If your children like the Disney movie, Mulan, look no further than these children’s books featuring girl warriors, girls in disguise and epic adventures. These books like Mulan will entertain your young readers with epic stories of heroism!
The original “Ballad of Mulan,” an ancient Chinese legend tells the story of Hua Mulan, a girl who disguises herself as a man in order to take her elderly father’s place in the army.
I chose many books for this list that draw upon Asian legends and Chinese folklore, although a few feature Western heroines. All the titles bring to life strong female protagonists who must find their place in a society dominated by men.
Disney, of course, took this legend of a girl warrior and turned it into an animated musical and now (2020) a live action movie. Mulan is certainly a heroine worthy of admiration and will spark an interest in other strong female warrior stories, past and present.
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Books Like Mulan for 8-13 Year Olds
Mulan: Before the Sword
by Grace Lin
Grace Lin has written an engaging prequel to Disney’s Mulan, purposely timed so you can read it before you see the new live action movie. For families who enjoy myth and fantasy, it makes a wonderful book to read aloud, especially if there will be younger tweens listening in at story time. Lin has woven traditional tales throughout the larger narrative in which Mulan works with the Jade Rabbit to find a cure for her sister who was poisoned by a spider bite.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin
Minli’s family lives in poverty and Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family’s destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twists and turns of fate. Drawing on Chinese folklore, Lin deftly weaves together Minli’s quest, her father’s stories and wonderful illustrations to create a memorable tale. Don’t forget the two companion books, Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turns to Silver
Handbook for Dragon Slayers
by Merrie Haskell
Aspiring author Princess Tilda is an independent-minded princess who has never even considered slaying dragons because of her disfigured foot. However, her cousin, Ivo, wishes to steal her kingdom and she ends up fleeing her home. The ensuing adventure involves magic, capture, a menacing Blue-beard character, and (of course) dragon slaying.
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Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale
This is an adaptation of Grimms’ fairy tale, “Maid Maleen.” In the steppes region, a mucker, Dashti, volunteers to be shut up in a tower with Lady Saren when that Lady refuses to wed the man her father has chosen. In the tower, Dashti and Saren survive, but Saren’s mental health deteriorates and Dashti plays her Lady’s role. They finally escape the tower and Dashti’s perseverance and cleverness save the girls.
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by Yoon Ha Lee
Korean mythology and science-fiction merge to create an exciting fantasy! Min’s mother has forbidden her to use her fox-magic, but Min feels stifled by domestic life and longs to join the Space Forces. When something mysterious happens to her brother, Jun, Min goes in search of the truth, encountering adventure beyond her wildest imagination.
The Dragon Warrior
Faryn lives as an outcast, training in secret as a warrior. One day, when on an errand in San Francisco’s Chinatown she encounters a stranger who is later revealed to be Erlang Shen, the god of war. Erlang Shen announces a quest from the Jade Emperor and thus, Faryn’s adventure begins.
by Deborah Ellis
I loved this book, and every page was full of suspense. In Kabul, Afghanistan, 11-year-old Parvana’s father, a former teacher, is arrested for having a “foreign education.” Parvana disguises herself as a boy and takes over her father’s space in the market to try and earn money for the family.
Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen
by Eve Yohalem
In 17th Century Holland, Petra runs away from her abusive father and accidentally ends up as a stowaway on a merchant vessel headed towards the Dutch Indies. A mulatto boy, Bram, helps her to disguise herself as a boy and Petra uses her healing knowledge to help the ship’s surgeon. She gains the trust of the crew but when they discover she is a girl at the same time a mutiny takes hold, both she and Bram find themselves in grave danger. This is an extremely suspenseful novel with vivid descriptions of life on a 17th century ship.
The Crystal Ribbon
by Celeste Lim
In medieval China, Li Jing has a hard life. Her poor family sells her off to a family who intends to marry her to their toddler-son and she goes off to live with her new in-laws who turn out to be cruel and treat her as a slave. When she refuses to submit to them, they sell her off to a house for courtesans but she escapes and goes on a journey to find refuge. Li Jing is a fiercely strong girl character who increasingly gains confidence in herself and takes control of her own destiny.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Set in 1832, this Newbery Honor book tells the absolutely riveting story of Charlotte, who sets out on a sea voyage from England to Rhode Island. Instead of being chaperoned by other families on the journey, she unexpectedly finds herself alone with the crew and becomes entangled in a nail-biting and dangerous adventure.
Running on the Roof of the World
by Jess Butterworth
How many books set in Chinese-controlled Tibet have your kids read? Well, here’s the opportunity to change all that! Tash and her family live their lives, hiding their Buddhist faith from the Chinese soldiers that occupy her village. One day, the startling actions of a man disrupts the peace and Tash’s parents are taken away. Tash, disguised as a boy and her friend, Sam, along with two goats, flee the village, making a harrowing journey across snow covered mountains. Intertwined with this page-turning adventure are questions about freedom, courage and the teaching of the Dali Lama. Terrific.
by Mitali Perkins
In Bangladesh, Naimi feels frustrated she is constantly told she cannot work to earn money for her family because she is a girl. When she accidentally ruins her father’s rickshaw she disguises herself as a boy and meets someone who will change her life. The book includes a glossary and an author’s note about micro-finance.
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