Girls' literature has long sought to delineate the "proper" role of a girl in the home and in the world, and to prepare her for her future role as the "light of the home." Overtly in etiquettes and "conduct of life" books, and more surreptitiously in novels and storybooks, girls' literature has served to mold young women according to the pervading values of the time. Often, books such as The Motor Girls seemed to encourage a sense of freedom and self-sufficiency in girls, but on closer inspection they actually reinforced the imperative of home and family. If a girl had aspirations outside the home, a vast body of girls' literature guided her towards professions considered appropriate for girls, such as nursing or teaching.
Of course there have always been girls who didn't quite fit the mold. Girls' literature, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, has reflected this sense of not belonging. Books such as Tomboy attempted to guide these girls back to the mainstream, but others such as The Girls' Book of Heroines held up images of exceptional girls as role models. In the past fifty years, girls' literature has grown more inclusive, and has more accurately portrayed the diversity of girls' experiences. From the poor but adventurous girls in Jack of All Trades, to the empowered young feminist in Christina's Tool Box, girls have longed to see a little of themselves in the books they read.
All titles listed in this bibliography will be found in Duke University's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, unless noted otherwise. With few exceptions, titles are listed chronologically within the various subject headings. This is a selective bibliography; we recommend that you search Duke University Library's online catalog for more girls' literature titles.
This bibliography was compiled and written by Rabia Geha and Kelly Wooten, and was edited by Amy Leigh.
For an introduction to the historical context and critical interpretation of girls' literature, you may wish to consult these secondary sources, available from Perkins Library.Allen, Marjorie N. What Are Little Girls Made Of?: A Guide to Female Role Models in Children's Books. New York: Facts on file, 1999.