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Beyond Nancy Drew: A Guide to Girls' Literature

Introduction to Girls' Literature

Book jacket: A Campfire Girl's First Council Fire

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.

Reference Works, Bibliographies, Scholarly Writings

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.

Avery, Gillian. Childhood's Pattern: A Study of Heroes and Heroines of Children's Fiction 1770-1950. London: Hodder & Soughton, 1975.

Berg, Temma F. "Anne of Green Gables: A Girl's Reading." Children's Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 4 (Winter 1984-5) pp. 124-127.

Cadogan, Mary and Patricia Craig. You're a Brick, Angela!: A New Look at Girls' Fiction from 1839 to 1975. London: Golancz, 1976.

Carpenter, Humphrey. Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature. London: Allen & Unwin, 1985.

Crouch, Marcus. The Nesbit Tradition: The Children's Novel 1945-1970. London: Ernest Benn, 1972.

Dodson, Shireen. 100 Books for Girls to Grow On. New York: Harper Collins, 1998. Includes plot synopses and quizzes.

Foster, Shirley and Judy Simons. What Katy Read: Feminist Re-readings of "Classic" Stories for Girls. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995.

Gorham, Deborah. The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal. London: Croom Helm, 1982.

Hewins, Caroline Maris. A Mid-Century Child and her Books. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926.

Inness, Sherrie A., ed. Nancy Drew and Company : Culture, Gender, and Girls' Series. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, c1997.

Mason, Bobbie Ann. The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide. Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1975.

McGillis, Roderick. A Little Princess: Gender and Empire. New York: Twayne Publishers, c1996.

McRobbie, Angela. Feminism and Youth Culture: From 'Jackie' to 'Just Seventeen.' London: Macmillan, 1991.

Mitchell, Sally. The New Girl: Girls' Culture in England, 1880-1915. New York: Columbia University Press, c1995.

Pierce, Anna Eloise. Catalog of literature for advisers of young women and girls; an annotated list of more than two thousand titles of the most representative and useful books and periodical articles for the use of deans and other advisers of young women and girls. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1923.

Reynolds, Kimberly. Girls Only? Gender and Popular Children's Fiction in Britain, 1880-1910. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press, 1989.

Rowbotham, Judith. Good Girls Make Good Wives: Guidance for Girls in Victorian Fiction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Salmon, Edward J. "What Girls Read." Nineteenth Century, vol. 20, no. 116 (1886), pp. 516-527.

Saxton, Ruth O., ed. The Girl: Constructions of the Girl in Contemporary Fiction by Women. New York: Saint Martin's Press, 1998.

White, Barbara Anne. Growing Up Female: Adolescent Girlhood in American Fiction. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985.