Small & Mighty: Early Chapter Books with Feisty Females

This post goes out to all the little ladies who maybe don’t want to wear dresses or matching shoes. Who have big, brave hearts. Who are excellent friends.

I had a friend ask me lately for recommendations of books to read with her 4-year-old daughter that are a little longer than picture books.  I thought it would be fun to look at early chapter books with empowered heroines.  These could easily work for girls (or boys!) from ages 4-8 and, while by no means a comprehensive list, they are some of my favorites.  Ordered roughly by reading level, easiest to hardest, here we go!

binkBink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo & Alison McGhee, Illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink & Gollie are best friends, who are nothing alike but love having adventures together.  Divided into 3 short chapters with lots of illustration, Bink & Gollie is a sweet and funny friendship story.

Winner of the 2011 Geisel Award (best beginning reader)




The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Princess Magnolia may appear pink and puffy, prim and proper, but she has a secret.  She is also the Princess in Black, a monster-fighting protector of people–and goats–who is unafraid to throw herself into a fray. Bright and charming illustrations bring to mind classic Golden Books, while showing that there’s more than one way to be a princess.



ivyIvy & Bean by Annie Barrows, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Neighbors Ivy and Bean can’t stand each other.  Ivy is neat, proper, and likes to read.  Bean’s a messy whirlwind of activity with a propensity for practical jokes.  One day when a trick goes awry, Bean gets help from the most unlikely of people: Ivy.  Backyard adventures, a surprising friendship, and charming illustrations make this a fun, endearing series.



clementineClementine by Sara Pennypacker, Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Confession: I haven’t read this one, but here’s an excerpt from Carolyn Phelan’s Booklist review:

“As Clementine says, ‘Spectacularful ideas are always sproinging up in my brain.’ All the better for readers who like to laugh. Reminiscent of both Ramona and Junie B. Jones, Clementine is an ingenuous third-grader with a talent for trouble and a good heart.


OttolineOttoline and the Yellow Caby Chris Riddell

I adore Ottoline. This quirky and often overlooked book tells the story of a young girl’s attempt to solve a neighborhood mystery with the help of her hairy companion, Mr. Monroe.  Riddell’s pen & ink illustrations boost the book’s whimsey, giving readers the chance to view Ottoline’s huge apartment, her odd shoe collection, and the interesting characters she mets during her investigations.



BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

When Sophie is carried off by the Big Friendly Giant (BFG), they team up to stop the other giants, who have less than friendly plans–namely, eating children. Dahl plays with language, making up words that kids will love to try to say.  Blake’s somewhat scribbly illustrations perfectly fit with Dahl’s off-kilter storytelling.  A classic.




floraFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by K.G. Campbell

When cynic & comic book lover Flora revives a squirrel after an unfortunate encounter with a vacuum cleaner, it awakens with super powers. It has super strength!  It can write poetry!  It can fly!  Pencil drawings and comics-style panels reflect the warmth and spirit of the story, which takes a few serious dips but always manages to end on top. An unforgettable dynamic duo.

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Award.


This barely scratches the surface of the books that are out there, but they are the ones that sprang immediately to mind.  For more titles, pop over to and check out their Top Rated Read-Aloud Books Starring Mighty Girls and feel free to leave additional suggestions in the comments!


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