Generations of girls have been trained throughout their childhoods to identify with the male characters in novels, because it was always rare for there to be girls in the lead roles. A vicious cycle begins, where girls read books about boys and boys read books about boys, and no one bothers to write books about girls, because what’s the incentive?
Luckily, that has been changing gradually over the past twenty or so years, and all children growing up today have plenty of books with girl protagonists in all genres to choose from. Some more than others lend themselves especially well to the big screen, and are positively aching to be adapted for film or television.
10. “Magic Attic Club”
Yes, this entire book series was merely a cynical ploy to sell dolls that were at a slightly lower price point than the American Girls. But it also had a pretty cool concept. A group of preteen girls befriend an older neighborhood lady, who gives them permission to play in her attic where she has a massive chest full of extravagant costumes. Whenever the girls put one on, though, it transports them to a different time and place in line with what they’re wearing. While there, they have to do something — solve a mystery, right a wrong, finish an important task — which usually corresponds to a lesson in the present. The “Magic Attic Club” books are fun and vibrant, with likable main characters and exciting adventures that would translate well to a Netflix series for kids.
9. “Circle of Magic”
Sort of an entry point for kids interested in fantasy novels, the “Circle of Magic” series by Tamora Pierce explores the education of a group of preteens whose magical abilities present themselves in different ways, giving them each unique skills with plants, fabric, smithing, and the weather, amongst other things. Only one of the four main characters is a boy, providing the series as a whole with a decidedly female perspective. The world they inhabit is incredibly lush and vivid, and each of the characters come from such varied backgrounds that it’s easy to find ways to emotionally connect with them in different ways.
8. “Back Home”
In “Back Home,” a girl named Rusty struggles to find her place in post-World War II England. Having been sent away to the United States several years earlier to escape the worst of the Blitz, she returns home only to have a hard time connecting with her mother, little brother, and the country that now feels foreign to her. It works as a period piece but also as a genuinely poignant coming-of-age story that deals with navigating the constantly evolving dynamics of a formerly estranged family trying to establish a new sense of normality. Yes, “Back Home” did have a fairly awful made-for-TV film back in the 1980s, and a poorly-received feature film in 2001, but it deserves so much better!
7. “Scavenge the Stars”
To call “Scavenge the Stars” a gender-flipped version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” may be accurate, but it also doesn’t do it justice. While the series follows the general themes of injustice and revenge, it carves out its own path for itself through the journey of its heroine, Amaya. “Scavenge the Stars” follows her exploits as she seeks vengeance against the men who wronged her family and tore her familiar life away, which are nothing less than cinematic throughout.
6. “The Uglies”
“The Uglies” is a dystopian young adult series that sort of feels in the same family as “Divergent” or “The Hunger Games,” with major vibes from the “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Tally Youngblood is a girl in a futuristic society on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, when all teenagers are given an extreme form of plastic surgery that turns them into “pretties.” They’re beautiful and live peaceful lives of leisure, but are also unable to think straight because of the brain lesions the surgery provides as sort of a package deal. “The Uglies” finds time for not just the obvious commentary on conformity, but also touches on the self-destructive nature of humanity itself.
5. “Time Enough for Drums”
Let’s be real, there really just aren’t enough good, old-fashioned historical romances for teens being adapted for the big screen. “Time Enough for Drums” by Ann Rinaldi revolves around Jem, a teenager growing up during the American Revolution, and her love-hate relationship with her Loyalist tutor who may be more than meets the eye. There’s drama, romance, adventure, and the kind of well-constructed period detail that adds a richness often lacking in this type of historical fiction.
4. “The Girl Who Dared to Think”
Even a cursory glance at “The Girl Who Dared to Think” should prove that it’s ripe for a cinematic adaptation. Dystopian future with a female protagonist? Check. Cool name perfect for marketing purposes? Check. Plenty of entries in the series to build out a film franchise? Check. Written by Bella Forrest, “The Girl Who Dared to Think” has at its heart Lianna Castell, a young woman whose rebellious thoughts keep her teetering perilously close to the margins of a surveillance state and its thought police. Her desperation to avoid the horrors of falling too low on a scale measuring usefulness and loyalty to the state lead her to take matters into her own hands, which is where the fun really begins.
3. “Number the Stars”
There are plenty of stories that explore the trials of World War II from the perspective of a child, but there’s something about “Number the Stars” that has allowed it to stand out since Lois Lowry originally published it in 1989. In it, a young Danish girl risks her life along with her family to hide Ellen Rosen, a very dear friend, during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. It touches on a more formal resistance movement, but focuses its attention primarily on the simple kindness of ordinary people, and the bravery of even young children in protecting their loved ones. We’re not alone in thinking it would make an excellent film, either: Sean Astin has reportedly spent years trying to get an adaption of “Number the Stars” off the ground.
“Bloomability” is the story of a bright young girl from the wrong side of the tracks, the child of parents who are big on dreams and new “opportunities” but somehow always seem to lack the follow-through to stick with one job, one house, even one state for very long. But her life changes forever when she’s sent to live with her sophisticated aunt and uncle in Switzerland, a teacher and headmaster of an elite international boarding school. Her perception of who she is constantly shifts, and she blossoms in a new environment despite struggling to reconcile the past and present versions of herself.
1. “Black Girl Unlimited”
“Black Girl Unlimited” is, put simply, smarter than half the books in the YA fantasy section at Barnes and Noble put together. A quasi-memoir from debut author Echo Brown, “Black Girl Unlimited” uses the tropes of magic as an allegory for the experiences of a young black teenager growing up in the inner city. Portals are the means by which she travels between her poverty-stricken neighborhood on the East Side of Cleveland and significantly wealthier school on the West Side, and intergenerational trauma takes on the lens of a powerful magical curse. Clever, moving, and incredibly timely, “Black Girl Unlimited” is begging for more eyes on it.