Middle Grade Novels for Rebel Girls
Middle grade fiction is for readers between the ages of 8 and 12 and can encompass any genre, whether it be fantasy, realism, mystery, or horror. Some of the greatest children’s classics fall into this category and many feature strong female protagonists. However, this list breaks down some of my favorites to read to my rebel girl, an 8-year-old with an artistic spirit. I’m also, in my professional life, a certified pre-K-12 English teacher and tutor who loves to engage readers of all types. These are for those who persist.
1Anne of Green Gables
Arguably the original rebel girl, Anne speaks her mind, has a vivid imagination, and stands up for what’s right. This series has been adapted into a gorgeous graphic novel and several television iterations, but the original series by Lucy Montgomery packs in every adventure.
Full disclosure, I lived as Pippi for many years as a child. And, yes, I have put two redheads in a row on this list. Pippi won’t be the last redhead you see here, either. I have had friends read books from this Astrid Lindgren series to their young girls and have a hard time with her brash, sometimes anti-establishment behavior. The girl does not like school. But, to me, a kid who maybe liked rules a bit too much, Pippi was a breath of fresh air. I loved fantasizing along with her adventures.
Rounding out the redhead rebels is my new favorite, Clementine, by Sara Pennypacker. They never outright say Clementine has ADHD, but the artistic protagonist has trouble concentrating in class not because she isn’t paying attention to anything, but because she’s paying attention to everything. Sound familiar? The climax of this first book made me sob with recognition and each book in this series is sweet and fun, with great life lessons and top-notch parenting.
This epic award winner by Pam Munoz Ryan tells the story of a girl who leaves a privileged life in Mexico to work in California during the Great Depression. While this serious topic might be harder to take on for sensitive readers, it will be a good introduction to historical fiction and can lead to some good conversations about race, wealth, and family.
Warning: this Neil Gaiman novel is slim but creepy. My kid is all about it but beware if yours isn’t into the spooky. The graphic novel and movie are also hits around here, but there’s something to be said about painting the pictures for yourself. I didn’t come to this one as a child but enjoy the story of the spunky little girl who goes to battle against her “other mother.”
George is one of the most important books I’ve seen in the hands of my students and a short, lovely read. The protagonist of George by Alex Gino, is Melissa, a girl who desperately wants to play Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte’s Web, if only everyone would see her the way she sees herself.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. We are always adding to our collection and looking for more books that portray rebel girls — strong female protagonists who don’t follow the rules, they make and break them.