10 children's books with strong female protagonists

Published on Tuesday, 13 August 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Despite the surge in recent years for powerful female characters and stories, led predominantly by the wildly successful 2016 title Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, according to new research female protagonists remain largely invisible in Australian picture books for young children.

Additionally, where female led books do exist, they tend to focus on female stereotypes such ballerinas and princesses, compared to male characters who have a much wider variety of diverse roles.

Where are all the girls?

Another recent study of the top 100 Australian picture books published in 2017, found that it was more common for a book to have no lead character than a female lead character.

Characters with speaking parts were also much more likely to be male, and 31 of the books had all male characters while only six had all female characters.

While there's nothing wrong with showcasing femininity and motherhood, it's clear that we still have a long way to go in representing strong female role models in children's books, and conversely representing non-stereotypical interests, professions and roles for male characters, along with more diverse protagonists in general.

10 fierce and fun female picture books

While we wait for the literary industry to catch up, here are ten titles suitable for early childhood that do have exciting and empowering female protagonists.

  1. Cloudette - by Tom Lichtenheld
    Sometimes being small can have its advantages. But what about when you want to do something big, like help a giant garden grow, or make a brook babble? This charming book gets at the heart of what it means to make a difference no matter your size. Young children will find much to relate to as they follow Cloudette on her pursuit for greatness.
  2. Super Red Riding Hood - by Claudia Davila
    A humorous new twist on what happens when Red Riding Hood meets the hungry wolf in the woods. This is a great read-aloud story full of drama, with a positive message about not judging others too quickly, as well as character education lessons on being generous, brave, compassionate and respectful. It also offers an empowering example to both girls and boys of a strong character standing up for herself against a bully.
  3. Rosie Revere, Engineer - by Andrea Beaty
    Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she's a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions her one unfinished goal—to fly—Rosie sets to work building a contraption to make her aunt's dream come true. But when her contraption doesn't fly and she deems the invention a failure, Aunt Rose insists that Rosie's contraption was a raging success: you can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.
  4. Princess Truly in I am Truly - by Kelly Greenawalt
    Princess Truly is strong and confident, beautiful and brave, bright and brilliant. She can do anything she sets her mind to. Brimming with warmth and colour, Princess Truly's rhythmic rhyming adventures are a celebration of individuality, girl power, and diversity. Her heartfelt story is a reminder to young girls everywhere that they can achieve anything if they put their minds to it…and dream big!
  5. Fantastically great women who changed the world – by Kate Pankhurst
    Discover fascinating facts about some of the most amazing women who changed the world we live in. Fly through the sky with the incredible explorer Amelia Earhart and read all about the wonderful adventures of Mary Seacole and other great women such as Jane Austen, Marie Curie, Coco Chanel and more.
  6. I am a warrior goddess – by Jennifer Adams
    The empowering tale of a little girl with big aspirations. Each day is full of opportunities for little people to make a big impact with ordinary actions. As our heroine connects with the earth, takes care of her body, and finds strength in kindness, she discovers her inner warrior goddess and inspires young girls everywhere to do the same.
  7. Grace for President – by Kelly DiPucchio
    When Grace's teacher reveals that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides to be the first. And she immediately starts off her political career as a candidate the school's mock election!
  8. Malala's Magic Pencil – by Malala Yousafzai
    As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil that she could use to redraw reality. She would use it to give gifts to her family, to erase the smell from the rubbish dump near her house, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. As she grew older, Malala wished for bigger and bigger things. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true.
  9. Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science – by Diane Stanley
    A beautifully illustrated biography of Ada Lovelace, who is known as the first computer programmer born two hundred years ago to the famous poet, Lord Byron, and his mathematical wife, Annabella. A fascinating and inspiring true story.
  10. Wild – by Emily Hughes
    A little girl who has known nothing but nature from birth – she was taught to talk by birds, to eat by bears, and to play by foxes. She is unashamedly, irrefutably, irrepressibly wild. That is, until she is snared by some very strange animals that look oddly like her, but they don't talk right, eat right, or play correctly. She's puzzled by their behaviour and their insistence on living in these strange concrete structures: there's no green here, no animals, no trees, no rivers. Now she lives in the comfort of civilization. But will civilization get comfortable with her?

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