Strong Female Characters in Children's Books

One Crazy Summer - book cover art
Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins

My First Strong Female Character in a Children's Book

"When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen." When I read those words as a child, I was transfixed. The Secret Garden became my favorite children's book. It remains one of the few children's books I enjoy reading again every few years. Mary Lennox is a fascinating strong female character, a brave and resourceful girl if there ever was one.

It's important for young girls, as well as boys, to read books that feature strong female characters.

Why Does It Matter? 

For too long, too many children's books either didn't include main characters who were female or included female characters who were passive, didn't think or act for themselves and had only a narrow role to play in society. The world has changed as have women's roles, and it's important to share books that not only reflect that change but show even greater future possibilities for everyone. Since books help girls and boys define their places in the world, we need to share children's books with them that will empower girls and boys to see a myriad of possibilities for their lives and the lives of others rather than limited opportunities based on gender.

Finding Strong Female Characters in Children's Books

Where do you find books like The Secret Garden and , books that girls and boys will enjoy and that will reinforce the concept of females, including girls, as strong and resourceful?

Start by asking women you respect about their favorite children's books that feature strong girls and/or women, check booklists and recommended reading lists (see below), and see if the same books tend to be mentioned again and again. Check with the children's librarian at your school or public library.

Look for books in a variety of genres, from mysteries to sports. Check the biography and autobiography sections in the children's section of your favorite bookstore or library.

Following are some more things you can do to find out about children's books featuring strong female characters:

Learn About The Amelia Bloomer Project

Learn all about The Amelia Bloomer Project and its lists of recommended feminist literature for babies all the way up to age 18. Then, take a look at Project's annual booklists, a terrific resource.

Read Book Reviews to Find Strong Female Characters

Find children's fiction with strong female characters by reading book reviews. For example, read reviews of the following children's fiction: by by Patricia McKissack, with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney; Ramona's World and the other books in the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary by Shannon and Dean Hale, with illustrations by Nathan Hale, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, by Jacqueline Kelly, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

Learn more about some of the strong women who made history by reading these reviews of nonfiction children's books: Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by by Andrea Davis Pinkney, with illustrations by Stephen Alcorn; Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming; A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper, with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, along with archival photographs; Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone, with illustrations by Marjorie Priceman and The Librarian of Basra: A True Story of Iraq, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter.

Borrow them from you public library and share them with your kids.

Use Women' History Month Booklists to Find Good Books

Just because they are promoted as Women' History Month booklists doesn't mean they aren't valuable resources year round. Here are several I recommend:

    Read Beyond Female Protagonists - Female Voices in Picture Books

    Read the work of Professor Kay E. Vandergrift of Rutgers University, who provided a bibliography of picture books plus a bibliography for adults, along with links to some of her articles. Although it is not current, it's still an excellent resource with many of the books available at your public library.