How Female Characters in Children's Books Empower Girls

Girls basketball team showing how female characters empower girls

How Female Characters in Children's Books Empower Girls

February 10, 2022


Studies show that for every three books featuring male characters, there are two featuring female characters. In fact, it’s more likely a book will have no lead character than to have a female lead.

The centering of male stories in literature is common across all genres, but it is particularly impactful when it comes to children's books. When equal representation is lacking, children are given a narrow view of who they can be and what they can and cannot do based on their gender. By recognizing this gap in representation, we can combat it and ensure that books with female protagonists make their way into the hands of young girl readers. To be who they are with no hesitation, to express themselves, and to find their place in society as positive and valuable. These books, through an assortment of ways, empower girls!

Gives Them Someone to Aspire To

young girl in green helmet and jersey in wheelchair motorcrossyoung girl in green helmet and jersey in wheelchair motorcross

Providing young girls with positive female role models and someone they can aspire to become is imperative. Children look up to role models for a variety of reasons. It helps shape how they behave at home and school, how they interact in relationships, and how they handle making difficult decisions. Role models also provide guidance and inspiration. Particularly, girls who find positive female role models in their books see someone like them who is capable of confidence, persistence, and courage. This, in turn, shows girls they can also be those things! These positive actions create habits and behaviors in children that can have a lifetime effect on them. When female characters are depicted in admirable ways, it provides girls insight on who they can be! Great books that represent this are Soaring in Style: How Amelia Earhart Became a Fashion Icon, Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues, and Jubilee: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream, a story of Olympic medalist Lis Hartel!

Sends the Message that Girls Have Talents

Fighting dragons, going on adventures, saving people—these are usually depicted as “boy” things. But girls have talents and capabilities just as much! Girls need to see that anything boys can do, so can they! Fight the villian? Save the world? Yeah, girls can do that! Series like Girls Survive show that girls throughout history are strong, creative, brave, clever, and kind. Seeing characters do all these things can make it seem more attainable and more normal. Girls can and DO heroic things. 

Girls are talented and should see their talents shown in a positive light. Books like in the Camila the Star series highlight a young girl with big dreams and a whole lot of talent behind them!

Develops a Sense of Self

Children, specifically ages 6 to 12, are in a unique stage of cognitive development, or their ability to think and reason. They are also developing their sense of self at this time (your perception of yourself from the collection of characteristics that make up you!). Girls can use capable and bold female characters in children’s books to show off their own uniqueness and explore their own interests. They can identify themselves in characters and learn to see and appreciate themselves as individuals. Books that have social emotional learning themes along with female characters, like May Saves the Day and Save the Day, Wonder Woman!  are great places to start!

Figuring out a sense of self can be a journey for a lot of kids and can involved sensitive subjects. Books like My Sister, Daisy do a great job of handling such subject matter with warmth, love, and understanding. 

Subverts Gender Stereotypes

young black girl playing basketball with purple star behind heryoung black girl playing basketball with purple star behind her

Children’s books can carry a bias that there are ways of being a girl. Male stories are often seen as the “default” and that boys can only read books with male protagonists, while girls can read both male and female points of view. Not only does this dismiss young girl readers, but it also can strengthen stereotypes and shape sexism at an early age. Girls tend to grow up seeing women represented as the “damsel in distress” archetype. Strong female protagonists can subvert this stereotype and give girls an alternative to look up to! In addition, stories depicting girls doing “boy” things show them they can do those fun things too! Want to ride a dirt bike? Girls can do that! Want to play football? Um, yeah! Girls can definitely do that! Series like Jake Maddox Graphic Novels show that basketball, skateboarding, videos games, and more aren't just for the boys!

Shows Female Perspectives as Valuable

Studies show that although girls make up the majority of readers of children’s books, the publishing industry produces mostly stories centered around male characters. This inadvertently teaches girls that their stories are second to boys’. That male voices will always be more important than theirs. This gender bias matters as it can shape the way young girls view themselves, their voice, and their place in society. Books show whose voice matters and whose opinions are valuable in our society. When we have female characters showcasing self-assurance and spirit, girls are more likely to live their lives in a similar manner. Books like the Azaleah Lane, Yasmin, or Farah Rocks series all portray young girls who are adventurous, smart, and curious! 

The more girls feel empowered through the books they read, the more their love of reading will grow. Their curiosity, creativity, and self-esteem will flourish. Books featuring strong, skillful, multidimensional female protagonists have a number of ways they empower young girl readers today. You can dig into some books featuring strong girl characters on our blog post: 8 Book Series Featuring Strong Girl Characters!