Reading is typically a solitary act. Curling up with a good book tends to be a signal you’ve signed off from being busy for just a while.
But if you’re a mom who’s raising a girl reader, then checking out a good book together can be a way to connect with, learn from and empower your daughter.
You can literally read together or dip into separate copies that you chat about later. Regardless, your discussions around the themes, characters, and messages in those stories can whip up a riveting exchange of ideas and, crucially, allow your daughter to see you as someone with whom she can express her opinions and share her thoughts safely.
Bring on the Feminist Classic Books
Stir in some feminist classics that challenge traditional gender norms and stereotypes, and you’ve got some top-notch conversation starters around gender equality, consent, body autonomy, and other feminist issues.
Literature that explores the intersectionality of gender with race, class, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity should also be earmarked for reading.
Not only will books with themes like these school your daughter in societal BS and empower her to make informed choices as she gets older, but they’ll also provide a way to spotlight the unique challenges faced by women of various backgrounds and the importance of solidarity.
And lastly, simply exposing your daughter to stories of strong and singular go-getting girls can inspire her to strive towards her dreams without feeling limited by her gender. Reading stories by women about women achieving their goals against the odds will help her to realise that being a woman is a superpower and nothing less.
So what are some classic novels by women writers for moms and daughters to bond over? Here’s our pick of eight enduring books to love, learn from and help bring you closer.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Written in 1868, this beloved classic remains among the most widely-read novels of all time. Following the lives of the four March sisters and their journey from childhood to adulthood, it explores themes of family, love, and personal growth.
In Little Women, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March navigate the challenges of growing up, pursuing their dreams, and supporting each other through thick and thin. As all of this unfolds, the book addresses the expectations placed on 19th-century women and explores different perspectives on love, marriage, and personal fulfilment.
But it’s the warm, engaging storytelling and memorable characters that make this classic so timeless and an ideal book to spark discussions about societal changes, gender roles, and the right for women to be flawed, fabulous and wholly different from each other.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Another enduring classic and one of the best-selling books in English literature, Pride and Prejudice is full of wit, spirited women and sharp insights into the complexities of marriage matches, sisterhood, and relationships within a family.
As such, it’s a great choice for discussing the relevance of marriage for women in the Regency Era and before, and the risks and benefits the institution still holds for women today.
The story revolves around the “will they, won’t they” relationship between dauntless Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, an arrogant, aristocratic landowner.
While the business of wedlock is front and centre, the plot also explores different relationship dynamics, the difficulties of standing your ground, and the universal challenges of transitioning from girlhood to womanhood.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Written in 1907, this beloved coming-of-age novel is a particularly good choice for tweens and young teens – though that’s not to say it won’t resonate with book lovers of all ages!
It introduces readers to Anne Shirley, an imaginative and impulsive young orphan who is mistakenly sent to live with a brother and sister on Prince Edward Island off the eastern coast of Canada.
Anne's vibrant personality and zest for life make her easy to warm to, while her adventures in the small town of Avonlea offer a fun and entertaining read.
And yet, beyond the laughs, Anne’s journey of self-discovery, wherein she learns to navigate challenges and develop a sense of identity, can instigate valuable discussions for moms and daughters embarking on their own paths of growth.
Additionally, the novel explores the importance of friendship and the bonds formed within a chosen family. Anne's relationships with her best friend Diana, her adoptive family, and the community of Avonlea highlight the power of love, support, and the impact of strong and healthy relationships.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, is a powerful exploration of the lives of African-American women in the early 20th century. Though the book addresses themes of racism, sexism, and abuse, it also celebrates the resilience and power of female relationships, and the importance of finding one's voice.
The novel centres on Celie, an African-American teenager raised in rural isolation. The heartbreak and horrors of her young life are revealed to us through the painfully honest letters she begins writing to God, her only means of bearing – and sharing – all she’s going through.
Over time, these letters become her salvation, helping her to explore her experiences and acknowledge who she is as a young woman.
Her evolving understanding of her own sexual identity is a central aspect of this self-discovery and partly develops through her relationship with Shug Avery, a brash and breezy blues singer and Celie's husband's mistress. Openly bisexual, Shug defies societal norms and expectations regarding sexual identity and behaviour and puts sexual orientation and the freedom of expression firmly on the table for a mama-and-daughter pow-wow.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Another Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is an American masterpiece that follows Scout Finch, a young girl in a small Southern town, as her father defends a black man accused of a crime he did not commit.
Through Scout's innocent perspective, the novel digs deep into themes of racial inequality, prejudice, and the moral responsibility to stand up against discrimination. As such it presents a pathway towards meaningful conversations to have with your daughter about equity, inclusion, and the importance of fighting for what’s right.
While a primary relationship in the book is that between Scout and her thoughtful, principled pops, Atticus, To Kill a Mockingbird also spotlights strong and memorable female characters. These include Scout herself, of course, her friend and neighbour, Miss Maudie, and Scout's progressive and independent-minded aunt, Alexandra.
These characters offer different role models and perspectives on gender roles, feminism and female empowerment for reading moms and daughters to chew over.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
For many young girls today, the great wars of the 20th century may seem part of a dusty and distant past. But understanding the devastating impact they had on the world is as necessary now as it was in the years directly following them – and reading books that reflect these experiences can help in cultivating that understanding.
One such book is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, a firsthand account of one of the darkest periods in history—the Holocaust of World War II.
This is a deeply personal and intimate perspective from a young German-born Jewish girl hiding with her family in an attic in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of Holland.
Anne wrote daily in her diary during the two years she was in hiding. Her entries capture her thoughts, emotions, and experiences as she navigated not just the challenges of confinement and the horrors of war, but also those of simply being an adolescent.
It's a poignant read that prompts readers to gain a better understanding of the emotional toll that war and persecution can have on individuals and families.
But it’s also one that highlights the resilience of the human spirit. Despite the dire circumstances she faced, Anne still maintained hope. And it’s this optimism and determination to find meaning in her life, even in hiding, that can inspire both mothers and daughters reading Anne’s musings decades later to face their own challenges with fortitude and a positive outlook.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
If your daughter is examining her sexual identity, a classic coming-of-age book that puts ideas about sexual orientation and acceptance front and centre is Jeanette Winterson’s seminal Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
Published in 1985, it’s a semi-autobiographical novel that unfurls the story of Jeanette, a young girl growing up in a strict religious household in England. As she navigates her adolescence, grappling with her growing attraction to women, she finds herself struggling to balance her emerging sexuality with the expectations and beliefs of her religious community.
What we’re given as readers is a gripping and unique perspective on coming of age as a lesbian in an uber-conservative environment. The novel delves into the complexities of self-discovery, the challenges of reconciling personal desires with societal expectations, and the resilience needed to embrace one's true identity.
As a mother reading this book with your daughter, you’ll not only have a way to discuss LGBTQ+ experiences, but also the chance to support conversations about sexual orientation, acceptance, and the absolute need to love who you are.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’ 2018 debut novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement became an instant New York Times bestseller and is hailed today as a classic in the making.
The story follows Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old Black girl who witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer. Broken by her grief and the conflict within her community, Starr grapples with the decision to speak up or stay silent.
Starr herself is a well-rounded and relatable young woman, and her family is also complex and full of the contradictions that knit through so many families. In exploring these dynamics, mothers and daughters get the chance to chat about relationships, communication, and the importance of family support during difficult times.
But more than that, because the novel addresses pressing contemporary issues, including racism, police brutality, and social justice, reading it together can prompt meaningful conversations on these topics and encourage a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by marginalized communities.
These are just some of the many compelling classic books written by women and centring women’s stories that moms and daughters can enjoy together and also use to learn valuable lessons about the world at large - and each other.
What other traditional and contemporary classic books would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
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