52 Books Every Girl Should Read Before High School

by Mary Fetzer
Jan 2, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Image: Teresa Short/Getty Images

Do you have fond memories of reading as a little girl? Maybe you'd be curled up under a blanket, fighting to keep your eyes open so you could just get to the end of the chapter — no, the sentence. We definitely remember sneaking in pages after bedtime or even during class.

Think back to your own childhood and how important your favorite books — and their strong female characters — were to you. Which ones had the biggest impact? Did you laugh and cry with Little Women? Come of age with Sheila the Great? Enter a world of mystery with Nancy Drew

The books your daughter reads will stay with her forever. She'll make friends with literary characters, learn empathy for others and discover places she's never been. 

The 52 books featured in our list of classic and modern-day reads will introduce your Little Woman to an abundance of humor, love, drama and herstory. And, if you missed any of these growing up, now's your chance to dive into some of the best middle-grade kid-lit ever.

 A version of this article was originally published in November 2015.

1 /53: 'The True Meaning of Smekday'

1/53 :'The True Meaning of Smekday'

Eleven-year-old Gratuity "Tip" Tucci and her alien friend J.Lo go on a comedic fantasy trip at the end of the world. 

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (ages 10 – 13), $7 at Amazon

2 /53: 'The Egypt Game'

2/53 :'The Egypt Game'

Melanie Ross and April Hall both love ancient Egypt and begin to play a game called The Egypt Game. It's a great time until they realize it might not be a game at all. 

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (ages 8 – 10), $9 at Simon & Schuster

3 /53: 'Pippi Longstocking'

3/53 :'Pippi Longstocking'

Tommy and Annika strike up an instant friendship with their new neighbor Pippi Longstocking. The wild girl has a pet monkey, no parents and many adventures to share.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (ages 8 – 12), $4 at Barnes & Noble

4 /53: 'Caddie Woodlawn'

4/53 :'Caddie Woodlawn'

Caddie Woodlawn is a young prankster who doesn't act very ladylike. She spends her days on the Wisconsin frontier rafting on the lake, visiting Indian camps and getting into all sorts of scrapes with her brothers. 

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (ages 8 – 10), $7 at Walmart

5 /53: 'Charlotte's Web'

5/53 :'Charlotte's Web'

Charlotte's Web is a tale of talking animals, a kind spider and a little girl's unconditional love, making this a necessary read for every child. 

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (ages 8 – 10), $5 at Walmart

6 /53: 'The Penderwicks'

6/53 :'The Penderwicks'

The Penderwicks are sisters who are privileged to stay at the beautiful Arundel Estate for the summer. But they find they're not so well-received, and trouble soon abounds.  

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (ages 8 and up), $7 at Barnes & Noble

7 /53: 'Little Women'

7/53 :'Little Women'

Marmee's Little Women are the March sisters: beautiful Meg, wild Jo, gentle Beth and artistic Amy. Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical story follows the New England family during the Civil War. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (ages 10 – 17), $4 at Biblio

8 /53: 'The Secret Garden'

8/53 :'The Secret Garden'

Mary Lennox is a rude little girl who spends more time with her servants than with her parents. When she loses them to all to cholera, she is sent to live with her uncle. There, she discovers The Secret Garden and all of the secrets it holds. 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (ages 6 – 10), $12 at Amazon

9 /53: 'The Wednesday Witch'

9/53 :'The Wednesday Witch'

The Wednesday Witch is the wonderful story of a girl named Mary Jane, a witch named Hilda, a cat named Cinders and a special perfume called Mischief.

The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew (ages 8 – 12), $9 at Thriftbooks

10 /53: 'The BFG'

10/53 :'The BFG'

The BFG is a big, friendly giant who doesn't seem all that friendly… at first. He kidnaps a young orphan named Sophie and takes her from London to his own land. The BFG means no harm — every kid who reads this book will wish she had a giant of her own. 

The BFG by Roald Dahl (ages 7 and up), $4 at Thriftbooks

11 /53: 'Sarah, Plain and Tall'

11/53 :'Sarah, Plain and Tall'

After Jacob Witting's wife dies during childbirth, he is left with the overwhelming task of caring for his family and farm. Needing help, Jacob advertises for a bride. Sarah responds. 

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (ages 8 – 10), $12 at Barnes & Noble

12 /53: 'Judy Moody'

12/53 :'Judy Moody'

Judy Moody is in no mood for the third grade. But somehow, she and her friend Rocky figure out a way to make it through.

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald (ages 6 – 9), $5.24 at Amazon

13 /53: 'The Secret of the Old Clock'

13/53 :'The Secret of the Old Clock'

The Secret of the Old Clock is the first Nancy Drew mystery. Nancy is just 16 years old, but she is a supersleuth who comes to the aid of a family who desperately needs help locating a will.  

The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene (ages 10 and up), $6 at Jet

14 /53: 'Mary Poppins'

14/53 :'Mary Poppins'

Mary Poppins is the coolest nanny ever. She flies in on the east wind and instantly changes the lives of Jane and Michael Banks. 

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers (ages 12 – 17), $22 at Book Depository

15 /53: 'Out of the Dust'

15/53 :'Out of the Dust'

It's 1934, and 14-year-old Billie Jo wants out of Oklahoma and "out of the dust." When tragedy strikes her loving family, she must pick up the pieces of her life.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (ages 11 – 13), $8 at Amazon

16 /53: 'Where the Mountain Meets the Moon'

16/53 :'Where the Mountain Meets the Moon'

Inspired by the wonderful tales her father tells, Where the Mountains Meet the Moon is the story of young Minli, who sets off from the valley of the Fruitless Mountain to find the Old Man on the Moon. 

Where the Mountains Meet the Moon by Grace Lin (ages 7 and up), $7 at Barnes & Noble

17 /53: 'A Wrinkle in Time'

17/53 :'A Wrinkle in Time'

A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of awkward high schooler Meg Murry's adventure through space and time with her brother Charles and friend Calvin. The trio must overcome major challenges and face evil forces to rescue their scientist father, who's being held prisoner on another planet. 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (ages 9 – 12), $5 at Amazon

18 /53: 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler'

18/53 :'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler'

When Claudia Kincaid and her brother Jamie run away from home, they find themselves living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, they meet the woman who sold a priceless statue to the museum. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is the mystery of the story surrounding the statue (and its seller). 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (ages 8 – 12), $7 at Jet

19 /53: 'Anne of Green Gables'

19/53 :'Anne of Green Gables'

Anne of Green Gables is Anne Shirley, an orphan who is sent to work on the farm of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. The Cuthberts wanted a boy, but find Anne is smart, strong and energetic. The story follows Anne through her hardships to her ultimate success.  

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ages 9 – 11), $4 at Amazon

20 /53: 'Because of Winn-Dixie'

20/53 :'Because of Winn-Dixie'

Because of Winn-Dixie follows India Opal Buloni's life in a Florida trailer park where she lives with her father, a preacher. While exploring the Winn-Dixie supermarket, India meets a scruffy dog, claims it as her own and names it Winn-Dixie.  

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (ages 8 and up), $6 at Amazon

21 /53: 'Alice in Wonderland'

21/53 :'Alice in Wonderland'

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland includes a white rabbit, a great hallway filled with doors, funny talking creatures and the terrifying Queen of Hearts.  

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (ages 7 and up), $4 at Thriftbooks

22 /53: 'Island of the Blue Dolphins'

22/53 :'Island of the Blue Dolphins'

Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on a true story from the 1800s. When young Karana's village is attacked by the Aleuts, her father and many others are killed. Her tribe sets out for a new land, but Karana stays behind and survives — completely on her own — for 18 years. 

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (ages 11 and up), $8 at Barnes & Noble

23 /53: 'The Golden Compass'

23/53 :'The Golden Compass'

The Golden Compass is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. In a parallel universe, Lyra sets off with her daemon — the external form of her soul — to find her missing father.  

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (ages 12 and up), $8 at Amazon

24 /53: 'Number the Stars'

24/53 :'Number the Stars'

Number the Stars takes place when WWII's German troops begin relocating Denmark's Jews. The Johansen family takes in their 10-year-old daughter's best friend and conceals her by pretending she is part of their family. 

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (ages 9 – 11), $6 at Amazon

25 /53: 'Harriet the Spy'

25/53 :'Harriet the Spy'

Harriet is an expert little eavesdropper. She walks her daily spy route and writes down everything she sees and hears about people in a notebook. It's all good until her classmates discover the notebook — along with every nasty thing she's ever written about them. 

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (ages 9 and up), $21 at Barnes & Noble

26 /53: 'Coraline'

26/53 :'Coraline'

Coraline isn't very excited when her family moves into a new apartment until she discovers a locked door in the drawing room. When she's finally able to get into the forbidden room, she finds herself in a parallel universe — except for her terrifying "Other Mother." To return to the real world with her real parents, Coraline will need the help of a mysterious cat. 

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (ages 5 – 9), $10 at Barnes & Noble

27 /53: 'Julie of the Wolves'

27/53 :'Julie of the Wolves'

Julie of the Wolves is the story of Miyax, a 13-year-old Alaskan native girl. Bound to marry a man she detests, Miyax runs away to find her father, who went missing on a hunting trip. When she becomes lost in the wilderness, Miyax's survival is dependent on a pack of wolves.  

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead (ages 11 and up), $7 at Target

28 /53: 'Matilda'

28/53 :'Matilda'

Matilda is sweet and bright — her family is not. As she struggles to deal with grumpy parents, a bratty brother and an unfair principal, Matilda will seek help from a kind teacher and learn to use some interesting special powers. 

Matilda by Roald Dahl (ages 8 – 10), $12 at Walmart

29 /53: 'Little House on the Prairie'

29/53 :'Little House on the Prairie'

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder shares the story of the little house on the prairie she shared with Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie and Jack.  

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (ages 8 – 12), $12 at Jet

30 /53: 'Inkheart'

30/53 :'Inkheart'

Inkheart introduces the reader to Meggie and her father, a bookbinder who can read characters right out of a book. When he unwittingly releases an evil ruler, Capricorn, out of the bounds of fiction, the tyrant lands right in Meggie's own living room!  

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (ages 9 – 12), $9 at Scholastic

31 /53: 'The Witch of Blackbird Pond'

31/53 :'The Witch of Blackbird Pond'

Orphan Kit Tyler hates her colony in Connecticut and desperately misses her sunny home in the Caribbean. She feels suffocated by her strict relatives but finds a sense of freedom in the meadows, where she befriends the witch of Blackbird Pond. But terrible things happen when their friendship is discovered.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (ages 9 – 12), $7 at Amazon

32 /53: 'The Westing Game'

32/53 :'The Westing Game'

Sixteen people assemble for the reading of millionaire Sam W. Westing's will and learn they must compete to find out who murdered their benefactor. The winner of the contest, The Westing Game, will inherit $200 million and the Westing Paper Products company.  

The Westing Game by Sam W. Westing (ages 8 and up), $6 at Jet

33 /53: 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret'

33/53 :'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret'

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a classic coming-of-age story. Tweens will relate to Margaret's curiosity and her confusing sense of self.  

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (ages 11 and up), $3 at Amazon

34 /53: 'Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry'

34/53 :'Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry'

Cassie and her large family live in Mississippi. Victims of the Great Depression, the family struggles to keep their farm. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was inspired by author Mildred D. Taylor's own father and grandfather.  

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (ages 8 and up), $8 at Amazon

35 /53: 'When You Reach Me'

35/53 :'When You Reach Me'

When You Reach Me follows the relationship of Miranda and Sal. The best friends love living in and exploring New York City. When their friendship starts to go downhill, Miranda receives a mysterious letter with a very strange request.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (ages 8 and up), $19 at Jet

36 /53: 'The Book Thief'

36/53 :'The Book Thief'

The Book Thief is about Liesel Meminger, a foster child living Germany during World War II. Surrounded by hate, she finds comfort in books.  

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (ages 13 and up), $4 at Biblio

37 /53: 'Heidi'

37/53 :'Heidi'

An orphan named Heidi is sent to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, where she transforms the lives of Peter, his grandmother and the sickly Klara.  

Heidi by Johanna Spyri (ages 10 – 12), $13 at Barnes & Noble

38 /53: 'Ramona the Pest'

38/53 :'Ramona the Pest'

Ramona can hardly wait to start kindergarten, but it turns out to be quite different than what she had expected. 

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary (ages 7 and up), $7 at Amazon

39 /53: 'Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great'

39/53 :'Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great'

Sheila Tubman, otherwise known as Sheila the Great, is actually a coward who suffers a lot of phobias. When her family decides to spend the summer in Tarrytown, New York, Sheila finds herself faced with fears she didn't even know she had.  

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume (ages 7 and up), $6 at Walmart

40 /53: 'Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus'

40/53 :'Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus'

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus is the first in a series of 31 hilarious books for first- and second-grade readers. In the first book, the "almost" 6-year-old starts kindergarten and narrates the experience as only spunky Junie B. can.  

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park (ages 6 – 8), $12 at Scholastic

41 /53: 'The Secret of the Mansion'

41/53 :'The Secret of the Mansion'

Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion is the first in the Trixie Belden series of mysteries. When 13-year-old Trixie's friend moves into Manor House, they discover another friend, Jim, living inside. Together, they work to locate the fortune hidden in the mansion before Jim's evil stepfather finds it. 

Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell (ages 8 and up), $20 at Biblio 

42 /53: 'Smile'

42/53 :'Smile'

When Raina trips and falls after a Girl Scouts meeting, she suffers major damage to her two front teeth. The sixth grader must undergo a long journey of embarrassing treatments, including braces, headgear and a retainer with fake teeth. And these are the least of her worries! The last thing Raina wants to do these days is Smile.  

Smile by Raina Telgemeier (ages 8 – 12), $8 at Barnes & Noble

43 /53: 'The Doll People'

43/53 :'The Doll People'

In The Doll People, 8-year-old Annabelle Doll becomes fitful. She has been the same age and living in the same dollhouse for over 100 years. Ah, but how things change when the Funcrafts move in! 

The Doll People by Ann M. Martin (ages 7 – 10), $7 at Amazon

44 /53: 'Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life'

44/53 :'Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life'

In Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life, our narrator shares all the deets about her new school, a new mean girl and a new crush. The diary entries feature fun sketches and doodles too. The first book will set you up for the 11 books that follow.  

Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (ages 9 – 12) by Rachel Renée Russell, $14 at IndieBound

45 /53: 'Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist'

45/53 :'Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist'

Franny K. Stein is an outcast. Her classmates don't know what to make of this girl who's always acting strangely and conducting experiments. Readers will laugh every time Franny finds herself in yet another impossible situation.  

Franny K. Stein by Jim Benton (ages 7 – 10), $30 at Target

46 /53: 'Nancy Clancy: Super Sleuth'

46/53 :'Nancy Clancy: Super Sleuth'

Charming little Fancy Nancy has grown up a bit. Now known as Nancy Clancy, she's a supersleuth who takes her love of fashion into the world of mysteries.  

Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth by Jane O'Connor (ages 7 and up), $5 at Amazon

47 /53: 'Whatever After #1: Fairest of All'

47/53 :'Whatever After #1: Fairest of All'

When kids get sucked into a magic "mirror on the wall," they find themselves inside Snow White's fairy tale. The travelers meant well when they stopped Snow White from eating that poisoned apple, but now how will she ever meet her prince and live happily ever after?  

Whatever After #1: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski (ages 8 – 12), $5 at Amazon

48 /53: 'Magic Tree House #1: Dinosaurs Before Dark'

48/53 :'Magic Tree House #1: Dinosaurs Before Dark'

Dinosaurs Before Dark is a great way to introduce young readers to the exciting series that explores real events in history.  

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne (ages 6 – 8), $4 at Walmart

49 /53: 'Tuck Everlasting'

49/53 :'Tuck Everlasting'

Ten-year-old Winnie Foster is kidnapped, helps a murderer out of jail and is offered the ultimate gift: the fountain of youth. Will she accept this gift and all the complications that accompany it? 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (ages 9 – 12), $5 at Thriftbooks

50 /53: 'Culloo'

50/53 :'Culloo'

In Culloo, Tala's father is missing again, and the welfare officer is knocking at the door. The 13-year-old girl has just hours to find her father before she and her brother are placed in a foster home. Her search takes her to secluded woods where she has to get to her father before angry bear poachers beat her to him. Can the froglike people and giant blackbird help?  

Culloo by Murielle Cyr (ages 8 and up), $15 at Amazon

51 /53: 'Ella Enchanted'

51/53 :'Ella Enchanted'

Ella just wants to be herself. Unfortunately, when she was born, a foolish fairy gave her the "gift" of obedience, and she must obey even the most ridiculous commands. The strong-willed girl sets off on a mission to break the silly curse — once and for all.  

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (ages 7 and up), $7 at Amazon

52 /53: 'Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic'

52/53 :'Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic'

The loveable Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle knows kids. When parents send their kids to her upside-down house, she uses magic and humor to rid the children of all their bad habits. She's the ultimate babysitter.  

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic by Betty MacDonald (ages 8 – 12), $6 at Target

53 /53: Pin it!

Pin it! Must-read books for little girls
Image: Yvonna Groom/SheKnows

53/53 :Pin it!

Pin this for your next library visit and challenge your little gal to read every one.