10 Empowering Female Characters in Children’s Literature

positive female characters childrens books

In a study looking at almost 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, researchers found that they were almost twice as likely to feature a male central character than a female one.

Researchers from Florida State University stated that, “The disproportionate numbers of males in central roles may encourage children to accept the invisibility of women and girls and to believe they are less important than men and boys.”

Parents of both boys and girls often try to expose their young children to strong female characters in books. So we’ve put together ten beloved female characters in children’s literature who challenge the gender disparity in children’s stories, and make a wonderful read for the whole family to share!


1. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans features one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature. Set in Paris, the series follows the adventures of Madeline, a brave little girl, who lives in a boarding school. Her experiences include getting her appendix removed in hospital, and running away to join a group of travelling gypsies.


2. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is about a seven-year-old girl named Sara Crewe. Sara lives under a cruel headmistress, Miss Minchin, who makes life difficult for her ever since her father passed away. But no matter how terrible things get, Sara always has her strong imagination and kindness to carry her through.


3. Matilda, by the celebrated author Roald Dahl, is the popular tale of a very gifted little girl. Matilda overcomes adversity at home and at school by believing in her inner power.


4. Rosa by Nikki Giovanni is the real-life story of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to surrender her bus seat in Tuskegee, Alabama. This picture book conveys the powerful message that one person can stand up for what is right and make big changes.


5. Ladybug Girl by Jacky Davis tells the story of Lulu, who dresses up in a handful of different costumes, including “girl” and “boy” costumes. She is equally happy in a princess dress as she is a pirate! But the costume she loves most is her Ladybug Girl one, because in it she can do anything.


6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll tells the classic tale of a girl named Alice, whose inquisitive personality sees her fall through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of peculiar creatures.


7. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is the story about Princess Elizabeth, whose kingdom is destroyed by a dragon that kidnaps her prince and burns all of her clothes, leaving her with no choice but to wear a paper bag. Elizabeth sets off to rescue her prince, but when she does, he is ungrateful and tells her to return when she looks more like a princess. Elizabeth calls him out for his ungratefulness and goes dancing off into the sunset!


8. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren follows the adventures of an unconventional and assertive nine-year-old girl. Pippi also has superhuman strength, being able to lift her horse with one hand.


9. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery is a great book for all ages. The novel recounts the adventures of Anne Shirley, an imaginative and talkative eleven-year-old orphan who is mistakenly sent to a middle-aged brother and sister who had intended to adopt a boy to help them on their farm.


10. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum chronicles the classic tale of a young girl named Dorothy who gets caught up in a cyclone that lands her house in the magical Land of Oz. Dorothy is a forthright and take-charge character, who eventually makes it back home.

Can you think of other beloved female characters from your best-loved children’s books? Let us know in the comments section below. 

9 thoughts on “10 Empowering Female Characters in Children’s Literature

  1. Shame that they are all such old literature. Surely we have some current strong girls. I’m a bit out of touch now….but what about penny pollard….still a fair while ago, sorry.

    • We have a great book called “Lila and the Secret of Rain” which is a newer book about a girl in Africa. Great book – my daughter is 4 but it’s probably good for 4-7 year olds

  2. I’d recommend the Princeless series by (author) Jeremy Whitley and (artist) M Goodwin – with a non-white female protagonist to.

  3. Fancy Nancy is hilarious and 4-7 years relate, especially if they have a sibling

  4. The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, and Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series.

  5. Some excellent books with awesome female characters:

    “Lila and the Secret of Rain” by David Conway & Judy Daly: about an African girl who saves her village from drought
    “Princess Smartypants” by Babette Cole: about a funny Princess who breaks all the rules and doesn’t want to get married
    “Katie Morag” – series of books by Mairi Hedderwick, about a Scottish girl who has lots of awesome adventures. She also has a cool Grandma who drives a tractor
    “Dancing in the Wings” by Kadie Nelson: about an African American girl who wants to be a ballerina but has big feet
    “Zog” by Julia Donaldson: About a dragon but also has a great Princess character who would rather be a doctor than a princess
    “Possum Magic” by Mem Fox: They’re possums but they are female and have a great (Australian) adventure

    My daughter is 4 but most of these are probably suitable up to the age of 7 or 8

  6. For younger readers “The Worst Princess” by Anna Kemp and Sarah Ogilvie. Totally subversive and completely hilarious!

  7. Two titles by the same author, Louise Pfanner, came to mind: Louise Builds a House and Louise Builds a Boat. I will remember to create (only) female protagonist if I ever write a book;)

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