Click on the book title for ordering information or reviews. (Note: some are affiliate links.) I tried to put them in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest, within each group.
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor - I'm not sure who loved these books more: my girls or me. The All of a Kind Family series is a hidden treasure. You rarely see it on classic reading lists which is a shame. It is a delightful story of a large Jewish family living on the upper east side of New York in the early 1900's. I honestly think I'm a better mother for having read the story of Mama, Papa and their 5 daughters.
Betsy Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace - These are a delight to read aloud. They're the story of two childhood friends in Minnesota who are as different as night and day. Set in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the books exude a certain innocence, yet honestly depict the mischievous fun of young girls. I do suggest sticking to the first four books. I'm not as big a fan of the later books that take place during Betsy and Tacy's high school years.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder - A classic that should be in every home, the story of a young 1800's pioneer girl and her everyday life. It's a simple story that is both fun and interesting to read. My daughter Laura was named after the author -- that may tell you a bit about how much these books are loved in my own home.
Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum - When I read the first book of this series aloud to my oldest daughter I struggled with it because the movie kept running through my head, which is very different from the book. However, my daughter was hooked and went on to read 7 more of the novels on her own. (There are thirteen all together.)
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - Anne with an e is a feisty red-headed 11-year-old girl who is sure to find her way into your heart. She has a knack for getting in trouble, drama seems to follow her where ever she goes, and she's just plain fun.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis - You can't go wrong with this classic. If you only buy one set of books, this is the set to buy. It rolls off the tongue so easily when read aloud. I love that it can be read over and over again throughout the years. It can be read to a child when she's 6, again at 10, and again at 17, and be loved equally at each reading. The beauty of this is that your child will understand it at a different level each time. At 6 it may nothing more than a lovely story about a lion. At 17 it's still a lovely story but the deep theology woven throughout it is understood.
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White - White is certainly a favorite author in my home having also written Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. Charlotte's Web is a classic that has passed the test of time. Take my word for it -- it's worth your time to explore the world of Zuckerman's Farm along with Fern, Wilbur, Templeton, and, yes, Charlotte.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren - You won't find any deep theology or much of an underlying moral in the storyline -- it's just a plain fun book. Pippi is as lovable as she is strong (she can lift big burly policemen over her head!). She lives on her own, her mother dead and her father lost at sea, with a pet monkey and a suitcase filled with gold.
Matilda by Roald Dahl - Dahl is the king of dysfunctional families in child fiction. And, yet, we can't put his books down. How fun to watch Matilda, our book-devouring heroine, take down Miss Trunchbill and exact revenge on her cruel family. Perhaps it is because Dahl's villains are so completely outlandish that we don't cringe at such a horrid storyline. If you dislike the thought of any violence in your children's books, skip this one (and all of Dahl's other books).
Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire - I'm a big fan of the d'Aulaires. Their illustrations are as delightful as their stories. This book is quite different from the rest in this book list, but I felt compelled to include it as it was so loved by my family ... and because I'm a big fan of mythology.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett - An absolutely beautiful story of a wealthy girl left orphaned and penniless. Her purity of heart and kindness can't help but move the reader and implant a desire in your heart to look for goodness in in our world. I'll never forget sobbing with my daughters throughout the book. Now that they are grown women, I can say that we are closer because of such read alouds.
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit - Written in the early 1900's this is another story of riches to rags. Father is taken from the family and Mother must leave London with the children and move to the country. Filled with innocent charm, it's a delight to share with young children. As with A Little Princess, if you read this aloud, make sure to keep Kleenex close at hand. PS Not to be confused with the Boxcar Children series, which is fun to read and worth the time, but the writing is much simpler and at a younger level.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - I read this one summer to my daughters under the giant oak tree in our backyard. Everyday we picnicked and read ... and cried and laughed and loved. There is no more perfect "girl story" than Little Women. If you love this one, and you will, check out Little Men, Eight Cousins, and Jo's Boys.
Glory of America series by Joan Stromberg - These are easy, yet thoroughly enjoyable, reads for daughters. The author chooses child protagonists that young readers can connect with ease. Each story is uplifting and centers around an American saint. So, you learn a little American history on the way too. My own daughters were deeply touched by Mrs. Stromberg's books when they were young.
Lives of the Saints series by Mary Fabyan Windeatt - If I ever wrote child novels, I'd want to write like Mary Fabyan Windeatt. She has a way of inviting children into a story and taking them on an adventure. These books are easy to read, while teaching children about the lives of Catholic saints in an enjoyable format. Personally, I tied them into our history lessons - reading them in chronological order.
The People’s Princess, a St. Katharine Drexel Story by Joan Stromberg - The beautiful, true story of an heiress who had it all by American standards. Yet, she gave it all away to serve the poor and the disenfranchised. This is a story that helps young girls see there is more to life than jewelry, parties, and the coolest fashions.
Search for the Madonna by Donna Alice Patton - If you like mysteries, Search for the Madonna will grab your attention. The story takes place during the Great Depression. Twin sisters are trying to help save their aunt's farm by finding a missing priceless family heirloom--the Brandenburg Madonna. I loved the fun adventure, but was also moved by the heroine's personal faith.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many great books out there for young girls. Once you have these read, I should have a new list for you and your 11- to 13-year-old girls!
If you have suggestions that you would add to this list, please share in the comments. Happy Reading!!!