The best kids books with strong female characters and role models

Jean Menzies shares the best feminist books for kids and young adults – stories that are full of strong female role models to inspire and empower as well as entertain. 

16/09/2021
3 minutes to read

Growing up, children and young people are constantly confronted by images telling them what they can and should be. Even in the 21st century, many of those images have women and girls playing very specific gendered roles. But no one should be limited by their sex or gender; literature should encourage young people to be all of the wonderful things they could possibly be, from mathematicians and artists to detectives and inventors. The more diverse and empowering roles readers see girls take in these stories, the more they might consider the world of possibilities out there for themselves. Each of the books here offer readers of all ages the opportunity to see girls and young women doing amazing things, whether on a personal or global level, at home or across the world.

Kids books with strong female characters for children aged 0–3

Mulan

by Yi-Hsuan Wu

Book cover for 9781529003833

Illustrated by Yi-Hsuan Wu

This beautifully rendered illustrated version of the Mulan story is perfect for young readers. Its beautiful interactive pictures introduce children to the traditional tale of Hua Mulan, a legendary Chinese warrior whose story has been retold time and time again throughout the centuries, for good reason. Mulan famously disguised herself as a man in order to take her father’s place in the Chinese army. Her love for her father pushed her to defy the gender roles of her time, and demonstrate that women can be heroes too.

The Nature Girls

by AKI Delphine Mach

Book cover for 9781529004847

The Nature Girls is an engaging picture book about budding explorers that adults can share with young children. Follow the Nature Girls as they don their uniform, prepare their packs and set out into the unknown. Whether it’s the desert or the sea, their curiosity takes them across the globe to learn about the many forms nature can take. This one might just inspire the next Jane Goodall or Jeanne Baret to circumnavigate the earth or study its inhabitants.


Looking for more beautiful books to read with little ones? Take a look at our edit of the best baby and toddler books.


Kids books with strong female characters for children aged 3–5

Three Little Vikings

by Bethan Woollvin

Book cover for 9781509889839

Long ago in a Viking village, and everything is going wrong. Chickens are vanishing, trees are falling and there are weird loud noises everywhere. The Chieftain won't listen, but three little Viking girls come up with a plan to figure out the mystery and save the village. A story about speaking out, and working together.

Izzy Gizmo

by Pip Jones

Book cover for Izzy Gizmo

Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Izzy Gizmo loves to build, to pull things apart and to figure out how they work. When her inventions inevitably work a little bit differently than she meant however, she finds herself struggling with frustration. This time, however, her skills could help a bird who can no longer fly, and if she can learn to overcome frustration and work on her mistakes then the invention might just be a big success.

The Paper Bag Princess

by Robert Munsch

Book cover for The Paper Bag Princess

Illustrated by Michael Martchenko

The Paper Bag Princess has been challenging expectations since the 1980s, and is truly a children’s classic. Princess Elizabeth finds herself in the position of rescuer when her prince is stolen by a dragon and her palace is burnt to the ground. With nothing else to wear she must set off on her mission dressed in only a paper bag. But a silly thing like that isn’t going to stop her outwitting the monster at every turn.

Kids books with strong female characters for children aged 5–8

Rumaysa: A Fairytale

by Radiya Hafiza

Book cover for 9781529038316
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For as long as she can remember Rumaysa has been locked away in her tower, forced to spin straw into gold for the evil Witch, unable to leave. Until one day, after dropping a hijab out of her small tower-window, Rumaysa realizes how she might be able to escape . . . A magically fresh, empowering and funny debut, which retells three classic fairytales – Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty – with beautiful inside illustrations by Rhaida El Touny and cover illustration by Areeba Siddique.

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Max and the Midknights

by Lincoln Peirce

Book cover for 9781529029260

Max has always dreamed of being a knight, but that seems even less likely that finding a friendly dragon! That is until something truly dreadful happens and Uncle Budrick is kidnapped by King Gastley. Monarch or not, Max is not about to let the cruel king get away with that. And so begins an epic adventure that follows Max and a loyal band of friends, who will have to work together to save those they love and restore peace to their lands.

Malala’s Magic Pencil

by Malala Yousafzai

Book cover for Malala’s Magic Pencil

Illustrated by Kerascoët

Throughout her childhood Malala shared a passion for learning with her father, a teacher and campaigner. But when Malala, along with the other young women and girls in Pakistan, is denied access to education, she embarks on a fight against those who wish to deny others their rights. The true story of Malala is one full to the brim with conviction, passion and determination. It highlights the struggles faced by girls around the world, and lets children know that their voice can make a difference.

Counting on Katherine

Book cover for 9781529005592

Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Counting on Katherine is the true story of Katherine Johnson, an African American woman who played a major part in the success of the first ever moon landing. From a young age Katherine had a passion for numbers. Despite the discrimination and racism she faced on a daily basis, she dedicated her life to honing her skills – skills that would one day save the lives of NASA astronauts.

She Shoots, She Scores!

by Sarah Long

Book cover for 9780753446287

The girl who had to play football in secret but grew up into a goalscoring legend

The 13-year-old who shot to international fame but didn’t get a mention in school assembly

The greatest women’s footballer ever, who scored in FIVE World Cups

With a foreword by England captain Steph Houghton, She Shoots, She Scores! tells the incredible story of the BEST sport in the world, women’s football – from the men who tried to ban it to the superstars of today’s game, including Lucy Bronze, Sam Kerr and Alex Morgan.

Aziza's Secret Fairy Door

by Lola Morayo

Book cover for 9781529063851

The first title in a magical adventure series, perfect for readers aged 6+, Aziza's Secret Fairy Door is packed with mischief, friendship and magic. A mysterious gift arrives on Aziza's birthday – a secret fairy door that will whisk her away to a magical world with princesses, fairies, unicorns and more! But when the precious jewelled doorknob is taken, Aziza is trapped. Will she ever see her home and family again? Maybe her new friends can help . . .

Kids books with strong female characters for children aged 8–12

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City

by Rob Biddulph

Book cover for 9781529040524

Drawing feels like magic to Peanut Jones. But art can't fix her problems. Her dad has gone missing, and she's stuck in a boring new school where the teachers hate her doodling, St Hubert’s School for the Seriously Scientific and Terminally Mathematic. Everything seems bothersome, until the day she finds a magic pencil and is suddenly pulled into a world packed with more colour, creativity, excitement and danger than she could ever have imagined. And maybe, just maybe, she might find out what happened to her dad.

They Did it First. 50 Scientists, Artists and Mathematicians Who Changed the World

by Julie Leung

Book cover for 9781529033182

Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald

From the leading expert on chimpanzees, Jane Goodall, to Walter Alvarez who first theorized that an asteroid led to the extinction of dinosaurs, They Did it First tracks the incredible journeys of fifty extraordinary people. Crammed full of inspiring stories, Julie Leung’s book encourages readers to pursue their dreams and value their differences, because the world needs scientists, but it needs artists too.

Suffragette

by David Roberts

Book cover for 9781509839674

This beautifully illustrated book is the story of the astoundingly brave women and men who fought for women’s suffrage. The accessible writing and richly detailed artwork bring to life the many characters involved in the suffrage movement, from well-known figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett to lesser-known activists such as Rosa May Billinghurst.

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat

by Chris Riddell

Book cover for 9780330450287

Ottoline is curious, and nothing is going to stop her pursuing that curiosity. Her determined mind makes her a perfect sleuth, and Ottoline continuously finds herself in the role of amateur detective alongside her fluffy feline companion Mr Munroe. Their escapades take readers on an exciting adventure powered by a desire for knowledge.

Young adult books with strong female characters

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Book cover for 9781529034790

Adeyemi’s Legacy of Orïsha series follows a young woman named Zélie. Zélie’s world, inspired by African culture and mythology, is in danger. Magic is dying and the royal family are destroying everything her people hold dear. Unwilling to watch them suffer any longer, Zélie takes it upon herself to rise up against the oppressive rulers. While we may not all be magicians living in a fantasy realm, readers can relate to Zélie’s journey of self-discovery and empowerment throughout this series.

We Hunt the Flame

by Hafsah Faizal

Book cover for 9781529045178

The first in the Sands of Arawiya duology We Hunt the Flame is a breathtaking debut about discovery, conquering fear and taking identity into your own hands. Zafira is the Hunter. Forced to disguise herself as a man, she risks everything to provide for her people. When she embarks on a dangerous quest to return magic to her suffering land, she crosses paths with the feared assassin, the Prince of Death. As their journey together unfolds, an ancient evil begins to stir . . . 

Rules for Being a Girl

by Candace Bushnell

Book cover for 9781529036091
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When Marin is sexually harassed by her teacher no one believes her, and the school refuses to do anything about it. Marin, however, will not have her voice silenced. She loves school and has big dreams for her future, but the dismissal of her experiences threatens all of that. To demonstrate the damage her teachers and peers are allowing, Marin begins to write her story for the school newspaper and asks fellow students to join her in founding a feminist book club. The strength of Marin’s voice throughout this novel will no doubt help many other young people in search of their own.

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