In today's Rebel Girl Generation, having strong, female protagonists in children's literature is so important. Young girls need to read about brave, independent, kind and unique heroines, they need to see themselves in this light and inspire to be like them. Gone are the damsels in distress, now the rebel girls are taking centre stage.
I've put together a list of my top 20 inspiring and fiery females that can be found within the pages of both classic and contemporary children's literature. This list is comprised only of characters I have read so if you have any strong female characters recommendations then please share them with me - from the everyday heroines to the teenage sleuths I want to hear about them all!
1. Pippi from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
When I was growing up I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking! She's the strongest girl in the world, not to mention she's kind, loyal and not afraid to be her unique, independent self, plus she has a pet monkey which makes her even more cooler! Whilst a little nutty, but incredibly fun Pippi is the heroine of her own life.
Illustration by Mini Grey.
2. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Hermione Granger is the ultimate heroine. She's brave, extremely intelligent, fierce and passionate. She saves Ron and Harry countless times throughout the series, but her most heroic, selfless act is saving her parents.
Illustration by Jim Kay.
3. Jo March from Little Women by Louise May Alcott
Little Women is my all time favourite book, and Jo March will always remain a character I inspire to be like. She intelligent, fierce, and so much deeper than her other sisters. Her aspiration to become a writer despite the time of the novel is empowering and above all, Jo sees herself as every bit an equal to her wealthier male best friend Laurie.
Illustration by Norman Rockwell.
4. Starr Carter from The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful, gripping and piercingly relevant YA novel about inequality, police violence, 21st century prejudice and one girl’s struggle for justice. Starr is honestly such an inspiration to girls looking to find their voice. She is resilient, authentic, and everything we need in adolescents today. Although she is not completely fearless, she embraces the adversity in her way and stands against it. Her ability to juggle the stresses and traumas in her life but still come out blazing is inspiring.
5. Madeline from Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
She's the smallest, and she's the bravest. She’s the one most inclined to create trouble and mischief – but also fun. She knows what’s right, often in defiance of the grownups. She’s different from everyone else – but clearly in a good way. She’s all of these things and a girl.
6. Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda is so passionate about reading and learning that she literally educates herself from such a young age. Despite living with a family who care very little of her, Matilda is kind, caring and incredibly calm. Plus she can do magic so she's a winner all round!
Also, have you seen Matilda at 30! To mark the 30th anniversary since Roald Dahl’s heroine first appeared, her illustrator, Quentin Blake, has imagined her life now showing Matilda variously as an astrophysicist, a world traveller and as chief executive of the British Library. You can order these special edition hardbacks via Waterstones here.
7. Sara Crewe from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Despite having just about everything stripped from her, including her father and her home, Sara's kindness and generosity makes her unrelenting in her beliefs and passions. She stands up for all girls and never stops caring for others even when she is faced with lose and judgment. Sara's maintains such a true spirit and such a lively imagination throughout and will make any young girl feel like a princess.
8. Isabella Riosse from The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Isabella, or Isa, is such a strong and fierce character. Fascinated with the ancient myths of Joya, Isa dreams of adventure, escape and of venturing outside her village walls to navigate the Forbidden Territories beyond. She's incredibly brave, intelligent and kind and her skills as being a mapmaker beautifully shapes and enriches her character. Her determination to go where was forbidden to tread and save her friend is inspiring and have made me a bold traveller ever since.
9. Hilda from Hilda by Luke Pearson
Hilda, our blue hair heroine, has fast become one of my new favourite characters of all time. Her adventurous spirit, independent personality and free-thinking nature is an utter joy. Whilst she's grounded she's always awaiting the next big adventure. Hilda is extremely kind and brave and always there to help any creature, big and small (think rock giants and elves!) Her love for the outdoors is encouraging for young readers today. Plus she now even has her own Netflix series!
10. Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Did you know, Lyra Belacqua, frequently tops polls as an all-time favourite character, appearing in the Top 10 Favourite Heroes on World Book Day 2016. Yep, she's a fantastic heroine, who literally achieves the impossible, helps an armoured bear, befriends witches, and rescues children from a fate worse than death! She's feisty, clever, passionate and loyal but also an inveterate liar, stubborn and at time selfish. She's realistically flawed which is what makes her such a stand out heroine throughout this series. We get to see Lyra grow and develop and in turn grow and develop with her.
11. Fern from Joy by Corrinne Averiss
This beautiful picture book only came out this year and it has quickly become one of my all time favourites, and not just because my name is Fern too. Fern is literally a character full of joy, and her determination to share this joy with her grandmother is so enduring. Her sweetness, concern and encouragement to make sure everyone is happy makes Fern a wonderful character to aspire too.
Illustration by Isabelle Follath.
12. Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Violet Baudelaire is a natural born leader. Despite being fourteen years old at the beginning of the series, Violet is the eldest of the Baudelaire orphans and in so takes on the maternal figure with such strength and admiration. Violet is intelligent, mature, polite, and resourceful making her a brilliant inventor. Never afraid to tie her hair up and get a bit dirty, Violet's passion and skills as an inventor has not only saved her and her siblings from the grips of Count Olaf on multiple occasions but it's so inspiring to encounter a young girl interested in a field that is deemed as a strictly male domain.
13. Liesel from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
14. Nancy Drew from Nancy Drew Diaries by Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew has literally become one of the most iconic female characters in all of literature. Nancy was just a pretty, simple sidekick to a leading male counterpart, no, she was the bold, physically strong, and fiercely intelligent leading detective. She uses her superior intellect—not her looks—to solve a slew of mysteries, all of which she solves. Nancy Drew bends conventions and is definitely considered a 'girl power' icon.
15. Izzy from Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones
There's not much to say other than, Izzy is a girl inventor! An intelligent, creative and kind inventor at that. And whilst inventions don't always go to plan and when feel like giving up, Izzy shows that this is okay. It's okay to fail, but sticking with it and trying again will always lead to success. She empowers girls to participate in inventions and technology that perhaps to some aren't deemed suitable for girls, as well as encouraging perseverance and not giving up.
Illustrations by Sara Ogilvie.
16. Cat Royal from A Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding
Cat Royal - the red headed, curious, clever and cocky orphan, who lives in the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. Her life is literally one constant adventure from fighting in the French Revolution, to turning pirate, she's basically a total badass with a very fiery tongue. Her spirit, courage and determination is inspiring, and her loyalty to her friends, both royalty and street urchins alike is admiring. It was these characteristics that made Cat and this series so special to me as a child - I looked up to Cat and wanted nothing more than to join her on all her wild and wonderful adventures.
You can find out more about Cat and read my reviews of Julia Golding's brilliant series via my blog post here.
17. Tracy Beaker from The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson
There's honestly no one like Tracy Beaker. She's cheeky, funny, and adventurous but definitely not without her flaws. Her bad-tempered, defensive attitude and behaviour problems sometimes lead her into trouble, especially with her number one enemy, Justine Littlewood. Despite all the made-up stories, Tracy's wild imagination and creative nature is infectious. Deep down, she's just a young girl who really just wants to be loved and be taken care of.
And now Beaker's back! And she's a mum! Still the same fun, feisty and fierce Tracy as before Jacqueline Wilson has answered all our throwback prayers in My Mum Tracy Beaker, out now! And yes, the ending is everything Tracy needed!
18. Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Lucy Pevensie literally becomes Queen Lucy the Valiant. She's the first one to set foot in the winter wonderland that is Narnia, and quickly becomes a favourite of Aslan. Her instinctive good judgment, her ability to stick up for what she knows is right and true, and she's also super-perceptive of herself and others around her. Her curiosity, kindness and bravery is what makes her the heroic warrior she becomes.
19. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Katniss Everdeen is an ordinary girl who finds courage under extraordinary circumstances and becomes a hero. She's strong, determined, and fiercely loyal, and not to mention a highly skilled archer and hunter. Despite the constant odds against her, Katniss is a survivor. And her moral compass and compassion is what grounds her anger towards the Capital.
20. Princess Sue from The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp
Princess Sue is the ultimate feisty princess. Rather than the traditional princesses out there, Princess Sue is all about adventure, mischief and making unusual friends, who doesn't need any Prince Charming rescuing her. While she might be the worst princess, she's definitely the most empowering one.
Illustration by Sara Ogilive.