A Tuesday Ten: Girls will be Boys

I’ve always been a fan of stories where girls dress up as boys–particularly when it’s to gain access to a set of skills/opportunities/people that they can’t access while being female.  I think I read my first story about this when I was eight.  At that time it was a nonfiction book The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson (Scholastic, c1975).  This list takes a look at some of the speculative fiction females that dressed up as boys or men.



Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Atheneum, c1983)

There’s no better book to kick off this list with in my opinion.  Alanna’s adventures were some of my earliest fantasy reads that fed my love of knights and epic battles.  Alanna is a twin who disguises herself as a boy so that she can become a page  and eventually a knight in the kingdom of Tortall.  Book 1 and 2 of the Song of the Lionness Quartet both have Alanna as “Alan”, desperately trying to keep her secret from most of those who know her, and dealing with her own body growing from girl to woman in secret.


Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld , illustrated by Keith Thompson (Simon Pulse c2009)

Deryn Sharp has always dreamed of serving on an airship, but girls aren’t allowed to be airmen, no matter how skilled and passionate.  So Deryn disguises herself as a boy in order to be allowed into the ranks.  Little does she expect to wind up aboard the giant Leviathan airship on her first flight.  Now she’s in the thick of things and having to guard her secret at every turn.  Deryn keeps up her subterfuge throughout the Leviathan trilogy, but finds it harder and harder to hide the truth!  Great steampunk fun!


The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (HarperCollins, c1955)

I still remember the first time I saw the animated movie of this book and watched Eowyn reveal herself as a woman to the Witch King of Angmar.  (The Witch King has made it known that he cannot be defeated by any man. That makes Eowyn the perfect force to defeat him.)  Eowyn disguises herself as a soldier among the Rohan warriors in order to fight the evil in her land.  Her triumph in defeating one of the signature villains of the story is one of the few female roles that Tolkien actually includes in The Lord of the Rings.


Mairelon the Magician by Patricia Wrede (Starscape, c1991)

Young Kim works as a thief on the streets of London in this alternate Regency era  fantasy.  She dresses as a boy to keep herself safe from less savory types of employment in the city, but she’s always dreamed of something more than the life she has.  So when her latest job gets botched and lands her in the keeping of a rather maddening magician, Kim is willing to go along with his wild plans–especially since it allows her to be around real magic!  Kim’s story continues  in Magician’s Ward.


The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier (Knopf Books, 2011)

Araene lives on the Floating Islands where she studies the arts of cooking, as is allowed to women.  But Araene has a secret, she has the talent to do magic, and has been sought out by the mysterious magical school on the islands.  But girls aren’t allowed to study magic, so Araene disguises herself so that she might become a student.  This fantasy adventure follows Araene and her cousin Trei in their journeys and their struggle to save their home from invaders.


The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley (Atheneum, 2001)

Corinna, who disguises herself as a boy “Corin” is determined to keep her position as a “folk keeper” someone that can deal with and pacify the ravenous and mysterious folk, and keep them from committing mischief.  This story is an unusual one, with a heroine who is extremely mercenary in her choices in order to protect her own standing in her chosen job.  It’s only over time that Corinna grows and begins to look past her immediate work to discover who–and what–she really is.


Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (HMH, 2008)

For unpleasant heroines, however, this one takes home the prize. Princess Benevolence, or “Ben”, hates being under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia.  Ben makes every effort to defy the Queen, and when she finds a secret room with books of magic, she finds more and more ways to rebel.  But trouble is coming to the kingdom, and in order to stop it, Ben must look farther than her own personal rebellion and anger.  Part of the story has Princess Ben disguised as a commoner boy–a fact that allows her to see allies and enemies in a new light and face some truths about herself and what happened to her parents.


Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher (Atheneum,  2006)

More royalty in disguise!  Mitra and her little brother are beggars on the streets of the city–royal exiles after their father’s failed attempt to take the throne from the tyrant, King Phraates.  Mitra disguises herself as a boy to help them both survive the streets and dreams of the day when they will rejoin what’s left of her family and regain their standing in the world.  However, her own plans may be forestalled when she and her brother are taken on a journey with three wise magi . . .



The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer (Chicken House, c2001)

One of two picture books on my list!  When baby Violetta’s mother dies in childbirth, it’s up to the king to figure out how to raise his baby daughter.  He decides to teach her the same lessons he’s teaching his sons.  This includes how to fight and ride and joust.  Violetta struggles at first, but perseveres and soon becomes skilled–so she’s a bit shocked when her father announces on her 16th birthday  he’ll hold a contest among the knights to win her hand in marriage.  Rather than allow her fate to be taken away from her, Violetta sneaks out and disguises herself as “Sir No Name”  then promptly wins the tournament for her own hand.



Elena’s Serenade by Cambell Geeslin, Illustrated by Ana Juan (Atheneum, 2004)

Elena wants to be a glass blower.  In fact she’s certain she can be a good one–but girls aren’t allowed to be glassblowers.  So Elena disguises herself as a man and runs away to Monterrey to learn to blow glass.  Along the way she makes animal friends with the music she plays on her glass blowing pipe, and learns how to add in the music to her glass so that she’s able to produce butterflies and stars from the glass–things the others can’t make.  A magical realism tale where the heroine will not take “no” for an answer.

So there are my ten!  What are your favorite girls-disguised-as-boys titles?

Comments welcome!



About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on April 1, 2014, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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