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March is Women’s History Month! It is a month to celebrate the strong and amazing women that have come before us. The women who have paved the way and fought back against injustices. The women who have stood up not only for themselves…but for all of the women who will come after them. To celebrate this, I wanted to focus on some wonderful middle-grade books that feature strong female characters. These books all have young women who are brave, determined, and courageous. We are seeing more books like this and I. AM. HERE. FOR. IT. Let’s check out those books!
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
I have to start the list off with Amal Unbound. Not only is this the book I have read most recently, but it was also one of my favorite reads from last year. While Amal Unbound is a work of fiction, the struggles and horrors of indentured servitude, the fight for education, and the injustice toward women and girls is very very real. Inspired by the story of Malala and the other thousands of women like her, Amal Unbound is an absolutely beautiful and moving book. I recently shared a full review over on The Booknerd Cafe on Instagram. Read all about here.
Amal has big dreams, until a nightmarish encounter . . .
Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their estate.
Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them–so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Next up we have The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani. The Night Diary is a book all about hope and the search for identity. It is about the joy that can be found amid uncertainty and turbulence. This is such a powerfully written and beautiful piece of historical fiction.
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.
Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.
Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for home, for her own identity…and for a hopeful future.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhà Lai
Inside Out & Back Again is based on author Thanhhà Lai’s own childhood experience as a refugee. Written in short free-verse poems, this book will simultaneously make you laugh and tug at your heartstrings. It offers us a very unique perspective of a child’s view of immigration and family.
Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.
This moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing received four starred reviews, including one from Kirkus which proclaimed it “enlightening, poignant, and unexpectedly funny.”
An author’s note explains how and why Thanhha Lai translated her personal experiences into Hà’s story. This paperback edition also includes an interview with the author, an activity you can do with your family, tips on writing poetry, and discussion questions.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Stella by Starlight is the story of immense bravery! Set in the depression-era segregated south, our main character Stella finds herself having to muster all the courage she has when the Ku Klux Klan makes a reappearance in her town. Author Sharon M. Draper is an absolute master storyteller.
Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Esperanza Rising is another work of historical fiction. Set in 1930, this is the story of rising above difficult circumstances. Esperanza finds her entire world turned upside down and her very privileged life becomes a thing of the past. This takes a very real look at what many faced during The Great Depression. A beautifully written and captivating story that brings history to life.
Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and Mama, Papa, and Abuelita to care for her. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard work, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When Mama gets sick and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances-because Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.
Stay Tuned for More
There are so many incredible books with strong, powerful, and brave main characters. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I am working on another post that focuses on middle-grade fantasy novels with some pretty fierce young women main characters…so stay tuned for that!