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14 Picture Books Starring Girl Characters From Around The World

Celebrate International Day of the Girl with these powerful stories.

My favorite bedtime stories as a kid were always about girls. Even when their experiences were vastly different from my own, I loved when I could see a girl like myself in the pages and live vicariously through them. These children’s books about girls around the world are full of adventure, heroism, and remarkable stories to inspire young readers. Ahead of International Day Of The Girl on October 11, these books celebrate all of the unique ways that girls across the globe live, love, and exist.

The 2021 theme for International Day Of The Girl is “Digital generation. Our generation.” According to UNICEF, this year’s initiative aims to address the gender digital divide and work toward equality in internet access for girls around the world. This type of connectivity is of the utmost importance for the future of girls in terms of education and job opportunities in a tech-driven world. Despite the digital theme, picture books can be an incredible jumping off point to start a larger conversation with kids about girls around the world and their access to technology.

Books like the ones on this list give kids alike an opportunity to expand their worldview and learn about cultures other than their own without having to step foot outside of their own front door. They can also shine a spotlight on diversity and the importance of embracing the traits that make each and every girl the star of her own story.


A Book About Girls & Their Hair Around The World

To help celebrate International Day Of The Girl, Little Feminist has partnered with Romper to recommend some of their favorite children’s books about girls around the world, starting with We Are Little Feminists: Hair, which they say,showcases photos of real-life kids around the world and their wonderful hair.” Part of their award-winning board book collection, Little Feminist says the book “helps families and educators discuss race and gender, celebrate difference, and stand against racism and sexism.”

“At Little Feminist, we scour the globe for the best diverse, feminist books for kids. Our monthly book club subscription pairs the best books with family discussion questions and activities to help parents and educators raise good humans.”

Little Feminist also recommends the following five books in celebration of International Day Of The Girl.


A Story For Girls Who Love Music

Best suited for kids ages 3 to 7, Drum Dream Girl is a story that shows how passion and perseverance can help girls around the world achieve their dreams — even when those dreams don’t align with a community’s expectations of what girls should be or do.

“Gender minorities (read everyone who’s not a cisgendered male) have been historically excluded from countless activities and institutions: schools, sports, and even drumming,” Little Feminist says of Drum Dream Girl. “We love this unique story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga — one of Cuba’s first female drummers! The musical rhymes and colorful Cuban plants that adorn each page will have you dancing as you read.”


A Book About Identity & Self-Acceptance

“This story is an out-of-this-world blend of indigenous Hawaiian culture, gender fluidity beyond the binary, and a true story about a real kid,” Little Feminist says of Ho’onani: Hula Warrior. “All our book club members tell us Ho’onani (ho-oh-nah-knee) is now a household name.”

When Ho’onani, who doesn’t necessarily identify as a girl or a boy, finds out that her school will host a traditional hula performance with an all-boy troupe, Ho’onani learns a powerful lesson about empowerment, respect, and acceptance. Based on a true story, readers will enjoy author Heather Gale’s strong, meaningful prose coupled with beautiful watercolor and ink illustrations by Mika Song that celebrate Hawaiian heritage and culture.


The True Story Of A Nobel Prize Winner

If your kids aren’t already familiar with the words, actions, and message of Malala Yousafai, Malala’s Magic Pencil is the perfect introduction for elementary school-aged readers. The inspirational story is beautifully illustrated by Kerascoët and is an engaging look at how one girl’s thoughts and actions can truly change the world.

“While many children’s book tell the story of ​​Malala Yousafzai (the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner), this is the only picture book authored by Malala herself, and it’s no surprise it is the best of the bunch. Do use this book as a jumping off point to discuss the Afghanistan conflict and refugees with your family,” Little Feminist recommends.


A Children’s Book About Growth & Environmentalism

Winner of multiple awards including the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustrations and the American Library Association Green Earth Book Award Honor Book, Seeds of Change beautifully describes the early life and childhood of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

“There are many books about Wangari Maathai, but this one is our favorite,” Little Feminist tells Romper. “Seeds of Change covers Maathai’s accomplishments as a female scientist, and it highlights the opposition she faced from powerful politicians and businessmen. Wangari will show your whole family that movements grow one seedling at a time.”


A Story About Advocating For Change

“This Own Voices story follows Yasmin through her Indian city as she advocates for change in her community,” Little Feminist tells Romper. “This book empowers kids and adults alike to be local changemakers. Yasmin’s tenacity will inspire you to channel your inner leader no matter where you live.”

Best suited for kids between the ages of 7 and 13, Book Uncle And Me by Uma Krishnaswami features powerful lessons about the importance of voting, democracy, and leadership. It’s a wonderful tool to help young readers learn how no singular person or voice is too small or too young to affect change.


A Story Set At Sea

Set on a 19th-century merchant vessel, Hope At Sea is an engaging tale about a girl who desperately wants to be a part of her father’s adventures at sea and sneaks onto his ship before it sets sail — she’s heard his stories, but wants to live them for herself. Beautiful illustrations and text by Daniel Miyares depict the loving bond between father and daughter when Hope’s dad discovers her aboard and teachers her all about sailing and life at sea as they travel the globe from the West Indies to the Port Rio Grande. Filled to the brim with action, adventure, and heart, Hope At Sea is one read that girls around the world can see themselves in, no matter where they live.


A Book About Traveling To India

When 9-year-old Bindiya travels to India for a wedding, she gets to meet her extended family for the very first time and immerse herself in a celebration of Indian wedding traditions. Bindiya In India is set in the ‘90s, and the story’s text by Monique Kamaria Chheda, MD, blends English and Hindi seamlessly throughout the book to help kids learn about the language and culture of India. For example, the Hindi word “gaddi” is written in a sentence in place of where the English word “vehicle” would be next to an illustration of Bindiya getting into her family’s car upon their arrival in India.


A Book About Following Your Dreams

For any girl who has ever been looked down on for wanting to do “boy things,” The Best Beekeeper Of Lalibela is a refreshing and inspiring story of empowerment. In the African village of Lalibela, a young girl named Almaz is inspired to become a beekeeper when she tries honey at her local market. Despite being told that beekeeping is “men’s work” and hearing condescending remarks from the men around her, Almaz is determined to make honey. She befriends a priest who encourages her to learn the skills she needs to reach her goal of making the best honey, eventually outselling her competition at the market.


A Story About The Power Of Education

In The Library Bus, author Bahram Rahman draws on his experience living under the Taliban regime during a time of civil war in Afghanistan, inspired by his sister and countless other Afghan women who were forbidden to learn how to read and write. The book’s heroine is a young girl named Pari who assists her mother with the distribution of books, paper, and pencils to girls in refugee camps outside of Kabul who would otherwise have no access to education. Intended for children ages 5 to 8, the story provides not only an introduction to what life was like during this time, but also the power of access and education.


A Tale Of Ambition

Inspired by author Shirin Yim Bridges’ own grandmother, Ruby’s Wish is an endearing story about a young Chinese girl who aspires to attend university just like the boys in her family. Although the traditional goal for girls in her country is to grow up and get married, Ruby is determined to achieve her goal and sets her sights instead on higher education. With the support and encouragement of her grandfather, Ruby refuses to give up on her dream and pursues what others perceive as an unconventional goal. With rich, detailed illustrations by Sophie Blackall, this story is one of courage and determination, perfect for any girl with big dreams.


An Irish Folktale

What girl wouldn’t love an enchanting story about leprechauns, magic, and a heroic girl set to save the day? Written by Teresa Bateman, Fiona’s Luck puts a modern spin on a classic Irish folktale. When a leprechaun king steals all of the luck in the land where she lives, a young girl named Fiona uses her cunning wit to outsmart the king and trick him into releasing the luck from the big oak chest where he’s hidden it all away. Accompanied by gorgeous watercolor illustrations by Kelly Murphy, it’s a beautiful girl-centric book to help introduce kids to Irish culture.


A Book About Clean Water Access

Named an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book in 2017, The Water Princess is based on the childhood of fashion model Georgie Badiel in Burkina Faso. In the story, Susan Verde pens the description of an unspecified African village where the main character, Princess Gie Gie, must travel a long distance with the other women and girls to collect water from a well to bring back, boil, and drink. She dreams of a day when clean water can run directly to her village. Kirkus Reviews calls the story a “timely and well-crafted story will educate readers on the preciousness of potable water.”


An Adventurous Story About Conservation

Adventurous girls will enjoy reading all about Zonia, a Asháninka girl who lives deep in the Amazon rain forest. Part of the largest group of indigenous people there, Zonia explores every inch of the rain forest, enjoying all of the plant and animal life within it, from giant anteaters to a family of sloths. Each morning, the forest speaks to her, and she answers the call, until one day the forest speaks to her in a troubled way and she’s faced with how to respond to the distress signal. Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, Zonia’s Rain Forest is a beautiful story of adventure, conservation, and connection to nature.