Great Female Character Books For Girls … and Boys

I recently asked parents for their help.  I asked them to recommend children’s books (and TV shows, movies, etc) with a lead, or equal lead, female character.

My question was prompted by two things.  Firstly, I had just watched the TV show, ‘No More Boys and Girls’, and was hugely impressed by the positive impact that relatively simple changes (including swapping books to these ones) had made to both the girls and the boys in the school.  And secondly, my daughter was about to start her Reception year being only one of two girls in her year. She’s a great kid and I have no real concerns about this gender mix, but I wanted to give her more inspiring female characters and role models.  Plus, I had seen this video clip, from the authors of the Rebel Girls book, which is truly eye-opening.

I was hoping for a few new ideas, perhaps some new titles that I hadn’t come across before, but I was blown away by the response.  Many hundreds of parents responded.

There are so many more books and resources out there that I knew nothing about.  But there are also clearly a great many parents thinking about this issue of gender (and race) diversity for their children – not just their daughters.

(Parents, we need to lobby with our buying power to overturn views like this one from a senior editor at a large publisher: “Parents of daughters buy books that encourage female empowerment but neither they, nor the parents of boys, think it’s a priority to buy books that focus on gender equality.”)

If you’re not sure why “girl” books are relevant for your boy, this TED article is worth a read.

So, without further preamble, here is the mum-approved* list.  I have split the list into books (below), and TV, movies and toys (coming soon).  I have tried to put each category into an approximate age order, and have marked those that were recommended by many parents and those that are the favourites in my home. I have also marked with #NoMoreBoysAndGirls those books that myself and several other parents (huge thanks!) spotted in the TV show.

Please help us to grow this list, and to make it helpful for other parents.   If you think something needs changing or adding, please let me know in the Comments below or email us and we’ll update the list over time. Or if you have a comment or review for one of the items, let us know – what books do you and your children enjoy?

Thank you so much for your help and amazing suggestions.  All the quotes below are from the lovely parents who provided book recommendations.  I’ve kept them anonymous except for my own.

I hope you and your children – girls and boys – enjoy these stories!

Kath x

PS That’s me with my kids in the picture, taken in 2015. How time flies!  Photo credit: Philippa James Photography

*In this list, I have only included specific book titles that parents have recommended.  In collating this list, many parents helpfully signposted me to other websites (including the wonderful A Mighty Girl) and various articles that contained lists of books but I found that none of them tallied with what parents themselves were recommending.  Hence I thought it was important to publish this parent-approved list.  Happy reading! x

Some of the links in this article contain affiliate links which means that, if you make a purchase, Runneth gets a small commission from the retailer. This commission, which doesn’t cost you anything, helps a tiny bit towards funding our free career drop-in clinics. Thank you for your support.


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Key:

+++ – Recommended by lots of parents

#K – My personal favourites, being books that I have read with my children (6 year old boy and/or 4 year old girl) and they have loved.

#NoMoreBoysAndGirls  – These books were featured in the TV show of the same name.  The full list of books used in the show is here.

 


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Zog and the Flying Doctors +++ #K
Ages 3+

“There is the princess in Zog who decides that frilly dresses are silly and becomes a flying doctor”.
“Princess Pearl is a great character.”
“This was one Julia Donaldson book that I hadn’t come across – no idea how I’d missed it – but we have now read it on parents’ recommendations and it is one of our current favourites.” Kath

The Paper Bag Princess +++
Ages 3+

“For smaller kids.  She’s my kind of princess!”
“I thought the ending was a bit weak.”

Rosa Parks (Little People, Big Dreams) +++
Ages 3-5

This gorgeous series of Little People, Big Dreams books each feature one famous woman.  Others in the series which were also highly recommended are Coco Chanel and Emmeline Pankhurst

“Short and simple stories, good for any age.”

That Rabbit Belongs To Emily Brown +++
Ages 3-6

“EB does not mess about.  She is always having excellent adventures.  You can have a lot of fun doing voices in her books too.”

Other parent-approved favourites in this series (from the London-based female author of ‘How to Train Your Dragon’) include Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency and Emily Brown and the Thing.

Spinderella by Julia Donaldson
Ages 3-5

“About a football loving female spider who wants to learn to count (as her mum and brothers and sisters can’t).”

Rosie’s Hat by Julia Donaldson
Ages 3-5

Interstellar Cinderella
Ages 3-5

“When the prince proposes, she says ‘I am too young to get married yet but I’ll be your chief mechanic instead’.”

Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon
Ages 3-6

“A wonderful story with a strong message that it is good to be different. Princess Meg and Marmaduke make a great team.”

Princess Daisy and the Dragon
Ages 3-6

“Very clear message including a line ‘girls are just as good as boys; they can be heroes too!’ I usually read this one at least twice”.

How to Hide a Lion from Grandma
Ages 3-6

A book from the ‘How to Hide a Lion’ series, this was the most recommended by parents, with How to Hide a Lion at School coming in a close second.

The Most Magnificent Thing
Ages 3-6

“A rare tale of perseverance mixed up with making/tinkering/inventing. I love it and so does my 5 year old!”

Mrs Armitage on Wheels
Ages 3-6

“Fun, feisty woman. Funny drawings.”

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World +++ #K
Ages 4+

“My kids love this book and my son even asked if I thought they would do one about men!”
“A lovely book with beautiful illustrations and interesting facts.”

Pippi Longstocking +++ #K
Ages 4+

“The books are much better than the movies.”
“My 6yo boy and 4yo girl are hooked on this story, and completely love the illustrations by Lauren Child (author of Charlie and Lola).”  Kath

Rosie Revere, Engineer +++ #K
Ages 4+

“A lesson about trying and failing and trying again, wrapped up in a sweet story of inventions and adventures for Rosie and her Great Aunt Rose. This is our favourite from the series but the others including Ada Twist, Scientist are well worth a read too.”  Kath

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie the Witch (and other books from the series) #K
Ages 4+

“My children especially enjoy the Winnie in Winter book which was a leaving gift for my son from his much-loved nursery, but all the books are fun.” Kath

Katie and the Dinosaurs #K
Ages 4-6

“Katie is the main character in this charming series of books, and this one in particular has been a firm favourite of my dinosaur-loving boy since he was tiny, and now is enjoyed by his little sister too.  You do wonder whether her Grandma should really be left in charge of small children but her regular public naps do allow Katie to undertake some amazing adventures.  It’s a side note really but I think it is a shame that they changed the cover illustration.  The previous version showed Katie and her Hadrosaurus friend sliding joyfully down the tail of a Brontosaurus.  In this new cover, she looks much less joyful and even a tad nervous.  Katie In London is another family favourite.” Kath

Pearl Power  #NoMoreBoysAndGirls
Ages 4+

Superhero Hotel
Ages 4-6

“Not girl-centric but it features male and female superheroes working together.”

“The concept is a good one, and I had high hopes, but I was disappointed in the execution.  Perhaps I’m being picky but the male superheroes need a holiday after proper superhero exertions, while the female one got her tools a bit grubby – and similar gender imbalances carried on throughout the story.” Kath

Amazing Grace
Ages 4-6

“The main character, Grace, wants to be Peter Pan in the school play, despite protests that she’s black and not a boy. A lovely story about following your dreams, with a little wisdom from your Grandma.”
“This book, and Princess Grace, are my daughter’s current favourites. Both great books with strong messages.”

Bella: The Runaway Rabbitand others from the Animal Rescue series
Ages 4+

Handa’s Surprise
Ages 3-6

A culturally diverse story about Handa, a girl from a tribe in Kenya.  The sequel, Handa’s Hen, was also recommended.

Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot
Ages 3-8

Written by local London mum, Lisa Rajan, this book was nominated by parents across London.  It features a practical and inventive lead girl, and the stories in this book and in the rest of the series are designed to encourage girls and boys to be, or do, anything they want.

Katie Morag’s Island Stories
Ages 4-7

This book actually combines four books in one: Katie Morag Delivers the Mail, Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers, Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted, and Katie Morag and the Big Boy Cousins.  They are charming stories about Katie’s everyday adventures on a fictional Scottish island (you may already know Katie from the CBeebies series of the same name), and with picture on each page they will be loved by kids of all ages.

The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop #K
Ages 4-8

“An engaging story about a girl and a horse – but it’s so much more than that. Charlie, the main character, triumphs firstly by learning as much as she can about horses, and then by convincing her family to work together on her crazy dream of winning a prestigious horse race with a horse who wouldn’t run. She shows great leadership potential – including delegating key tasks to her less-than-enthusiastic team members (her big brothers). This story has it all for me – and was equally loved by my 6yo boy and my 4yo girl!” Kath

Cloudette
Ages 4-7

“My two boys love Cloudette, about a little cloud who wants to be bigger.”

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls +++ #K
Ages 5+

“My daughter loves this and I’m so happy that something exists with role models for her.”
“The illustrations are stunning and the stories feel relevant and modern.  Suitable for all ages as the stories are short and to the point.”
“You can dip in and read about 3 or 4 inspiring women every night.”

The Princess in Black +++ #NoMoreBoysAndGirls
Ages 5+

“She’s a princess and she wears pink, but she turns into a superhero and saves the day! This is one of the very few princesses that I’m happy for my daughter to have in her life.”

Girls, Goddesses and Giants
Ages 5+

“Folk tales from around the world, each featuring a girl hero. This is one for both girls and boys!”

The Worst Princess +++
Ages 5-8

“My son is 5 and my daughter 8 and they both love it.”

She’s Not Good For A Girl, She’s Just Good
Ages 5-7

Recommended by several parents, this book was written by a local mum, Suzanne Hemming.  Suzanne wrote to me: “My book was written specifically to address the lack of gender equality in children’s books. It is aimed at boys and girls, and is a great conversation starter.”

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter
Ages 6+

From Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi Longstocking.

“Written in the 50s-70s, the characters are strong and independent despite the time era.”

The Worst Witch #K
Ages 6+

“This is the first book in the series and a great place to start.  Mildred Hubble is the worst witch in the title, but somehow she is the better person for it.  I have now read 3 books from the series (of 7 books) with my 6 year old boy and he really enjoys them.” Kath

Dangerously Ever After
Ages 6+

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Operation Bunny
Ages 6-8

About Emily Vole who reopens a Fairy Detective Agency and solves her first mystery.
“Funny and charming.”

The BFG +++
Ages 6-9

While the BFG is the named lead character, really this is Sophie’s story – and what a wonderful adventure she goes on.

Anna Hibiscus
Ages 6-9

A lovely series of books which are beautifully illustrated, featuring Anna Hibiscus who lives in Amazing Africa.  There are also picture books in the series suitable for younger readers.

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat +++
Ages 7-11

This series, which also includes Ottoline Goes to School, Ottoline at Sea and Ottoline and the Purple Fox, was recommended by many parents.
“Very funny, with brilliant illustrations.”

Matilda by Roald Dahl +++
Ages 7-11

My Neighbor Totoro
Ages 7+

“Japanese animations that have strong female protagonists. Also positive older characters.”
Also available as a movie.  From the renowned Studio Ghibli.

Awful Auntie by David Walliams
Ages 7-11

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Ages 7+

Whilst Harry is a male lead character, several parents lobbied for the inclusion of this book (and the Harry Potter series) in this list on the basis that Hermoine is an equally strong female character.  What do you think?

Five On A Treasure Island: Book 1 (Famous Five)
Ages 7+

“Wonderful, but it is dated in some of its stereotypes (gender, class).  My kids enjoyed it immensely, I just made sure that we stopped and talked about some aspects as we read together.  For that reason, I recommend an adult read it with a child (not solo reading).”

Frogkisser!
Ages 8+

“Princess Anya embarks on a quest!  It’s a fun and modern and magical fairytale – and no, there’s no romance despite the title. My son and daughter both love this one!”

The Metropolitans
Ages 8+

“Two girls and two boys who are modern day Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere and Morgaine. But not always clear who is who… a girl could be King Arthur. The first in a series, I hope the next one gets written. Best for ages 8/9 and up.”

The Case of the Frozen Hearts (Wilma Tenderfoot series)
Ages 8+

A series about 10 year old orphan Wilma who wants to be a detective so she can find out who her parents are, with fun and just enough gruesomeness along the way.

Rooftoppers
Ages 8-11

A story “about a physically adventurous, socially nonconformist girl who travels and takes great risks to follow her dreams – my daughter and I loved it.” This mum also recommended Journey to the River Sea (below) for the same reasons.

Journey to the River Sea
Ages 8-11

Orphaned at 13 years old, Maia is sent from England to start a new life in South America – accompanied by a mysterious governess with her own reasons for making the trip.

Swallows and Amazons +++
Ages 8-11

Northern Lights: His Dark Materials 1
Ages 8-11

The first book in the His Dark Materials Trilogy about Lyra, the lead girl character in this complex fantasy adventure story set in England.

Matilda +++
Ages 9-11

Women in Science +++
Ages 9+

Howl’s Moving Castle
Ages 9+

“A tongue in cheek spin on fairy tales, also Castle in the Air (sequel).”

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse
Ages 9-12

From the author of Ottoline, this is the first in a series about Ada, the only child of Lord Goth.
“A great story, really funny (we all giggled, including me!), and wonderful illustrations. All 3 of my kids have loved this book and I often now give it as a present.”

Alanna: The First Adventure: Song of the Lioness
Ages 9-15

“My daughter is hooked on the story of a girl who wants to be a knight. The first book is about a 10 year old girl going to knight school but the other books follow her as she grows up and has slightly more teenage/adult themes (and fighting – she is a knight after all!) but nothing inappropriate. It’s a fun fantasy series.”

Coraline
Ages 10+

“Magical, and scary – but just scary enough.”

Desiree
Ages 12+

“It’s ostensibly about the (true story) of a girl once engaged to Napoleon, who becomes Queen of Sweden instead, much much later. She is no princess, though. It’s a bit Forrest Gump like, as she happens to be at the right place at the right historical moment.”

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Kath Sloggett
Kath Sloggett

Runneth was started by Kath Sloggett, an entrepreneur, career coach and start-up adviser, with over 10 years’ experience advising professionals and entrepreneurs. She is also a working mother, with two children aged 6 and 4.

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