Culturally Diverse Books
Featuring Strong Female Characters
For Young Readers

Compiled by Pat Musante, Children's Librarian at the Potsdam Public Library for the St. Lawrence County Branch, AAUW.

Referential help: Let's Hear it For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14 by Erica Bauermeister and Holly Smith, (Penguin, c1997) and Great Books for Girls by Kathleen Odean (Ballantine, c1997).

Ages 6-11 --- Young Adult: Ages 10 and Up


Ages 6-11:

Ahyoka and the Talking Leaves: The Story of the Cherokee Alphabet by Connie and Peter Roop (1992) Native American, BIOGRAPHICAL FICTION
Certain that the white man's ability to read gave him a distinct advantage, Sequoyah, with the help and encouragement of his daughter Ahyoka, created the first Cherokee alphabet.

All for the Better: A Story of El Barrio by Nicholasa Mohr (1993) Puerto-Rican-American, BIOGRAPHY
Due to poverty, Evelina Lopez's mother sends her from Puerto Rico at age eleven, to live with her relatives in New York City's Spanish Harlem in 1933. Although she was ridiculed by classmates, she studied and did well and later fought for school reform and led a nonviolent protest against the closure of public libraries in her area.

Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin (1948) Tibet and India, FICTION
Momo, who lives with her family in a village on the Khyber Pass, courageously travels to Calcutta to reclaim her stolen dog. The variety of the terrain and people Momo confronts offers an amazing view of the land, lifestyles, and religions of this area just before the end of British rule.

A Gift for Mama by Ester Hautzig (1981) Poland, FICTION
The story of how Sara earns money to buy her mother a pair of satin slippers is lovingly told and reminds children that effort and imagination are two of the most important elements in a gift. The book also depicts the interactions of a close-knit family in the town of Vilna, Poland more than fifty years ago.

The Girl-Son by Anne E. Neuberger (1995) Korea, BIOGRAPHICAL FICTION
In this fictionalized biography, Induk Pahk, born in 1894, is dressed as a boy by her widowed mother so that she can attend school. After later graduating from a Methodist mission school, Induk eventually becomes a teacher in Korea's first college for women.

Jane Goodall: Living With the Chimps by Julie Fromer (1992) Tanzania, BIOGRAPHY
Fromer's biography provides early readers with an informative look into the life of one of the world's foremost primatologists.

The King's Equal by Katherine Paterson (1992) Europe FANTASY
The excellent author of many well-loved children's books, Paterson weaves a tale of a dying king who proclaims that his selfish son can never wear the crown until he marries a woman his equal in intelligence, beauty and wealth. After a year's search, he meets his match in the daughter of a poor shepherd.

The Last Princess: The Story of Ka'iulani of Hawaii by Fay Stanley (1991)United States (Hawaii) BIOGRAPHY
The story of Princess Ka'iulani's life does not end happily or triumphantly, but it provides important lessons about the United States' treatment of native peoples and the need to speak out, whether you succeed or not.

Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork (1985) France, FICTION
With her elderly friend Mr. Bloom, Linnea makes a pilgrimage to Giverny, Monet's home in France. Whimsical Linnea is the perfect companion for introducing children to the world of Impressionist art.

Morning Girl by Michael Dorris (1992) Bahamas, HISTORICAL FICTION
This story is told through the voices of twelve-year-old Morning Girl and her young brother Star Boy, two Taino children living on a peaceful island in the Bahamas just prior to its "discovery" by Christopher Columbus.

Ransom for River Dolphins by Sarita Kendall (1992) Colombia, FICTION
Carmenza and her friend Ramiro nurse a badly injured pink dolphin back to health. Readers learn about the Ticuna and Witoto Indians who live along the Amazon banks, as well as friendship, dolphin folklore and the cost of greed.

Rigoberto Menchu by Caroline Lazo (1994) Guataemala, BIOGRAPHY
Rigoberto Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her continuing efforts for peace between the majority Indian tribes and the ruling Spanish speaking minority of Guatamala.

The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story by Pegi Shea (1995) Thailand, HISTORICAL FICTION
Mai lives in a refugee camp in Thailand with her grandmother and many other Hmongs from Laos. From the camp widows, Mai learns to stitch her own pa'ndau story cloth.

Waira's First Journey by Eusebio Topooco (1987) Bolivia, HISTORICAL FICTION
This fascinating, fact-filled book is about the Aymara Indians of what is now Bolivia, a people who have existed for more than 25,000 years. It is the story of Waira and her parents as they make a semi-annual journey to the market in Topojo. Topooco, an Aymaran himself , includes an afterward describing the current conditions of these ancient people.


Young Adult: Ages 10 and Up

Bone from a Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson (1992) Africa FICTION
This novel takes place in two time periods. "Now" is contemporary Africa and "then" is prehistoric times and both center on an ingenious girl. A collection of fossils is found in Now time and the stories reach across time to merge into an absorbing narrative that raises its own questions about evolution.

Children of the River by Linda Crew (1989) United States and Cambodia, FICTION
Sundara escapes with her aunt's family when the Khmer Rouge army sweeps through Cambodia. In the United States, Sundara must negotiate between the rigid expectations of her aunt who expects her to follow Cambodian traditions and the looser social customs of her new country.

Devil's Arithmatic by Jane Yolen (1988) Poland FICTION
Twelve-year-old Hannah finds her Jewish traditional observances boring . Through a fantasy, she opens the door to another time and becomes Chaya who is taken along with the other villagers to a concentration camp and experiences the full horror of the Holocaust.

The Dragon in the Cliff: A Novel Based on the Life of Mary Anning by Sheila Cole (1991) England, BIBLIOGRAPHICAL FICTION
In 1811, thirteen-year old Mary Anning discovered the first Ichthyosaur skeleton. A working class woman, she was never accepted into the scientific societies, yet her discoveries were crucial.

The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito by Sheila Garrigue (1985) Canada ,FICTION
Sara was sent from England to stay with her relatives in Vancouver, British Columbia, to be farther away from the fighting of World War II. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Canadians were suspect and rounded up and sent to internment camps. Sara learns a lesson in refusing to accept hatred and prejudice through the wisdom of her friend Mr. Ito.

For the Life of Laetitia by Merle Hodge (1993) Trinidad , FICTION
Laetitia is the first in her family to be picked to go to secondary school in La Puerta, the nearby town. However, this opportunity involves dealing with a tyrannical father and teachers who tend to be racist and elitist.

Hispanic, Female and Young by Phyllis Tashlik, ed. (1994) United States, ANTHOLOGY
This book is the result of the efforts of Phyllis Tashlik and twelve eighth-grade girls who began a course in the New York City public school system designed to find and read writings by Hispanic women and to encourage girls to explore themselves through their own writing. They combined works of published authors and poets with writings from the class. Many of the writings are autobiographical and describe life in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Cuba. There are narratives about gender roles, babies having babies and the importance of dreams and self-direction.

Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz (1982) China and the United States AUTO- BIOGRAPHICAL FICTION
(When Fritz began to write this book, she said that her memories "came out in lumps, not chronological sequence," so although the events really happened, she considers it a fictionalized account). Fritz, perhaps the best juvenile writer of the historical genre, was born in China in 1915. Homesick covers her life from 1925-27. By age ten, she knew she was American, but not ever having been to America, didn't know what that meant.

Journey of the Sparrows by Fran Leeper Buss and Daisy Cubas (1991) El Salvador and United States, FICTION
Maria and her brother and sister have fled El Salvador where the Guardias had killed her father. Life in Chicago is difficult and work is scarce. It is Maria's artwork that finally provides hope.

Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird (1991) Iraq, HISTORICAL FICTION
This book deals with Tara Hawrami and her Kurdish family who are caught in the war between Iraq and Iran. Due to the Iraqi government's discrimination against Kurds, they are forced to flee and embark upon a two year journey that tests them in every way possible.

One More River by Lynne Reid Banks (1973) Israel, FICTION
Lesley's parents leave their comfortable life in Canada and move to a kibbutz . This book is the engrossing story of Lesley and Israel during 1967 on the eve of impending war.

The Road from Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl by David Kherdian (1979) Turkey, BIOGRAPHICAL FICTION
Speaking in his mother's voice, David Kherdian relates a little-known portion of history. In 1915, when his mother Veron was eight years old, her community was torn apart as the Armenians were rounded up and taken from their homes. Veron was the only one of her family to survive.

Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi (1991) Korea , HISTORICAL FICTION
This book explores the life-altering ramifications of living in an occupied country through ten-year-old Sookanís experiences. The action takes place in Korea during the closing days of World War II and deals with Sookan and her brotherís attempted escape to Southern Korea.


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