The Book Your Tween/Teen Girl Needs: Elements for Girls

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Dec 23, 2014 / 0 comments

As a parent, I’m learning a lot about what growing up in the US is like for a young lady. There are many influences on our young women, from the media (ugh) to a few wise and thoughtful websites, books, and experiences. And yet, every day things come along that can destroy a positive self-image, cause self-hate, and crush a spirit. What can parents do to counteract this, to limit the exposure to hate, trolls, and meanness, and to encourage our girls to grow up to be strong, self-confident women?

Enter a WONDERFUL new book, called Elements for Girls. Written by Mary Ellen Young and Sandra McDonnell, it’s a journey that each girl is encouraged to take to learn more about herself. We LOVE it.


Elements for girls - THE book your tween/teen daughter needs


Our 12 year old daughter notes, "This book is about self-confidence. I personally like it because it says, ‘You are unique - there are 7 billion people on earth but no one like you.’ It builds your confidence and shows you important things about yourself. There's also a bracelet kit to use when you go through the workbook, which is interesting and fun.” I have to say, she’s about a quarter of the way through, and is entirely engrossed in it. She carries it around, and special colored pencils dedicated to it, and squirrels herself away with it, nestling on the couch, for hours.

The chapters include:
•    Uniquely Me
•    My Ancient Reptile Brain
•    Ocean of Emotion
•    <3 Your Body
•    TTYL
•    In Your Shoes
•    Yin, Yang, and You
•    Black and Whie
•    Shoot for the Stars

Elements encourages thoughtfulness, creativity through writing and drawing, and a great deal of self-reflection. It asks hard questions, supports answers, and helps young women believe in themselves. It is kindness, and just the sort of book every young woman needs to work with and learn from. WHAT a gift to the world this book is. Highly recommended!

We were lucky enough to catch up with Mary Ellen and Sandra, to ask about the book, backstory, inspiration, tips, and more. Here’s what they had to say…


 Mary Ellen Young and Sandra McDonnell, authors of Elements for Girls


Tell us about your book, Elements for Girls...

ELEMENTS is an interactive journal and a thought provoking self-discovery workbook for tween and early teen girls. It is designed to help girls unplug from technology and develop the habit of creating quiet, reflective time for themselves. The goal of the book is to instruct, inspire, and encourage girls to figure out who they are, what makes them unique, and support the development of essential social and emotional skills. We do that in 10 chapters, each with a different theme. The book comes with a bracelet kit containing several strands of colorful hemp and 10 different beads or charms corresponding to each chapter. (For example the chapter on empathy has a flip-flop as the corresponding charm, to remind girls to think about what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes.) When the girls have completed the book, they can create their own unique bracelet that will serve as a reminder of the thought or lesson learned in each chapter.

What inspired you to create this book?

We have been working with adolescent girls for the past 10 years through a non-profit organization called HGNA (Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence). Mary Ellen is one of the founders of the organization, and Sandra is the current President. HGNA offer programs for girls in grades 4-8 and throughout the years, parents have asked us if we have something that their girls can work on at home.

We had always said, “That’s a great idea, we should do that,” and we finally decided to bring that great idea to life. So, we worked closely with teams of girls from our programs to come up with a “something” that they would like to work on at home. They told us that they did not want a book of lists and they did not want a book of lessons. They also told us that they like crafts, but not if they are lame – so we tapped into the creative forces of our high school and college-aged daughters and came up with an interactive journal/workbook that helps girls explore who they are and be really creative (in a non-lame way) in the process.


How can girls best utilize your book to work toward self-discovery and empowerment?

One of the best things that a girl or an adult, for that matter, can do for themselves is to set aside intentional quiet and reflective time. When girls or women don’t take the time to get to know themselves, they fill up that vacancy with vacant things. So our recommendation for girls is to set aside 10 or 15 minutes a night, ideally as a quiet time before they go to bed. Take out some gel pens or colored pencils, curl up with the book to spend some time thinking and answering the questions presented, and then spend some time creatively coloring in the art – and the margins!


What advice do you have for girls as they navigate the teen years?

Today’s girls are under a tremendous amount of pressure to excel at everything (especially academics), look beautiful and have an active social life on display 24/7. Our cultural definitions of success, femininity and personal fulfillment have become seriously twisted. Our advice would be to take the time to figure out who you are by disconnecting every now and then from the demands of social media and going within. By figuring out what you like and pursuing that – and then figuring out what you don’t like, and not pursuing that, you can be true to yourself. Stick to that and you will become the authentically awesome person you were designed to be.


How can parents help their daughters become confident, empowered global citizens?

Parents can help empower their daughters by accepting them for who they are. Parents need to do the same work to get to know their children as their children need to do to get to know themselves. Parents need to invest the time in figuring out what makes their children tick, and then encourage them to pursue what makes their hearts sing – not what they, as a parent, always hoped their children would do. (This is so much easier said than done! We know, we’ve raised four kids!) When children are loved and accepted for who they are and encouraged to be the best version of themselves – that is when they thrive.


What's up next for you?

Now that we have completed this book, we realize that it is just the tip of the iceberg. ELEMENTS is really well-suited for starting and/or completing in a book club or workshop environment. A book club can introduce them to some of the topics in a fun, hands-on ways, and then it encourages the girls to set a goal for completion and also gives them the opportunity to share some of their self-discoveries with others if they would like. So, we have started offering these book clubs in the Chicago area – and we might be coming soon to a city near you!

Our passion is helping girls be comfortable and thrive in their own skins, and there is so much more to do with that. We know that high school girls struggle with bigger and more intense topics than they do in elementary and middle school, and we are going to be working with girls on creating a book that will be a relevant go-to for addressing the issues they grapple with. We enjoy doing parenting workshops because supporting and educating parents is critical and very rewarding. We also have some ideas for products and a parenting book that also aligns with our mission.



Learn more at

You can find the book at both local and online booksellers - buy one for every young girl you know. It'll change their lives.




Note: We received a review copy of Elements from the authors and publisher - thank you!