Because you requested this, I’ve made another wholesome middle-grade chapter book list for girls ages 9 – 12 with nice (not catty or mean) female main characters. (Go here for the list for boys.) My criteria for books on this list is this:
- excellent writing
- books with main characters you’d like for your kids’ friends
- books with nice main characters (for the most part, we all have bad days)
- books with characters who are respectful towards adults and siblings
- no romance
- no swearing
As I mentioned on the previous wholesome chapter book list for boys, I did not reread every book I put on this list. IF my memory failed me, please let me know! Or, if you have a good addition to this list, let me know that as well.
And, because it always comes up,… I am not trying to gender stereotype. I’m trying to make your life as parents and teachers easier. Some books are on both lists. However, parents and teachers often notice that boys and girls have different interests. Thus, two lists with that in mind.
The books are listed below in order of difficulty (more or less) — from the easier middle grade books first (ages 9 and 10) to the more difficult last (ages 11 and 12). (*If you’d like to see wholesome EASY chapter books for girls without sass, go here.)
Wholesome Chapter Books for Girls Ages 9 – 12
Everyday Angel by Victoria Schwab
My 10-year-old loves these stories about an angel named Aria who is earning her wings by helping girls who are struggling in some way. In the first book, she helps Gabby. Gabby’s brother is hospitalized indefinitely and her mom is totally focused on her brother. It’s up to Aria to help Gabby at her new school and discover who she is. These are sweet, uplifting stories girls will enjoy.
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Every Tuesday, the castle where Princess Celie and her family live, adds on a new room, turret, or wing. Celie loves her ever-changing castle. So, when robbers attack her parents’ carriage, and they are never seen again, Celie takes comfort that the king and queen’s room is exactly the same, hoping the castle knows they are still alive. But can the castle and Celie stop the Royal Council and the foreign prince from taking over the kingdom? You will LOVE this series!
My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Four sweet stories of Yu’er and her grandpa show their warm bond and Yu’er’s adventures around their Beijing neighborhood. The first story is about Yu’er’s desire to compete in the Special Olympics. Other stories include defending herself from bullies with the help of a new friend as well as a magical old mailbox that transports Yu’er through time. This is a beautifully illustrated book of stories that feels nostalgic and heartwarming.
The Curious Cat Spy Club by Linda Joy Singleton
Three kids (two girls and one boy) from seemingly different social circles band together to rescue kittens they find in a dumpster, forming their own detective investigation group. Who could have dumped these innocent kittens? The answer, they find, will surprise everyone. Well-written and compelling, you won’t be able to put this book down.
The Ruby Princess Runs Away by Jahnna N. Malcom
Roxanne, the Red Princess, doesn’t feel ready to rule so she runs away just before her coronation. She stumbles upon a plot to put an imposter Red Princess on the throne. She also meets kindly people who help her to understand that ruling isn’t about being ready but about kindness and friendship. With this new perspective, Roxanne returns to the palace and stops the imposter from stealing her crown. A charming wholesome story in a new series that will appeal to growing readers who love princesses.
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake
If you like sweet stories of friendship, you won’t want to miss this new story. Prickly Badger’s life and rock studies are the most (and only) important thing in his life. Unexpectedly, he’s rudely interrupted by a new roommate, the helpful, philosophical, and curious chicken-loving Skunk. Badger wants Skunk to leave but he’s surprised when he enjoys Sunk’s cooking and company. Then after a spray incident and cruel comments he regrets, Badger fixes his mistake the two friends find that they’re better off together.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Narrated by a gorilla named Ivan, this true story will immediately grab your heart! Ivan is kept in a cage in a run-down mall for 27 years without seeing another gorilla, only the stray dog, Bob, who sleeps with him, Stella the Elephant, and Ruby, a newly purchased baby elephant. Before she dies, Stella begs Ivan to find Ruby a home with other elephants – and Ivan agrees, but it won’t be easy.
Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire, illustrated by David Litchfield \
With delicious figurative language and deliberate word choice, this is a stunningly beautiful story about family, community, grief, and stories. Cress and her family leave their cozy burrow after the death of her father. They move to the Broken Arms oak tree ruled by a cranky Owl with a noisy neighbor squirrel family. Cress helps her mom collect moths to pay their rent, leaving her mom time to work and to help gather ingredients for her sickly brother’s special tea. In a beautiful character arc, Cress navigates her new environment, the natural world, and the stories around her, all of which help her understand her inner world, especially how grief waxes and wanes like the moon’s cycles. Filled with immensely lovable characters, a gentle storyline of adventure and discovery, and lavish illustrations, I adore everything about this book.
Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant
This is an atmospheric, small town slice-of-life story that takes place in Rosetown, Indiana. A big part of 4th grader Flora’s life is her friendship with Yury and reading in the used bookstore where her mom works. Flora’s struggling to adjust to her parents’ separation and living in two different homes. No matter where she goes through, she brings her cat, Serenity. Flora’s life includes taking piano lessons and helping Yury with his dog training classes. The story ends with Flora’s parents working things out and starting their own business together.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Forced to flee a dangerous situation in Mexico, Esperanza and her mother arrive in California and start working as migrant farm workers. The back-breaking work is only part of their new, challenging life. In this beautifully written, soulful novel, Esperanza learns to thrive no matter what her circumstances.
The Star that Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson (*added 8/22)
This is a rich coming-of-age historical fiction story set around the first World War about an introspective girl dealing with racism, prejudice, and knowing herself. Norvia struggles with other people’s disdain for her family because of her divorced mother, and she’s hiding that she’s half Ojibwe. Her Uncle Virgil helps Norvia see that changes always happen and she can decide how to respond to those changes. The characters hold Christian beliefs and share Bible verses to encourage each other. Her blended, loving family helps Norvia embrace her full self and live honestly with courage as a Native girl with big dreams.
Kristy’s Great Idea Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin, illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
We’re loving these updated Babysitter’s Club graphic novels by the uber-talented Raina Telegemeier who wrote the highly-acclaimed Smile and Sister. It’s a good idea to start with book one since the stories are told in a specific order with details from previous stories. These are funny and fun to read, maybe even more than once. (The Truth About Stacey #2, Mary Ann Saves the Day #3)
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
Unusual Chickens has exceptional writing, characterization, and plot! The book is written as letters from a girl named Sophie, who is newly living at the farm of her dead great-uncle Jim. She writes to her dead abuelita, her dead great-uncle Jim, and Agnes of the Extraordinary Chickens catalog. While her parents are figuring out their new lives, Sophie figures out the farm. Specifically the chickens — starting with the first one she discovers wandering around. She learns that Jim had more than one chicken, and they are quite exceptional! (Think telekinesis, invisibility, and carnivorous chicks.) But a neighbor chicken thief is also interested in Jim’s chickens — and Sophie must stop her. Which means entering the town’s poultry show with her special chickens . . .
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
This wholesome book is both “a meditation on kindness” and not judging people by how they look on the outside. “I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.” Wonder helps us see compassion, empathy, and acceptance from a variety of character’s points of view. Auggie, a boy with a facial difference, starts public school for the first time in 5th grade. His experience, though often difficult, shows his inner strength. And kindness wins over bullying!
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
FANTASY (ish) (series)
We love this book (and the series) because it’s a unique story with memorable, wonderful characters. Miri and the other girls in her mountain village are ordered to attend a newly created school to learn enough to be considered wife material for the prince. But the prince, when he does appear, sees cold and unfriendly making Miri reconsider what she wants from this experience. Then, when bandits take over the school and hold the girls hostage, Miri finds her inner strength and clarity of purpose.
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
The writing is excellent, the characters are compelling, and the plotting is exceptional. I totally love this series about siblings (rabbits) are on the run from an evil that destroyed their home. They’ll meet new friends with whom they will find a safe home and a new life. At least until they’re betrayed. If you like books with friendship, loyalty, adventure, and danger, this series is perfect for you.
Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures. (BOOK CLUB IDEAS HERE.)
Snow Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
This isn’t the same Snow White and Red Rose story from Disney, it’s something closer to the original Grimm story and it’s marvelous. Snow and Rose are two sisters who with their mother live in the woods after their father disappeared in those same woods. While their mother is lost in grief, the girls explore, befriending a young boy from a mushrooming family named Ivo and a large bear who they nurse back to health during the winter. But they fear the woodsman will find and kill their bear. Then they stumble upon a sinister Little Man who seeks to enchant or kill them. Surprisingly, this is one Grimm story with a happy ending . . . which I won’t spoil . . . and what a surprise ending it is!
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
Stuck in a museum with her sister and father who is working on a sword exhibit, Ophelia’s curiosity leads her to a locked room with a boy who has been trapped for thousands of years. But Ophelia doesn’t believe in that kind of thing. Except she kind of does. She remembers her mother used to tell her those stories . . . This is a breathtaking retelling of The Snow Queen with loss, acceptance, hope, and friendship. I just loved it! Added to: Best Read Aloud Books for 3rd Grade.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Like The Penderwicks, you’ll fall in love with this quirky, close-knit family. The Vanderbeekers’ landlord wants them out by the end of December but the Vanderbeeker kids are determined to change his mind, even though he hates noise, kids, and their family. But it’s almost Christmas and their efforts are only making things worse. What will they do? Charming and heart-warming.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
I think you already know about these books but if you don’t, they’re absolutely engaging fantasy adventures that will hook your kids on magic and good vs. evil stories. We recently listened to the series on audiobook which was wonderful!
Roll with It by Jamie Sumner
This meaningful story will tug at your heartstrings. It’s narrated by Ellie a girl who loves to bake, who has CP (cerebral palsy,) and who rolls through life in a wheelchair. She hates having an aid at school who’s supposed to help her with everything including going to the bathroom. When her mom moves them to Oklahoma to help care for her grandfather, even though Ellie’s from the so-called wrong side of the tracks, she makes friends with other trailer park kids — the first friends she’s ever had. It’s a sweet story about taking risks, the importance of finding your tribe, and growing up.
Podkin One-Ear The Legend Begins by Kieran Larwood
Well-written and enthralling, you’ll love every moment of this story about a young rabbit who reluctantly grows into his destiny. One cold winter night, the night before Bramblemas, a traveling bard seeks shelter in Thornwood Warren. He’s offered shelter and food in exchange for his stories; stories about the heroic Podkin One-Ear. Alternating between the bard’s present moment experience and the story of Podkin, we learn that young Podkin was a lazy, spoiled prince. When the cruel Gorm who are metal dark magic rabbits arrive at his family’s burrow to kill everyone inside, Podkin escapes with his much braver sister and little brother. No longer able to be spoiled and lazy, Podkin tries his best to be brave and pull his weight, often failing miserably but occasionally succeeding, too.
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
This book hooked me from the first page, taking me on a coming of age story that was both heartbreaking and filled with hope. Perry is well-loved by his mother and her friends. . . in prison. That’s where Perry has lived since he was born eleven years ago. But in an unexpected and unpleasant turn of events, his best friend’s stepfather, the new District Attorney, forces Perry to leave the prison. Not only that, the DA tries to stall Perry’s mother’s parole hearing. Perry discovers the stories behind the inmates’ lives, hoping that they’ll be helpful in reuniting him with his mother. This story will stay with you long after you read the (very satisfying) last page.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time is a remarkable, well-written adventure in space that deals with the overarching theme of good vs. evil. Meg along with her brother, Charles Wallace, and friend Calvin set off into space to find her scientist father who disappeared while researching tesseracts.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Hands-down one of the best life-changing books you’ll ever read. Narrated by Melody, we learn what it’s like for her, trapped in a body with cerebral palsy that doesn’t allow her to speak or take care of herself. No one, except her parents, think she’s smart. But she is smart. And one day, she gets a chance to prove it. Heartbreaking. Real. Inspiring.
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
This beautiful story captures the essence of love, family, and self-discovery. It’s compelling and exquisitely crafted. Osh, a solitary island man, rescued baby Crow when he found her in a small boat on the sea. Crow loves Osh but now at age 12, she wants to know where she came from — was it the island across the way where the leper colony was? She, Crow, and their friend, Miss Maggie journey to the island to find out. The island brings them closer to answers but also into danger, too.
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn
McDunn beautifully weaves an emotion-filled, coming-of-age story with a strong female main character named Cat who you will adore. Cat is a protective big sister for her special-needs brother who often has meltdowns and runs away but she’s ready to be more — she’s ready to have her own life and for her mom to see that. Cat finds the opportunity when her children’s book author-illustrator mom leaves her and her brother at their estranged grandparents’ house for the summer. There, Cat develops a special relationship with her grandparents, helps heal the rift between her grandfather and her mother, makes a good friend, and learns how to fish.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Wonderfully crafted and imagined, this is a fairy tale of sorts about a good witch who rescues a town’s abandoned (the town thinks sacrificed) babies and gives them to another town to love. Except for one baby whom the witch adopts for her own; a special baby named Luna who is accidentally infused with moon magic. It’s also the story of the baby’s magical, bereaved mother, a wicked witch who feeds off sorrow, a woodcarver who wants justice, and of course, Luna.
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
SCI-FI / ADVENTURE
Action from the first page! This is an awesome story about a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over. Now Sky and her fellow humans live below ground in safety with Noah as their supreme ruler. Sky discovers that her missing (maybe traitor?) father left her a secret note with cryptic instructions on how to be found. She decides to leave the underground city in order to find her dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are rescued from hungry dinosaurs by a boy who lives in a treetop enclave. When his enclave is attacked by Noah’s soldiers looking for her, Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah is wrong and is even more determined to find her father. LOVED it!
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
SCI-FI/ ADVENTURE (series)
This is a must-read, excellent Newbery winning book about amazing lab rats with intelligence who escape from the lab and form their own community. This was always one of my fifth graders favorite read-alouds.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Minli’s grown up with her father’s folktales. Inspired by these and hoping to change their poverty-stricken lifestyle, she leaves her home to find the Old Man on the Moon. She’s soon joined by a flightless red dragon. As they travel, Minli meets both people and mythical creatures who share their stories. She’ll learn more about herself, the meaning of family, friendship, and what makes a person truly wealthy.
Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Nielsen deftly captures the history of Lithuania’s book smugglers as well as the fundamental truth that books give readers freedom from oppression and keep alive a language, culture, and identity. When Audra’s parents are arrested by the Cossacks, she flees to their contact’s house, learning that her parents were part of a network of Lithuanian book smugglers fighting against the Russians. But, she didn’t want anything to do with that, partially because she can’t read. However, as she slowly learns, she develops a fire for words and their power. Not only that, she becomes a passionate and clever smuggler herself. You’ll be so inspired that a small country of farmers managed to keep their culture alive even after the Russians banned their language and their books. A great book for discussion!
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
REALISTIC / BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS – OCD
My daughter and I love this book — it was her favorite of 2018 by far! The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is a thoughtful coming-of-age story about a girl genius with OCD whose grandma wants her to go to public middle school for three reasons: to make one friend, read one non-math book, and join one school activity. Although she’s reluctant to go, Lucy finds friends and connects with a rescue dog for a school project. It’s a well-written, heart-warming story that will change your perspective of OCD and give you hope for humanity.
One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans
Choldenko crafts a layered, warm-hearted story that celebrates family, unique personalities, and the richness that comes from having a dog. If you like the Penderwicks or the VanderBeekers, you will love this book, too. Liam is the oldest, a responsible, caring big brother in fifth grade. His mom and dad have recently divorced which has been hard for him. To make matters worse, their grumpy landlord has given their family an ultimatum — they’ll either give away their German Shepherd dog, Cupcake, or fix her peeing problems. But they don’t have the money for the expensive surgery. That’s when Liam’s middle sister, Dakota, a 100% science nerd, develops mostly disastrous schemes to make money. Yet it’s Liam’s littlest sister, Izzy, who has Down’s Syndrome who finally figures out how to solve the Cupcake peeing problem — and it is genius.
Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido
REALISTIC / STEM
I loved this exquisite novel in verse that celebrates music, STEM, making friends, and growing into yourself. Emmy’s eager to start a new school and make friends but she’s thwarted by rudeness at every turn. A daughter of professional musicians, Emmy decides to abandon music and take a computer programming class. She sort of makes a friend with a girl in her programming class named Abigail but she’s only friendly during that class. Which makes Emmy feel conflicted. As Emmy’s family adjusts to San Francisco, Emmy figures out her place in the world, especially as it relates to her growing passion for programming. The author skillfully connects music and programming in a memorable, poetic way that even non-programmers can understand.
Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson
A story about finding your strength even if it looks like a weakness…McKenna enters a long dog sled race in order to bring awareness to her sister’s degenerative eye disease which McKenna has, too. However, she doesn’t want to tell her parents and be treated differently. During the race, she relies on her lead dog to guide her sled when she can’t see the route. Another racer, a boy with a blind dog, shows her that his dog is a powerful leader because he’s blind. The journey helps McKenna realize that just like Zesty the blind dog, she is not disabled and that her differences can make her better.
The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
Faryn is a likable, orphaned main character who values kindness and family. After helping defeat a demon in Chinatown she discovers that she’s the prophetic demon-slaying Heaven Breaker and embarks on a quest. But she’s not alone — she journeys with her resentful, angry brother Alex, her ex-friend Moli, and a cursed boy. Together they’ll fight demons, escape capture, and save imprisoned dragons in order to attend the god’s Lunar New Year’s banquet. But instead of finding her missing father at the banquet, she learns of the gods’ plan to wipe out faithless humans. Faryn refuses to lead their army and is horrified when her brother, eager for vengeance, takes on the power of the Heaven Breaker so he can lead the army of killers. The story ends on a cliff-hanger making me eager for the next book in the series.
Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Marianna Raskin
ANIMAL RESCUE / REALISTIC
Looking for a sweet story of animal rescue? Becca is a triplet who doesn’t feel special until she adopts a stray pig. Because he will grow to be 600 lbs, she can only keep him for a while before he’ll go to an animal rescue. Despite his destructive behavior, Becca falls head over heels in love with her crazy pig, Saucy. Unfortunately, he bites her mom and must leave early for his new home, a devastating event for the entire family including grandma. But, Saucy and her brothers find out about a pig factory with deplorable conditions. They rescue even more pigs which helps them with their sadness.
Winterbone Home for Vengence and Valor by Ally Carter
April is a foster kid invited to live at a fancy mansion with other orphans. There. she notices the same symbol that is on the key her mom left her. Could the key belong to this house? Then she discovers the home’s long lost missing heir lurking around the shadows and hiding in a secret part of the house. When she and her friends realize this new home is about to be acquired by a nefarious man, they are determined to solve the mystery of the heir, the key, and the house. If you like exciting, heartwarming mysteries, you’ll love this story.
Quest for the Crystal Crown by Story Pirates, Annabeth Bondor-Stone and Connor White
The Quest for the Crystal Crown is a funny, entertaining fantasy adventure that, believe it or not, also teaches kids how to write fantasy stories. Within the illustrations from time to time are meta conversations to the reader with instructions to read more about writing in the back of the book. Laura and her friend Millie leave the safety of their walled village to find the missing Crystal Crown. With the help of a mage they meet in the first village, Dead End, the three kids embark on the quest of a lifetime. They’ll ride a Donkeycorn, meet a baby Troll who needs a nap, and disguise themselves as goblins. Of course, the Goblin King catches them and throws them in prison. But all is not lost. They find Laura’s long lost mother, perform a special spell, and escape. EXCELLENT.
More to the Story by Hena Khan
I adore every single thing about this beautiful, heart-warming diverse chapter book that is loosely based on Little Women. Jameela is one of four girls in a Pakistani-American family and she’s passionate about journalism. When her father leaves for a new job out of the country, Jameela wants to write an epic article that will make her dad proud. Unfortunately, in the process, she hurts a new friend by focusing the article on what she wants and not what he feels comfortable sharing. As she digests her hard-earned lessons, she learns that her beloved little sister has lymphoma. Despite the challenges, her family sticks together with laughter and love. Khan skillfully weaves a story of family, culture, community, and social justice that is sure to become a modern-day classic.
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