Readers’ Advisory: Fantasy for tween girls

pexels-photo-256546A skill that librarians must hone is Readers’ Advisory. This is, in simple terms, recommending books to people. But it can be a much harder job than it sounds. People will come up and ask things like, “I read a book recently about a beach. It had a red cover and I think there was a love story. I really liked it but cant’ remember the name. Can you recommend other books like it for me to read?” Obviously some follow up questions are necessary, as is making use of review websites, the library catalog and OPAC, and maybe even something a bit more intense (World CAT anyone?) to figure out what exactly they are talking about. You also have the, “I’m looking for more (insert genre) to read, any suggestions?” In this case, the questions you ask are really important. You need to know what about that genre the reader likes, what they have read in the past, any authors they’re in to, and even other genres they enjoy (because no genre exists in a vacuum). Readers’ Advisory can be so much fun, but if you don’t stay practiced in it, it can also be a horrible nightmare.

I read many books in a decently wide variety of topics and genres, but it is impossible for me to read or know of everything. In order to do RA well, I need to be using these different resources to confidently recommend books to patrons without knowing much about them myself. Another resources are my friends and coworkers, because they read stuff I don’t.

I don’t get to do a ton of RA at my current jobs, even though one is in a public library. And I’m moving to a new job soon where I probably won’t be doing any RA. This bums me out because I love RA and I need to practice RA regularly. Luckily, my friends have started to keep me busy. Recently I’ve had a few friends message me independently of one another, asking for book recommendations on one thing or another. I had so much fun filling their requests, and I thought I would post one of them here. I also would love to make this a regular thing on my blog, so if anyone has any RA questions, throw them at me! I’d love to give you a list of recommendations!

Ok, the question was from a friend asking on the behalf of friends of hers who said:

“Hi There, our 10 year old seems to have taken a liking to fantasy. She’s into the Descendants which is tells the story of the children of the Disney villains. The main character is Mal, Maleficent’s daughter. I was wondering of you could offer any suggestions for other fantasy with females as the main character.”

9781484720974_p0_v4_s1200x630Descendants is a Disney Original movie about the kiddos of classic Disney villains, as described above. There are a couple accompanying books series, but the one I’m assuming this tween is obsessed with are the middle-grade installments by Melissa de la Cruz, who also wrote The Witches of East End.

So many goodies here. First, this really excited me because I love fantasy and I love Maleficent. I’ve also been a 10-year-old girl looking for fantasy with strong female leads and have been frustrated, so I jumped at the chance to help this girl dive into this amazing genre and get her self-empowerment on. Things I noticed immediately: she seems to like that flipped villain thing. That has been big, and I think it’s very important for teens and tweens to read about how no one is purely good or purely evil. Second, strong female lead! This made me think about books burgeoning feminists might latch onto. Third, it seems she enjoys more of the traditional fantasy with magic and castles etc., which is important to know because there are many types of fantasy out there. Fourth, perhaps she would like more retellings/reimaginings of traditional folk/fairytales. And fifth, I’m guessing there is a bit of humor in these books. I haven’t read them myself (although I should), so all of these are educated guesses.

Below are the books I recommended for this amazing 10-year-old who will certainly grow up to take down dragons and work her own kind of badass magic. I found books for her age group and a bit older so she could easily keep reading without struggle for the next few years, long enough to discover more books that she loves.

9780380807345_p0_v4_s1200x630Coraline by Neil Gaiman (Grades 3 and up): Love this book! It’s creepy and gripping. The world is so rich and amazing, but it’s less of a traditional fantasy book and more of a gothic novel primer for girls who are going to grow up to be badasses, imho.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (Ages 8-12): Ugh, my absolute favorite in middle school! A twist on the classic Cinderella, but Ella is a strong force to be reckoned with. So much magic and adventure.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (Grades 3 and up): A classic with a strong female character! Obviously very classic fantasy. If she likes these books she’l probably move on to others like The Golden Compass and the Lord of the Rings.

51ICvYs0hLL***The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Grades 4-6): This is my top recommendation. It has witches, it has brave girls who kick ass, it has traditional villain types turned on their head! And it’s a great coming of age story.

The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson (ages 10 and up): This was one of my ultimate favs as a middle schooler. It’s a Robin Hood retelling through Maid Marian’s perspective. There’s folklore and magic and adventure!


Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (Grades 4-7): This has a very Alice in Wonderland feel, and apparently was inspired by that (I’m guessing) and books like A Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A young girl must travel through a crazy fantasy realm called the Furthermore to find her father, who disappeared three years previous. I haven’t read this but it is very highly rated and seemed like a wonderful fantasy coming of age with a strong female protagonist.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Ages 10-14): A classic, of course! This is a fun scifi fantasy with a very strong female character. Wonderful messages about being a strong female leader and the strength of family. Meg, her friend Calvin, and her brother Charles have to enter a fifth dimension and brave time travel to save her father. And also, have you SEEN the trailer for the adaptation?? It’s amazing. Shivers, really. This book will teach her to be a warrior.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Ages 12 and up): Another classic with a strong female lead! Getting girls into the fantasy writing of Tamora Pierce early is a goal we should all have, because her work is so amazing. Alanna is a warrior, breaking glass ceilings all day long! Her brother wants to be a magician, which is traditionally set aside for girls and women. They decide to switch places so they can both live their best selves. This is a very traditional sword and sorcery style fantasy.

Sabriel by Garth Nix (Ages 12 and up): Obviously another classic. Strong female character in a more traditional fantasy setting with magic, both dark and light. Sabriel has to travel to the dangerous world of the Old Kingdom (where dead things don’t always stay dead) to, you guessed it, save her dad. Lots of dad saving in this list!

51niH6CC-pL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ ***Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Grade 7 and up): Graphic novel alert! I’m also going to very highly recommend this one. This is an exciting and funny adventure starring Nimona, a shapeshifter and sidekick of Supervillain Ballister Blackheart. This is fantasy with like a Shrek vibe. It’s traditional, but silly too. And it has that villainous focus to it.

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard (Grade 8 and up): This is my steampunk offering haha. Set in Philly in the late 1800s during a World’s Fair (I think), it dives into ghosts, zombies, magic, and very cool steampunk tech. It as a very strong female lead, is funny and exciting. There’s a slight romance as well and it’s really cute.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Grades 8 and up): This is the first in a series that reimagines those classic fairy tales that the Descendants are also based on with an interesting scifi fantasy twist. This one reimagines Cinderella, but the others in the series tackle other fairytales like Rapunzel and Snow White. I think they have to be read in order, however. These are incredibly popular.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Grades 8 and up): This is a very popular series with an incredibly strong female lead and a positive feminist message. It’s also more of an exciting traditional fantasy world. Katsa is born with extraordinary (and dangerous) skill and power that makes her a convenient tool for her tyrant uncle, the King. But soon she discovers herself and truths about her life and her gift that take her down a different path.

And there you have it! My recommendations for tween girls trying to get their badass fantasy warrior on. There are several on this list that I haven’t read myself, so my tbr pile definitely grew while I was constructing it. I hope this list proves helpful to the 10-year-old who is embarking on this super exciting journey of learning to love reading and fantasy, and to any of you who might have an interest in the same kinds of books. What would you recommend to this newcomer to fantasy? Let everyone know in the comments! And feel free to hit me up for any lists you might want to see in the future. Enjoy!



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