Strong and Brave Female Characters in Children’s Literature

A couple of weeks ago on International Woman’s Day, I noticed, among many other things on social media, suggestions that there aren’t but a tiny few children’s books with strong lead female characters. This surprised me.

And annoyed me.

When I was a young girl, my bookshelf was full of books with female characters.

I’m not naive (well, maybe a little): I’m aware of that much literature portrays girls and women as objects to be looked at. I know there are passive (and sometimes seemingly passive) female characters in many, many stories. I understand that guys outnumber the girls here. Whatever.

This post isn’t about quantity or competition. It’s about remembering the stories with strong female characters—and how all stories, female characters or not, inspired and continued my love of literature. And how I remember the female characters as much as I do the male characters.

 A Few Things to Note:

Parents: The reason I can write out such a list here is because of a mom and dad who not only made me a bookshelf, but made sure I had books to fill it. Who got me hooked up with a library card early. Who read to me lots when I was little and let me read to them when I was older. ~

This post wasn’t put together with a Google search. This post was put together by remembering the books I grew up with, books I read as a child, and books I have now in my house and that my three boys read—nonfiction included.

This list of children’s books is by no means exhaustive. I did get a little exhausted working on it. Also, March is National Literacy Month. So what better time to celebrate great books to read.

When I mentioned this subject on social media, I had a lot of input from friends, and in the last part I’ve included additional books they mentioned that were not already on my list. Thanks, friends!

Children’s Books with Strong Female Characters

female literary characters

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

June 19, 1999 by David Wiesner

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and George Ford

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble

The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Olivia by Ian Falconer

Mae Jemison: Making Dreams Come True, Houghton Mifflin

Psalm Twenty-Three by Tim Ladwig

The Trouble with Tuck by Theodore Taylor

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (+ 7 more in the series)

Lori Adams and the Riverboat Mystery by Bernard Palmer

ValueTales books by Anne Donegan Johnson:

The Value of Helping: Harriet Tubman

The Value of Fairness: Nellie Bly

The Value of Caring: Eleanor Roosevelt

The Value of Adventure: Sacagawea

Elizabeth Blackwell: The First Woman Doctor by Francene Sabin

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (also recommended by Laurie)

Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Julie of the Wolves

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Peppermints in the Parlor by Barbara Brooks Wallace

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis + other books in the Chronicles of Narnia series

Nancy Drew

Little House on the Prairie

More female historical figures and their stories from The Bible: Hannah, Jochebed, Ruth, Rahab, Hagar, Abigail, Esther, Deborah, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Martha, Elizabeth

read children's books, reading to children

Additional children’s literature book recommendations from friends:

Harry Potter books, recommended by several friends

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, Brittney from {Razorback Britt}

The ForestWife by Theresa Tomlinson (Thanks, Amanda!)

Heidi, The Secret Garden, recommended by Sara {Our Daily Craft}

Trixie Belden books by Julie Campbell (Carolyn)

Ink Heart Trilogy (Holly), {Simply Organized of NWA}

Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary, recommended by James w/{Busvlogger}

Running is Totally for Me by friend and fellow writer, Cassie Celestain

Nancy Drew books, recommended by Donna {More Than a Review}

The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, recommended by Ashley {A Horseman’s Wife}

Tamora Pierce books (Kaylin)

Petronella by Jay Williams, recommended by Tiffany {Single Mommy Warrior}

Elizabeth Gail Series & Mandie Series, recommended by Jennifer {Families for Missions}

American Girl Books and Pippi Longstocking, recommended by Ricci {RicciAlexis}

Recommended by my friend Mary Ann:

A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Wizard of Oz
Junie B. Jones
The Gruesome Green Witch

Recommended by my friend Elizabeth:

Caddie Woodlawn
Little Women
Agatha Christie
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Mrs. Pollifax

What books would you like to add?