. Dawson to change her plans or she’ll stage a sit-in at school. She also discovers that Lilly, a mistreated elephant, is about to be sold to a hunting park. She goes on a quest to save Lilly before it’s too late!
Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
The enthusiastic Ramona is having a hard time starting first grade. Her teacher can’t seem to understand her and she doesn’t get along with her classmates. She faces quite a few challenges as she tries to make it through the first grade. But, as tough as it is, she is determined to be brave.
Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest by Nancy Springer
Thirteen year old Rosemary is orphaned when her beloved mother dies. She’s grown up among the woodland creatures her mother loved and has never met her father, the outlaw Robin Hood. So she decides to change her name to Rowan, disguise herself as a boy, and undertake a dangerous journey in search of Robin Hood.
Toliver’s Secret by Esther Brady
When her grandfather is injured, 10-year-old Ellen Toliver replaces him on a top-secret patriotic mission. She disguises herself as a boy and manages to smuggle a message to General George Washington.
Yolanda’s Genius by Carol Fenner
After moving from Chicago to Michigan, fifth grader Yolanda, big and strong for her age, is determined to prove that her younger brother is not a slow learner but a true musical genius.
Books have the magical ability to ignite our imagination. They can transport us into an uncharted world and even transform how we see ourselves and the world around us. If you’d like to expand your search for books with gifted characters, here are a few websites to get you started:
Also, if you have a book recommendation, feel free to share them in the comments below!
Resources: Abilock, D. (1999). Librarians and gifted readers: Myths and facts. Knowledge Quest 27(5), 30–35.
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