“Ms. Hendricks, I’m not looking forward to summer.”
“I don’t like summer,” the third grade girl replied blandly.
“Why not?” I repeated myself.
“I like learning. I don’t want to stop learning.”
“You can still learn over the summer. You can read.”
Catalina looked at me. “But what should I read?”
“Do you want me to make you a list?”
She nodded eagerly. “I read The Wizard of Oz. I liked it.”
I sat down with a pen and a notecard. “You’re nine, right?
“Give me a couple minutes while you guys work.”
In the end, I made her a list of ten books. She’s a smart girl, and I wanted to give her a list of books that will encourage her to grow into a strong young woman. I thought I’d share this list with the internet in the hopes that it might help and encourage some other book-loving young women.
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
I was introduced to this book when I was eleven, and it has long been a favorite with me. I cannot speak highly enough of this book.
I’m not much for princess stories (although Catalina is), but I love this princess story. Amy, the titular ordinary princess, was cursed at birth with ordinariness. That is to say that she is not the stereotypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed demure princess with pink cheeks. She’s much more “normal” looking. She isn’t perfect in personality or appearance. But over the course of her story, she comes to learn the value of ordinariness and what it really means to be a princess.
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
When Catalina asked for book recommendations, this book just jumped into my brain. All I could hear was Meg Ryan’s voice saying “Streatfield, Noel Streatfeild..start with Ballet Shoes.” Here’s the thing that I love about this book. It’s about helping your family and achieving your dreams. It also doesn’t attempt to pigeonhole girls into traditional roles, but it tries to encourage girls to pursue their talents, their strengths, and their dreams.
(As I was describing this book to Catalina, her group-mate Eva kept asking “Ms. Hendricks, can I read that too? Can I read it?” Sure, Eva; you’d love it.)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This book was a favorite of mine as a child. I’ve always enjoyed a good fractured fairy tale, and this is definitely a favorite in that genre. It is both insightful and funny. The greatest strength of this book is that it reminds girls that they don’t need some charming prince to save them; if they look inside of themselves, they can find what they need to save themselves.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
A girl with magical powers who isn’t afraid to use them? Count me in. I love a few things about this book. One is the fact that Matilda loves to read. Another is the fact that she doesn’t just use her strengths to help herself, but she also uses them to help others.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Both boys and girls look awesome in this book, and they fight in different ways. Regardless, I think that Lucy Pevensie is a valuable friend for any young girl. Eva commented, “Oh, I like witches!” when I said the title, but I cautioned her that the witch is the villain of the piece.
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
I love Ramona Quimby. She’s just the best. She’s spunky, and I think that all girls need to meet good girls like Lucy Pevensie and brave girls like Ella and Amy, but they also need to meet spunky girls. This book features my favorite Ramona story-The Tiddliwinks Story, but really all of the Ramona books are excellent.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.
If I ever write a book on the subject of How I Got to Be This Way, Pippi Longstocking is going to be a heavily featured subject. She made me want to be a pirate. She also inspired me to call multiplication “pluttification.” I wanted to be like her so much that I once (for five all-too-long minutes tried to sleep with my feet on the pillow and my head under the covers. Pippi is a spunky girl. She doesn’t fear much of anything, and I think she’s a good role model for a girl who needs to realize her own gifts and strengths.
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
I liked the Julie Andrews movie. I thought these books were The Bomb-Diggity. I read all of them multiple times as a child. Mary Poppins didn’t take anything from anybody, and while she wasn’t the nicest or sweetest person on the planet, she was good. She taught the Banks children to be good people, and I think that’s to be respected. I want each girl who I teach to learn to stand up for herself and for others. I think that Mary Poppins provides an example of striving to do what is best for others.
That’s the list that Catalina is starting the summer with. I also tangentially recommended the Harry Potter books, Heidi, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. But I didn’t want to overwhelm her. What books would you recommend to a third grader heading into summer?
NB: It ought to be said that neither Catalina nor Eva is the real name of any student with whom I work.