The Enchanted Forest Chronicles are my 10 year old's favorite books right now, and together serve as the third book in my From The Stacks Challenge. The series comprises four books so far: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons; and Talking to Dragons. These are delightful fantasies which are empowering for girls without being heavy-handed.
Dealing with Dragons starts with the sad story of Princess Cimorene, one of 12 princesses in her family. Cimorene wants more substantive education than is generally allowed for a princess, and she manages to get some training in magic, fencing, Latin, and cooking before she is found out and forced to cease. Chafing at her restricted role, she finally runs away before she can be married to a handsome but terribly boring prince.
Cimorene finds herself becoming a dragon's princess, a post she wins since she can make cherries jubilee and knows a little Latin. She is "adopted" by a female dragon named Kazul, and finds the life to her liking. She runs the kitchen, catalogues Kazul's treasure, and organizes the library (where her Latin comes in handy). At first, she is bothered by princes and knights who feel obligated to rescue her and battle the dragon; she soon learns to direct them to the other dragon princesses who want to be rescued.
Throughout the books, the dragons and other inhabitants of the Enchanted Forest find themselves at odds with the Society of Wizards--classic robe wearing, staff carrying men who have no magic of their own, and so steal magic from others in order to increase their own power. Bit of male bashing? Perhaps, though balanced by the heroic King of the Enchanted Forest and his son Daystar in books 2-4.
Cimorene is an independent and strong character, who speaks her mind and knows what she wants. She is represented as different from "other princesses" and admired for it. Her dragon, Kazul, becomes King of the Dragons. Why not Queen? Queen of the Dragons is a stupid job, the dragons all agree, and nobody wants it. "King of the Dragons" is the name of the job, no matter who holds it. This is handled lightly and humorously, reinforcing the message that girls need not limit themselves to traditional roles.
Additionally, Wrede sprinkles in additional spins on traditional tales. In one book, the characters meet a farmer named McDonald who explains his modern methods of farming. "Not like my father, who did it the old way. A chicken here, a cow there, you can't make a living farming like that." (paraphrased).
These books are a pleasant diversion, entertaining and provoking rethinking of stories that we all thought we knew.