12 Classic Novels Girls Should Read before Turning 12

Give your daughters some classic novels to read this summer — books so beautifully written that the characters become like childhood friends. I have read many of these over and over again as a girl, and I can honestly say they have been very formative. A poignant, well-crafted novel can help shape the heart and form the mind. Here are 12 classic novels which do just that.

  1. Heidi – A beautiful story about an orphan who is sent to live in the Swiss Alps with her solitary Grandfather. Themes of friendship, the beauty of nature, and love for the elderly grace this touching and sometimes amusing story.

Check out my FREE Writing Lessons based on Heidi here.

2. A Little Princess – When I was a young girl, this was my favorite book. Sarah Crewe is one of the most noble-hearted, compassionate girls in all of children’s literature. When tragedy strikes, her courage and generosity is sorely tested. But even in poverty she remains steadfast and proves she has the heart of a real princess.

3. The Secret Garden – A spoiled, sour orphan and her sickly, tyrannical cousin are transformed by an abandoned garden. Tasha Tudor’s illustrations are, as always, charming.

4. Little Women – Four sisters of very different temperaments find joy and fun despite tough times. This volume only contains the first part. The second is Good Wives. Little Men and Jo’s Boys complete this series rich in character development.

5. An Old-Fashioned Girl – All of Louisa May Alcott’s novels (except the thrillers she wrote when she was younger) are aimed at instilling wholesome values. In this novel, Polly realizes the value of simplicity while visiting her sophisticated cousins in the city. Polly may be an old-fashioned girl, but her virtues are timeless. Also see Eight Cousins . Rose in Bloom is the sequel to Eight Cousins, but is more appropriate for teenagers.

6. The Little White Horse – An enchanting story of a young orphan girl who goes to live a in a mysterious mansion wrought with family tensions.

7. Caddie Woodlawn – She’s as spunky as a girl can get. Based on a true story of a pioneer family in Wisconsin.

8. Misty of Chincoteague – This is the book that made my daughter fall in love with horses.

9. The Princess and the Goblin – an alluring fairy tale about young Princess Irene and the miner’s son Curdie, who tries to save her and her castle from the wicked ploys of the goblins. The sequel, The Princess and Curdie, is equally enchanting.

10. Anne of Green Gables – This was my second favorite novel as a girl. My friends and I spent hours re-enacting scenes from this beloved book. Little by little, Anne overcomes her vanity, masters her temper, and reins in her wild imagination, all the while winning the hearts of the townsfolk. There are eight books in this wonderful series.

11. Calico Captive – Based on a true story, this is the tale of a Puritan girl who is kidnapped during an Indian raid and brought to Catholic Montreal.

12. Understood Betsy – a story of a young girl’s coming of age. A timid and shy girl grows in confidence when given the opportunity to discover and learn in her own way.

Last but not least, Clara of Strawberry Fields reads like a classic, but was written in 2020 by my daughter Carolyn.

Clara Kerger is a dreamy, imaginative, and impulsive girl growing up on a farm in Ilchester, Maryland in the Patapsco Valley. Along with her enormous and perpetually-growing family and her friend Sam, she gets herself into and out of scrapes, constantly trying to control her unpredictable impulses but still finding ways to tumble into disaster. This novel not only portrays a girl growing from childhood into youth, but it also depicts the joys of life in a huge and warm-hearted family living in the timeless hills of their home at Strawberry Fields.

I hope you’ll find something here your daughter will love.

I’ve got a few more book lists coming for this summer. To get my posts as soon as they are published, subscribe below.

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UPDATE: Since compiling this book list, my daughter Carolyn and I have written a series of FREE writing lessons for three of these novels. If your daughter loves to read and write, she may really benefit from these:

Writing Lessons from Literature Book 1: Heidi

Writing Lessons from Literature Book 2: A Little Princess

Writing Lessons from Literature Book 3: Clara of Strawberry Fields

6 thoughts on “12 Classic Novels Girls Should Read before Turning 12

  1. Wonderful list! So many of these books are dear to my heart. Check out Echo (audio is best) and Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.


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