It can be hard to find books for younger readers, particularly girls and young women, that aren't about relationships, or where being female means being obsessed with boys. Here are a few suggestions for a better balanced bookcase.
I Capture the Castle. But as my daughter, who already shows reassuring signs of loving books, gets older I want to be able to surround her with books that tell all sorts of stories, and where the interests of the female leads are not only hormonal. And if I had a son, I know I'd want to give him a different picture of my gender than the one he might get from the media - and anyway, good books are for everyone. So while there's nothing wrong with Twilight and Harry Potter, here are some reminders of a few other options your children could enjoy as they speed towards adulthood - not to mention a few you might remember enjoying yourself.
The Ramona Books - Beverly Cleary
I'm so obsessed with these books for younger readers I derived my child's name from them. There's nothing not to love here: a sparky heroine who's full of guts and good intentions, and whose favourite past times range from dolls named after appliances to obsessively re-reading a book about an engine. The home relationships are quite traditional up to a point, and then the balance of power in the household shifts as Dad is made redundant and Mom goes out to work. Everything from pet bereavement to family weddings to a new baby in the household is covered in books that were written over several decades of cultural change, but never lose their humour and charm. See also: Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik.
The Eloise Books - Kay Thompson & Hilary Knight
While we're on the subject of books first published in the 1950s, I'm not sure you can get more anarchically charming than Kay Thompson's Plaza-dwelling avalanche of chutzpah, Eloise. Gatecrashing events, eavesdropping and generally gallivanting: there's simply nothing like her. Just read the notes from the endpapers on the website. Queen Victoria would indeed "recognise her as an Equal".
The Artemis Fowl Books - Eoin Colfer
I particularly love the Artemis Fowl series because it defies stereotypes in all directions and with its fast-paced plots and toilet humour is likely to appeal to readers of any age and gender. Artemis is a 12-year-old genius hero / anti-hero, who values learning and reading about physical pursuits. Meanwhile hot-headed Holly Short, the first female officer to attain her rank in the fairy police force (LEPRecon), is an all-action dynamo who breaks every rule thrown at her. While it makes me sad that even in the ethically superior world of the fairies sexism is a given, this book and the volumes that follow are all about transformation - from selfish to ethical, from enemies to friends. Later on, there are even female arch-villains who aren't mainly judged on their appearance.
The Tiffany Aching Books - Terry Pratchett
Starting with The Wee Free Men, this evolving series of books follows the immensely practical teenage witch Tiffany Aching as a sub-series of Discworld novels aimed at younger readers. Tiffany is bright, incisive and interested (which is a pretty important prerequisite for being interesting) and she gradually commands the respect of everyone around her as only a witch can.
The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
Just assuming your kid hasn't already read this, this is why they - and you - should. It's not the plot or the writing per se - sure there's a great, creepy dystopian story, and the pace is really good at times, particularly in the first two books, but those aren't the main selling points. The real reason is Katniss Everdeen. Because she absolutely, resolutely kicks ass. Despite being caught in a love triangle of sorts, she is mainly brushing off the attentions of a couple of love-lorn boys, both of whom at least love her for reasons that extend beyond her looks, because she has her eyes on the prize: survival. She's tough, smart, occasionally mean and very, very focussed. Even when she chooses to sacrifice herself for her notion of the greater good, it's not because she's a woman and they're just nurturing types but because she has an old-school sense of honour and duty. She even comments on male vs female body hair removal! It's a must-read, even if you think you're too old for young adult fiction (hint: you're not, so drop the snobbery).
When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead
This is just an excellent book; little wonder it was a Newbery Medal winner. The fact that the protagonist is female is really, as it should be, more-or-less incidental to the actual plot, which is a beautifully paced, moving and elegantly written book about time travel, redemption and the nature of friendship.
Are your favourites in this list? Do you have a suggestion that's quirkier, newer or less obvious? One of the best things about parenthood in the age of the internet is swapping just such suggestions, so be free with your comments!