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Awesome Girls in Middle-Grade Fiction

A recommended reading list by Julia Nobel, whose novel is The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

Book Cover the Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane is Julia Nobel's debut novel, and the first in a series about a mysterious English boarding school. In this recommended reading list, Nobel nominates other great middle-grade titles that feature awesome girls. 


Whenever we talk about strong female characters in children’s fiction, the discussion is almost always limited to books aimed at young adults. Moreover, the definition of "strong" is usually quite narrow, focused on characters who use physical or magical strength to fight for their people. Such a restricted definition of strength is troubling because it doesn’t allow young readers to see that being strong doesn’t have to look a certain way, nor is it something that evolves when a person is older. The following books offer us many different visions of what a strong female character can look like, even when that character is still in their tweens.


Book Cover Sweep

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier

Nan lives a life of indentured servitude as a chimney sweep in Victorian London. After being trapped in a chimney fire, she is saved by a strange creature made of coal and ash. Nan fights for her freedom from the man who essentially owns her, and in the process, creates change for other children caught in the same terrible circumstances.


Book Cover Awake and Dreaming

Awake and Dreaming, by Kit Pearson

Trapped in a seemingly-endless cycle of poverty and instability, Theo somehow manages to dream herself into a new family. When the dream of her new life starts to fade into reality, Theo struggles to figure out what she needs and whether she can ever find it. We often find strong female characters who fight for the rights of others, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but this book provides us with a heroine who fights for herself.


Book Cover The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis

Facing starvation after her father is taken away by the Taliban, Parvana disguises herself as a boy so she can go out into the streets of Kabul and find a way to support her family. She is constantly dealing with agonizing choices, knowing that every day she must risk her life if her family is going to survive. It is a beautiful depiction of how fear and bravery coexist, and how being afraid doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.


Book Cover Dodger Boy

Dodger Boy, by Sarah Ellis

In 1970’s Vancouver, Charlotte and Dawn have a pact: avoid becoming teenagers at all cost. Their friendship is tested when a draft dodger moves into Charlotte’s family home and, causing Charlotte to question her own views on war, love, feminism, and censorship. Charlotte grapples with what it means to grow out of childhood and whether she really wants to stay a kid forever.


Book Cover in the Night Garden

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath

In the middle of World War II, Franny lives on a farm where her father tends a mysterious garden that is rumoured to grant wishes. When they start receiving a steady stream of unusual visitors, Franny uses her wits to navigate their strange new household. Franny is a whip-smart, wise-cracking heroine in this unexpected tale of hidden magic.


Book Cover Lumberjanes

Lumberjanes, by Mariko Tamaki

First released as a graphic novel series, the full-length Lumberjanes novels are filled with girls who find strength in themselves, in the women who’ve come before them, and in each other. They all attend a camp for "Hardcore Lady Types," which provides endless them with endless opportunities to challenge themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. These books are proudly aimed at the younger side of middle grade, filling an often-neglected gap in reading level.


Book Cover the Case of the Missing Moonstones

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, by Jordan Stratford

Stratford has imagined an alternate timeline where Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley become childhood friends and form a detective agency. The interplay between these two brilliant characters reads like Holmes and Watson as they use science, math, and their own cleverness to solve crimes. Witty and smart, these books offer heroines who fight for knowledge, truth, and justice.


Book cover these Are My Words

These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens, by Ruby Slipperjack

Partially based on Slipperjack’s own residential school experience, this book is part of the Dear Canada series, which are fictionalized diaries rooted on Canadian history. Violet struggles to retain her identity when the residential school system is determined to erase it. Even her name is stripped away and she is reduced to a mere number. Her fight to remain who she is reflects the all-too real fight that residential school survivors and their families continue to battle today.


Book Cover the Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

About The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who's a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she's sure she won't fit in.

But then she finds a box of mysterious medallions in the attic of her home—medallions that belonged to her father. Her father who may have gone to Wellsworth.

When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends, Jack and Lola, to Wellsworth's secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can't help but think that the society had something to do with her dad's disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth...

The first in an exciting new series, this suspenseful debut brings readers on a journey filled with secrets, mystery, and unforgettable characters.

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