Our Friends' Favorites: Chelsea Clinton on Books with Great Female Characters

Find out which book characters inspired her to be strong and determined -- and even get her grandma to stop smoking.
Jim Steyer CEO and Founder | Dad of four Categories: Celebrity Influence on Kids, Common Sense News, Reading
CEO and Founder | Dad of four

For the latest in our new Our Friends' Favorites series, where we ask Common Sense Media friends and partners to share their top media picks, we asked Clinton Foundation leader (and Common Sense Media board member) Chelsea Clinton to tell us about the books and female characters from her childhood that made a lasting impression on her.

Chelsea has devoted her career to building healthier, safer, more equitable world for all people. Through her work with the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative University, she's empowering the next generation to take action on some of the world's most urgent challenges. So it comes as no surprise that Chelsea's favorite books feature strong, bold female characters. We're delighted to have her share her feelings about a few of her classic picks:

Many books come to mind when I think of my favorite female characters who kept me company in elementary school and who remain with me today: Ramona Quimby from Beverly Cleary's Ramona books; Meg Murry from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time; Claudia Kincaid from E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; and all the Nancy Drew books!

All of my favorite female characters are adventurous, tough, curious, and determined. They all either have or develop their own sense of independence, and while they all have serious tasks -- from figuring out a mystery to rescuing a younger brother to convincing their father to stop smoking -- they manage to not take life too seriously, to see the wonder in the world and laugh along the way.

Not incidentally, after I read of Ramona's campaign to get her father to quit smoking, I asked my grandmother to stop smoking when she asked me what I wanted for my eighth birthday. And she did! (Thank you, Ramona!) And sometimes, if I'm stressed about a situation, I still do multiplication tables in my head to calm my mind and refocus my energies (thank you, Meg).

I hope that anyone who reads these books with their daughters or sons experiences the same joy I recall as a child, imagining myself spending the night at the Met, cracking a case, or venturing out to new terrain, somewhere far away or just around the block. And I hope that kids have the same ineffable knowledge that I never doubted: that all my favorite characters were there cheering me on along the way, as I had cheered them on through their stories.

What were your favorite books as a kid? Have you read them with your children? Share your thoughts and other suggestions for books with positive female role models in the comments below. We'll select one commenter to receive a book of his or her choice from our Essential Books for Kids and Teens guide and email you July 29 if you've won! (And remember, we don't send emails to kids under 13.)

For more on gender stereotypes and positive role models, check out our new white paper

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Comments (20)

Parent of a 13 year old written by Lisette's Mom

We all loved the Olivia-the-pig books by Ian Falconer when my daughter was little, little (like two-and-a-half and up), and she continued to collect new ones at school book fairs, until very recently (she's now 13). My husband and I couldn't resist Olivia because she was just like our spirited, spunky, wildly imaginative, brilliant, perpetual-motion machine of a daughter. The Olivia books showed her that a real girl could dream about being an opera star or a lion tamer just as well as she could dream about being a Disney princess (yakk!), and she could be naughtier, make as big of a mess, and go on even wilder adventures than the boys, and still be in touch with her feminine self. We can't wait to share them with her 1-year-old twin girl cousins.
Educator written by AmeliaC

Turtle Wexler of The Westing Game is one of my daughter's and my favorite spunky, strong characters. For newer books, the kids mystery THE WIG IN THE WINDOW has bold, fun, great girl role models -- especially the character Trista Bottoms, who is smart and sassy -- not to mention unapologetic about being overweight.
Adult written by nkborgardt

My daughter and I love the "Who Was" books. We had Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Anne Oakley, and Eleanor Roosevelt, to name a few. Very inspiring and such a positive influence on a girl's growing mind. :) More recently, we've been reading :The Mother/Daughter Book Club."
Educator written by A L D Tucker

I loved Anastasia Krupnik and Ramona Quimby. And the positive Judy Blume characters. :) I'm enjoying Olivia with my daughter now.
Parent of a 11 and 15 year old written by dkorkodilos

A few favorites come to mind. But over the last few years I find myself reading books that my kids recommend to me. Here is my list. Books I enjoyed reading with my children: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Charlotte's Web, and Pippi Longstockings. Others that have been my favorite are The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Jabberwocky and of course The Harry Potter series.
Parent written by CSM Screen name...

Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a fantastic book for everyone. The lead character, Meody, is a girl you will never forget. I shared this book with my kids, my daughter's books club and even got my 85year old mother to suggest it for her book group.
Parent of a 4 and 6 year old written by mordecaibing

trixie belden was smart, compassionate, and a good friend. she was a tomboy, too, which i thought was awesome. i WAS trixie and my best friend was honey wheeler. (nancy drew was too old for me; she could drive and everything. :) eilonwy in the chronicles of prydain was brave and sensitive, and she didn't take any crap from taran. reminds me of my baby girl.
Parent written by Cooldee

Anne Frank and Hermione Granger are the best female role models in literature! Why? Anne Frank had the courage and strength be in the attic for 2 years, she wrote about her life in her diary with truth and great words; and she is strong (and still is)! Hermione Granger proves that you don't need good looks to be successful and smart.
Teen, 14 years old written by 8rebel24

Inspiring female literary characters: Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series) Annabeth Chase (Percy Jackson series) Meggie Folchart (Inkheart Trilogy) Meg Murry (The Wrinkle in Time Series)
Adult written by kakuloo

The women in Tamora Pierce's books, particularly Keladry from "First Test", were my role models growing up. Kel is a strong and clever problem solver but she also keeps her femininity. I felt like if I wore a skirt or dress as a kid, I was giving up the 'fun' things like building stuff or playing video games. After reading about Keladry, I knew that whatever I wore, I could do anything I wanted.
Kid, 12 years old

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. She's realistic (she gets sad and everything), but mostly she's not afraid to go her own way!
Parent written by CSM Screen name...

I love Cornelia Funke's picture books for their strong female characters. She has many- Princess in the Pigsty about the princess who does not want to wear her crown. The Princess Knight about a girl who learns how to joust with her brothers and her father,the king, holds a contest for her 16th birthday with the prize being her hand in marriage, she secretly enters the contest and beats them all. Pirate Girl about a young girls who is sailing off to see Grandma and is captured by pirates who hold her for ransom, Molly sends notes in bottles and her mother, Barbarous Bertha, with her crew of female pirates on the Horrible Haddock rescues her.
Adult written by mdeco

For me, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series has got to be one of the best heroines in literature. She's smart, intelligent, witty, and doesn't need looks to be an outstanding character. I grew up on Harry Potter and it was amazing to have a positive role model like Hermione when I was growing up in schools and towns that emphasized looks rather than books. Hermione's still one of my favorite characters today.
Adult written by L'sMama

My favourite book on strong females has to be a princess book unlike most princess books. In Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess, Elizabeth outwits a dragon to save her prince. When Ronald is disappointed in her looks when she comes bursting through the cave to save him she delivers a one liner women everywhere can be proud of - and it will get a giggle out of your little ones! This book is thoroughly enjoyed by all at any age, but 5 and up really love it!!
Educator and Parent written by abby_diamond

My all time favorite book is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney-Miss Rumphius is a smart, successful woman who works, travels the world, gives back to others and sees her life as a success. All without mention of a husband. I give the book as a gift to all little girls I know and read it frequently to my 2 sons.
Parent of a 11 and 15 year old written by Mercer Mom

For the younger set, any of the Frances books (Bread and Jam for Frances) and Lily books (Lily's Purple Plastic Purse). Spunky, interesting, imperfect, and inventive girls.
Parent written by nobbsy

I really like the novel "Bridge to Terabithia" which showed how a strong imaginative girl can help a young boy transcend the limitations placed on him by culture and his social environment. Heartbreaking but transcendent story that should be read by every pre-adolescent regardless of gender.
Adult written by Rayndrop

I grew up on Judy Blume books. I read everywhere: walking around the mall, in the car, anytime and anywhere. Blueberries for Sal has always been a favorite! Now I read Barbara Delinsky.
Parent of a 5 year old written by averya219

I read Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume so many times the cover fell off. But I loved when our teacher read aloud to us every day and remember most Little Women.